Lack of connection of the new irrigation system in Silves to the Funcho adductor is a «capelinhas war»

"This is a little chapel war, there's no other explanation." This is the opinion of Joaquim Mourinho, one of approximately […]

Regents protest_01"This is a little chapel war, there's no other explanation." This is the opinion of Joaquim Mourinho, one of the approximately 700 farmers who, along the valley between the Arade Dam and Silves, cannot yet take advantage of the modern irrigation system implemented and which cost around 6,5 million euros, because authorization from the Portuguese Environment Agency/ARH is lacking for the final connection to the Funcho Dam pipeline.

“The work is done, it is finished, the money has been spent. Not turning on the water now is a cry to the heavens!”, reinforces the farmer, who is one of the main citrus fruit producers in the area that will benefit from the works to modernize the irrigation system at the Arade Dam, which took place throughout 2015.

To challenge the lack of water connection, yesterday afternoon, about seven dozen farmers gathered in peaceful protest in front of the headquarters of the Association of Irrigants and Beneficiaries of Silves, Lagoa and Portimão, next to the wall of the Barragem do Arade.

During the concentration, they listened to explanations given by José Vilarinho, president of the association, who recalled the entire process of this 6,5 million euro investment project, financed by PRODER. «The problem with our project is to be so good, with goals achieved, in such a way that it should not be put into operation, because we save water and energy», joked the official.

 

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In addition to the damage that this delay causes to 700 farmers, who were unable to grow winter crops and will soon not be able to start watering the orchards, as they still do not have available water, José Vilarinho stressed that the community funding allocated to the works may be at stake. , whose maximum completion time is about to be reached. "The work was awarded on September 14, 2014 and was completed by the end of December 2015, having gone perfectly on schedule." According to community rules, in order to receive the money, the completion of the work must be communicated to the authorities in Brussels by the end of March, but for that, “only” need to be connected to the water.

"APA/ARH has already told us that it only needs four days to make the connection to the Funcho/Alcantarilha adductor – one day to empty the pipeline, one day to do the work on the connections and two days to refill the pipeline." But it takes a while for authorization to make this connection.

“We already have verbal authorization to make that call, now when can it be called we still don't know. Just a meter and a half of conduit are needed to connect the adductor to our network. And time goes by…», lamented the leader of the watercourses.

What has been delaying the connection is that the same Funcho/Alcantarilha pipeline is used by the company Águas do Algarve to transport water to its ETA in that location, which creates some technical and bureaucratic problems. But José Vilarinho says he does not believe that the fact that the current Secretary of State for the Environment Carlos Martins, who oversees the sector, is the former executive director of Águas do Algarve has anything to do with the delay. "People are in a public function to defend public interests and not private interests," he told reporters.

 

José Vilarinho
José Vilarinho

 

And what is the use of the investment of 6,5 million euros made in the modernization of the irrigation perimeter in 700 to 800 hectares in the municipality of Silves? According to José Vilarinho, there has been a change from a water distribution system dating back to the 50s, in open-air canals, with large water losses, to irrigation in a closed pipeline with water under pressure. With this, he underlined, "we went from 35% of water losses to 5%".

But there is still what farmers – and the country – do not spend on electricity, with pumping: “one million kilowatts/hour per year”.

Joaquim Mourinho, from Frutas Mourinho, in the Pedreira area, near Silves, produces citrus fruits, pomegranates and persimmons. «The water that was being supplied comes by gravity, full of slimes, it causes us a great expense in cleaning the filters, it is a tremendous inconvenience. And we still spend a lot of money on pumping. This water from the new system comes to us filtered and, in addition, it is supplied with 6 kg of pressure, we do not need to pump it. It's clean, pressurized water, which is incomparable, not only for lowering our production costs, but for improving the quality of our production.”

«Today, bombing is a cost. Lowering costs means being able to sell cheaper, to compete with producers from other countries. All of this only brings benefits to agriculture and the economy, so I don't understand why this delay is happening», stresses Joaquim Mourinho.

“The poor relative will run out of water and that's the farmer. And we see the pipe running on our land, but we cannot use this water, because it seems that it can only be used to fill swimming pools», laments the farmer.

The question that arises, as explained by the Ministry of the Environment in the response to the request by deputy Paulo Sá (PCP), received on January 10, is that, despite recognizing the "relevance" of the project, "the use of the Funcho pipeline -Alcantarilha as the source of pressurized water for the Silves, Lagoa and Portimão Irrigation Perimeter obliges, due to its particularities, the consideration of various technical, economic and formal/administrative aspects».

The adductor, which is connected to the two reservoirs of Odelouca and Funcho, has so far been «used only to transport water for public supply» to the Barlavento Algarvio. Furthermore, 'by hydraulic constraints', it cannot transport 'water from these two sources' at the same time.

 

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However, the Ministry of Environment adds in its response, due to "commitments made to the European Commission, in the scope of the approval process for the Odelouca dam, the water from its reservoir cannot be used for other uses besides public supply". That is, they cannot be used for irrigation.

The solution to this imbroglio could be the definition of a “model for the joint use of the adductor”, which would serve to transport, alternately, water from Odelouca for public supply and that from Fennel for irrigation.

However, this possible solution, added the Government, requires "considering the technical and financial consequences in the Water Treatment Plant of Alcantarilha, resulting from the change in the quality of the water, which is different in the two reservoirs". It would also be necessary to "prevent the reopening of any Community disputes".

Due to the "complexity" of what is at stake, the assessment was not yet, on 10 January, and seems to still not be completed, now. This despite the fact that, in the response it gave to the request made by the Algarvian deputy of the PCP, the Ministry of Environment guaranteed that the issue was "on the list of priorities of the Portuguese Environment Agency".

Therefore, as José Vilarinho, president of Associação de Regantes, pointed out in final statements to journalists, there is the “hope that, next week, they will tell us yes, that we can make the connection, even if it is a temporary connection, until be built a direct connection to the Fennel Dam».

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