The movements in defense of the Guadiana, Tagus and Douro basins oppose the transfer that would integrate the Douro, Tagus, Guadiana and Sado hydrographic basins to transport water from Minho to the Algarve, considering that such a practice would pervert the 'principle of river basin management unit' set out in the Water Framework Directive.
In a statement signed by the movements Juntos por Sudoeste, MovRioDouro – Citizenship Movement in defense of the rivers of the Douro watershed, Plataforma Água Sustentável and proTEJO – Movimento pelo Tejo, it is stated that this transfer, which would have the Alqueva reservoir as its destination, managed by the company EDIA, and which is nicknamed the «water highway» by the «lobby constituted around the irrigation system», intends to pervert the «principle of unity of management of the river basins» established in the Water Framework Directive, according to which «each basin must be self-sufficient, managing its pressures and water needs considering its own water availability».
The signatories also consider that this proposal «is based on disregard for the social and ecological functions of water, deepening a strictly mercantile vision of this resource that contradicts all accumulated scientific knowledge».
On the other hand, they underline, "a transfer of water generates a new demand pressure for water in the transfer basin, in this case the Douro basin, to feed the receiving basin, the Alqueva reservoir, in the Guadiana, after the uses that have been assigned to the Tagus basin".
This water transfer project will create «an illusory sensation of abundance of water in the receiving basin», «generating a vicious cycle of increased demand and consumption of water that does not exist in the place where it is being consumed, establishing new pressures quantitative and qualitative, as well as a permanent need for supply from the transferring basin (Douro) even if there are no conditions to support it, which may generate social and economic conflicts with regional expression between ceding and receiving basins».
In fact, they point out, «it is false that the Douro basin has surplus». In 2022, it reached, in half of its extension, extreme drought and, at this moment, the upper sector reached its entirety in severe drought and the water content in the soil is already less than 10%.
«We have flagrant unsuccessful examples, such as the water highways in California or the Tejo-Segura transfer, which transfers water from the headwaters of the Tagus, in Spain, to the Levante area, in the south, from the Autonomous Community of Castilla La Mancha for the Autonomous Community of Murcia, which prevented the existence of sufficient ecological flows in the section of the middle Tagus in Spain, for decades», flows that «are now being imposed by the Spanish Supreme Court to the detriment of transfers to the south of Spain, in compliance with Spanish legislation and the Water Framework Directive».
«This after long decades of socio-political conflicts between the regions of the transferring and receiving basin, respectively, the Autonomous Community of Castilla and the Autonomous Community of Murcia», they add.
«We do not want to import into Portugal the bad examples of our neighbours», who are even establishing themselves «in the territories served by the Alqueva reservoir to use their soil and water to exhaustion», say the movements.
For Juntos por Sudoeste, MovRioDouro, Plataforma Água Sustentável and proTejo, «the mentors and promoters of this “water highway” are the same ones who intend to build new dams (4) and dams (2) on the Tagus river, from Abrantes to Lisbon, transforming its last 127 kilometers of living and free river into pools of stagnant water, fragmenting habitats, worsening water quality and destroying ecosystems that are fundamental to the survival of species, including humans, with emphasis on the irreversible ecological imbalances that will be caused in the estuary of the Tagus».
Such projects are intended to «maintain and increase the area of super-intensive agriculture, absolutely unsustainable in Alentejo».
«The inadequacy of the profile of agricultural consumption in the face of current availability and in view of forecasts of reduced precipitation is a reality with serious consequences for the southern basins of the country and for the populations that depend on them», they say.
In the case of the Mira River and the Santa Clara dam, this agricultural consumption «disconnected from the hydrological reality has accentuated an unprecedented trend of reduction in the availabilities of that reservoir».
The critical levels at which the dam is found have motivated «growing social and institutional tensions and urgent measures to contain the squandering of water resources in the region».
«Solutions with a future for agriculture should be focused on changing agricultural practices, on adapting crops to the hydrological and climatic reality with practices that regenerate the soil, more efficiently in the use and conservation of water and that benefit biodiversity whose global action ensures the proper functioning of the ecological cycles, vital to feed the Chain of Life in all its dimensions», they argue.
In the agricultural sector, «the reduction of water waste (losses, distribution, etc.), added to water efficiency in water use, would make it possible to save 40% of water, that is, agriculture would be able to produce the same that it produces today with about than half the water it captures today».
Furthermore, the absence of supervision and measuring instruments «leads to a little more than 10% of the water in agriculture being actually billed, with the costs not being passed on to users».
The four movements also argue that it is necessary "to bet on the good management of available water resources, taking into account the urgency of achieving the good ecological status of bodies of water, using sparingly only what is essential and fundamental for society considered in its whole, preserving the cultural and social identity of the different regions".
They also consider it «fundamental to carry out a debate in society, centered on the sustainable use of water, as a scarce resource, an in-depth analysis of the carrying capacity for irrigation, a study of the objective needs for consumption; and, fundamentally, the implementation of true ecological flows within the scope of the Albufeira Convention, in compliance with the Water Framework Directive and its “principle of unit management of the hydrographic basin”».
In other words, it is necessary «to take measures to reverse the enormous transformation of the territories, in the irrigation perimeters and outside these, with impacts that generate disorder in the territory, degradation of the hydrographic network, soil erosion and loss of biodiversity, exploitation labor and concentration of ownership and use of land and water».
The movements defend the «importance of involving the populations in the processes of territorial base of use of their resources», having these NGOs communicated recently to the Minister of Agriculture and Food that «the process of strategic definition of the irrigation cannot be seen in an exclusively sectorial way then being declared its public interest based on supposed contributions to rural development. There is no development without involvement, so there must be spaces for discussion and joint construction, with institutional actors and stakeholders that go beyond those directly benefited. Immediate and consequent involvement is essential, through territorial-based processes, crucial in territories susceptible to desertification and drought».