Desalination is a peaceful solution to water shortages, new dams motivate "war"

O Sul Informação spoke with mayor António Pina and landscape architect Fernando Pessoa about solutions for water scarcity

Photo: Flávio Costa|Sul Informação

In line with the commitment to desalination and the need to rethink agriculture in the Algarve, but at opposite ends when it comes to the construction of new dams in the region.

António Pina, president of AMAL – Algarve Intermunicipal Community, and Fernando Pessoa, landscape architect and activist in defense of the Algarve's Mediterranean landscape, spoke with the Sul Informação about the solutions they advocate to face water scarcity in the Algarve region.

This is a topic on the agenda, as the Government is coming this Wednesday, 16 September, to the Algarve to present the Regional Water Efficiency Plan (PREH) for the region.

And if António Pina and Fernando Pessoa converge on some solutions, there are others where the visions are quite different.

This is the case of the construction of a dam in Ribeira da Foupana, a solution defended by local mayors and that the president of AMAL said to be consensual, among the algarvian aedes.

Fernando Pessoa, on the other hand, doesn't mince words when he says that this is “one of those nonsense that has no foundation at all”.

“If it doesn't rain enough to fill the dams that already exist, how can it rain to fill others?” he asked.

«It's not storing water that we go there, it's saving water and not doing the nonsense that has been done», defended the landscape architect.


Odeleite Dam – Photo: Flávio Costa|Sul Informação


António Pina, who now speaks not of a dam, but of «two dams, on the Foupana and Monchique rivers», stresses that «the mayors are not technicians in the area» and that they just want to point the way.

«What we have is the notion that, in our territories, there are two streams that are the place where the rain has fallen in recent years, despite the fact that it rains little in the Algarve. And a lot of water passes through there, which we believe should be retained», defended the also mayor of Olhão.

“We understand that perhaps one more structure is not needed to accumulate 100 hectometers. But we want there to be, at least, an infrastructure that retains the little water that falls and then interconnects with the existing dam», he reinforced.

The fact is that there seems to have been a change in the discourse of the region's mayors, which is not unrelated to the fact that João Matos Fernandes, the minister of the Environment, has stated several times that he does not consider a new dam to be a solution, using precisely , the arguments advanced by Fernando Pessoa.

AMAL's president now speaks of "surpassable dams, with an environmental impact substantially lower than that of a dam, but enough to stop rainwater and divert it to the existing dam."

As for the fact that there was, in the past, an initial project for the Odelouca Dam that also encompassed the Monchique river basin, having been failed by the Environment and at the European Union level, António Pina stressed that “it was for a large dam. We are talking about something four or five times inferior».

Another solution on the table is the transfer of water from the Guadiana, from Pomarão, in Mértola, to the Odeleite Dam, in Castro Marim, a proposal that, you know, Sul Informação, will be foreseen in the Algarve Regional Water Efficiency Plan.


Antonio Pina


The Algarve mayors welcome the construction of this conduct. Fernando Pessoa, on the other hand, says that “it is a remedy. If it doesn't rain in the rest of the territory, what good is it to us? Of little».

The solution that the well-known defender of the Mediterranean landscape and the endemic flora of the Algarve advocates, to increase the amount of water available, is the creation of desalination plants.

"If we had the human supply with desalinized water along the coast, which is where the majority of the population is, the little water that exists in the reservoirs of the dams would be used for agriculture and for the populations of the interior", he said.

Fernando Pessoa says he knows the Mediterranean well, where “all countries have had desalination plants for many years. Around here, we don't have any and we don't even hear about it».

“Algeria alone has 14 or 15 desalination stations. Morocco has four or five, including the largest in the world. Almost all Mediterranean countries have them, even Spain», he illustrated.

António Pina, on the other hand, considers that «we need to break with prejudice» in relation to desalination, «not least because it is a technology that does not yet exist in Portugal and it is important to start to have it».

"There are other countries on the Mediterranean shore and elsewhere on the planet where water scarcity has been a problem for a long time that have been using this technology and we have not advanced yet," he added.

Moreover, in the view of the AMAL president, "there are two more pillars in this equation: to be all more efficient and judicious in the use of water and to have the audacity to rethink the future of agriculture in the Algarve".

In the first case, “it is necessary to reduce losses, whether in the networks of municipalities or in agriculture – and I recall that this last sector is the one that consumes 60% of the water”.

As for the future of the agricultural sector, it is necessary to think “which crops should we choose”.

"It's not about ending agriculture, it's about adapting the type of production to the conditions we have and the lack of water available."

António Pina does not point batteries to any specific crop, but points out that the Algarve «has made a very interesting path in the renewal of its agricultural production and it is a shame if we do not continue to be able to make it grow».

«I don't want to say, for now, if it's the avocado or orange crops. But we have to make this reflection, because the lack of water conditions the growth of what we have today», said the Algarve mayor.



Fernando Pessoa, on the other hand, does not hesitate to point the finger at crops that he finds inadequate and harmful, considering "insane" the "thousands of hectares of avocado plantations that are being planted in the Algarve".

«We already had citrus fruits, which use a lot of water. Instead of doing something in favor of crops that live with little water - and there are so many -, we are, with the support of this Government and the Ministries of Environment and Agriculture, making the mistake of increasing a culture that is extremely demanding on water, which it was not necessary», he defended.

“There are a lot of experiences across North Africa of agricultural crops that are short cycle and undemanding for water. That's what our agriculture should be studying”, he added.

The landscape architect also stated that “what little water there is has to be seriously controlled. It is not with rain dances or prayers to Our Lady that we make it rain more».

«What we have to do is learn to live with little water, which is what we have. It's a matter of education and mentalization. Our demands are that they have to adapt to what we have and not the other way around,” he added.

And that is what the municipalities of the Algarve are trying to do, guaranteed António Pina to Sul Informação.

"We, the mayors, take on the challenge of reducing losses in municipal systems, whether they are managed by the Chambers or are the responsibility of companies", he assured.

The mayors of the Algarve Chambers have even asked “that funds be set aside for this purpose, whether in community funds or in the bazooka 300 million euros. We estimate that between 100 and 150 million euros are needed for the renewal of the networks».

"We have to assume the objective, during the next community framework, of reducing the level of losses below 30%", concluded the AMAL president.

"It's high time we started a campaign to make people aware of the fact that they don't use water badly," said Fernando Pessoa.

Because, he says, "everyone talks about climate change but, deep down, nobody wants to believe that they are already there".

"The Mediterranean latitude, especially the Iberian Peninsula, will be one of the most affected, even more than North Africa," he concluded, as a warning.



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