The Water Policy

In the Algarve and Alentejo Coast and Interior, water scarcity is already starting to be distressing and we have not yet noticed such alternative measures

Example of desalination plant – file photo

Official sources never tire of assuring that, this year, there will be no shortage of water in the taps and that, if there is any deficiency, there are alternatives – we wait and see.

In this country, since always, more evidently in the last Governments, navigation policies have been made in plain sight – nothing of great boldness in the medium and long term.

With our territory increasingly clearly divided into two – north and south of the Tagus – water (and soil) problems will have to be approached in a differentiated way, but taking into account both resources.

This year, in the Algarve and Alentejo Coast and Interior, water scarcity is already starting to be distressing and we have not yet noticed such alternative measures.

There is also occasional talk of an appeal to save, but it doesn't even seem to me that a campaign has been outlined in the media, and clearly on television, calling people's attention to the priority nature of saving water. One day I was told that a country at the forefront of Europe cannot maintain campaigns to teach the people… Of course, it looks bad in the photograph…

Water policy is one of those that is not content with plain sailing. It has been many years since it should have been assumed and made known (if it existed…) an adequate strategy – and taking advantage, while it is possible, of European funding.

Let's look at this, for the most distracted: the majority of the Portuguese population lives along the coastline, there are many millions of Portuguese who depend on the supply of water that is produced and stored inside the territory; well, this water must be guaranteed for the populations in the interior who have no alternative, and for agriculture – but an agriculture that cannot continue to be, as in recent years, that of industrial orchards with intensive irrigation in the south, which consume water only for the benefit of investors who, when the water runs out and the soil runs out, will invest elsewhere, a kind of casino economy.

Drinking water, in Mediterranean conditions like ours, should long ago have been thought of as in the countries of this region and which I have been referring to for years, because I know them: through the desalination of sea water.

The last time I was in Algeria, half a dozen years ago, there were already 14 of these stations, Morocco has several, and a Portuguese-speaking country, with a weak economy as we know, Cape Verde, has long been supplying its populations with desalinated water . Is it a luxury? No, it is the only way to meet the basic needs of the population.

I'm not an expert, but I've been following the technical process for a long time and, above all due to the technological advancement of the Israelis, today reverse osmosis, one of the most effective methods used in desalination, is perfectly mastered and the effectiveness of the membranes and all the materials no longer has any problems.

In a simplified way, it can be accepted that, from every 3 liters of water absorbed, one liter of drinking water comes out and two of super-salt water, returned to the sea. This aspect is crucial in the Algarve for the location of the promised station (which seems to come around the Greek Kalends).

This salty water must be returned to the sea in a place of strong maritime agitation to quickly disperse the high salinity: leaving that water to dissolve slowly will bring serious problems to the coastal ecosystem – this should be the main criterion for locating the desalination plant in the Algarve.

Moreover, along the Portuguese coast, the power plants that will supply urban populations should already be studied and planned – if the medium and long term is to be governed.

The biggest problem with this method of obtaining potable water has always been the high energy cost; but, along the whole coast, there is no lack of wind and sun, so that each season can be autonomous in the energy it consumes – even the small island of Maio, in Cape Verde, which I visited, has its power station functioning as solar panels, as on the other islands. Here, it will be no different.

None of this should prevent other urgent measures, such as eliminating water losses in urban networks and promoting the recycling of used water.

This year, those who live in the Algarve are faced with one of the worst drought situations, even remembering previous situations that occurred; the natural vegetation of the barrocal is already in clear hydric stress.

I hope I'm wrong and the gods come together to help us...


Author Fernando Santos Pessoa is a landscape architect and forestry engineer. He was a founder of the National Park Service… and he writes with the spelling he learned in school


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