The drought has worsened at the Bravura dam, in the Western Algarve, today with less 600.000 cubic meters of water than a year ago, forcing farmers to look for alternatives to get around an increasingly complicated scenario.
In one of the country's most critical reservoirs, the restriction on the use of water for irrigation imposed since February 2022 led dozens of farmers and two golf courses to resort to two boreholes – a situation that will be repeated this year –, while the association which manages the structure, in the municipality of Lagos, and the irrigation perimeter of Alvor, is studying the possibility of more holes and preparing a large-scale project to stop water loss.
“We have much less water than we had last year. Last year was already a very complicated year for our associates and for our irrigators. And this year, life is very difficult”, said António Marreiros, president of the Association of Regantes and Beneficiaries of Alvor (ARBA).
The director explained that, compared to the same period last year (April 2022), the level dropped from 5.300.000 cubic meters to 4.700.000 cubic meters of water, generating more concern among the 937 beneficiaries covered by the irrigation perimeter .
According to the National Water Resources Information System, on the last day of March 2023, the volume of water in Bravura was 4,747 million cubic meters of water, equivalent to 13,6% of the 34,82 million cubic meters of total storage capacity.
Built in 1958, this dam supplies around 1.800 hectares of farms in the hydro-agricultural perimeter of Alvor, with a total of 937 beneficiaries.
The worsening of the drought last year led the Government to restrict the use of water for irrigation from Bravura, serving only for public supply, a measure that this year began ten days earlier than in 2022.
“Last year we started later to supply water to Águas do Algarve and this year we are already supplying 60 liters per second for the water supply to Lagos, Aljezur and Vila do Bispo”, said António Marreiros.
Given the impossibility of irrigation, 30 farmers and two golf courses were served by two boreholes in the Penina area, in the municipality of Portimão, but for farmers in the Odiáxere area, Lagos, no similar alternative was found.
“The APA [Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente], exceptionally last year, authorized the opening of some holes in our irrigation perimeter and this year, if this continues and if the farmers so understand, possibly a few more holes will be authorized for to be able to save permanent crops, that is, fruit trees”, pointed out the president of ARBA.
The association is carrying out surveys in some land to try to find water “with quality and quantity” in the subsoil, still without success, and hopes that treated wastewater will be used to irrigate golf courses.
With the use of boreholes, energy consumption has doubled for some producers, although there is a tendency to decrease. “It is unthinkable for a person to have a large crop with water from the holes, because the products are much more expensive. And when we go to the market, we notice that vegetables are more expensive”, he stressed.
To modernize a structure that is more than 60 years old, the irrigation association has already made an investment of 1,7 million euros in waterproofing the supply channels at the Vale da Lama distributor, over a length of ten kilometres, waiting for the use of water for irrigation to be implemented again.
“Unfortunately, we still haven't managed to put water there. It was an important work, but now we lack the water to put it there. […] There's always evaporation, it's still an open-air channel, but it reduced water losses to a great extent. If we had water, the losses of 20% or 30% would decrease to 6 or 7%”, estimated António Marreiros.
But the largest work in the irrigation perimeter of Alvor, worth seven million euros, with support from the Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR), consists of pressurizing the system, to eliminate “drastically” and “brutal” water losses.
“The team of designers is working on the project. It is expected that the project will be completed by the end of the year, so that we can launch the tender for the physical work, on the ground, to start next year”, advanced the associative leader.
Still in the Western Algarve, but in Aljezur, the problem of drought is also felt and the situation will force to "accelerate" all the projects on the table to find alternative solutions, stressed the mayor.
Immediately, José Gonçalves told Lusa, “the requirement to reduce consumption as much as possible” involves pedagogy and a constant campaign with consumers and a more effective control of municipal equipment and public buildings.
In the municipality, farmers in the Rogil and Odeceixe areas are served by the Mira irrigation perimeter and by water from the Santa Clara dam, which also covers Odemira (Beja district).
The mayor hopes that the Government and the Association of Beneficiaries of Mira (ABM) will carry out some of their ongoing projects, namely with the reuse of water thrown into the sea, the waterproofing of supply channels and the capture of dead volume of water from the dam .
In addition, farmers will also be able to use water from the Aljezur stream, if necessary.
“There were years when people asked us to make a small excavation in the stream, where the water was retained and people used that water. So far it has not happened, it is possible that it will happen, ”he said.
The mayors of Aljezur and Odemira recently expressed their concern, after the Ministry of Agriculture and Food proposed the dismissal of the ABM board, calling for dialogue between the two parties.
“A lot is at stake. […] The interest of a region, which is important to safeguard. If the situation is somehow already complex, we think that these issues will make the situation even worse”, said José Gonçalves, asking for “peace”, because, “if these entities do not understand each other, it is always the farmer who will suffer”.