With dams emptier than ever, Algarve demands the construction of another desalination plant

Vice-president of APA says the priority is to execute projects foreseen in the PRR

Odeleite Dam, this Tuesday, October 17th – Photo: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação

The desalination plant that will be built in Albufeira has not yet come to fruition, but the region's forces are already demanding that a second unit of this type be moved forward, with a capacity that allows the Algarve to be self-sufficient, in terms of water for urban consumption.

This demand was made this Thursday, the 19th, in Faro, by mayors, but also by José Apolinário, president of the Algarve Regional Coordination and Development Commission, shortly after Pimenta Machado, vice-president of the Portuguese Environment Agency, revealed that, at the moment, there are 40 cubic hectometers (hm3) accumulated in the Algarve dams, when, per year, the Algarve needs 80 hm3 to guarantee urban – that is, human – consumption.

The intervention of Pimenta Machado, who spoke about the drought in Portugal, with special attention to the Algarve, and the measures being taken to mitigate it, kicked off the H2O & Sustainability Summit, which ends today, Friday, in the Algarve capital.

It was also in the opening session of the conference that António Pina and Rogério Bacalhau, presidents of the Chambers of Olhão and Faro, respectively, and José Apolinário demanded a reinforcement of the focus on desalination, in the short term, and solutions that allow water to be brought from the North of the country to the South, through transfers.

«It seems clear to me that the Algarve cannot remain dependent on the water cycle, especially because our main activity is tourism, which is not compatible with a possible reduction of water in the taps. This would be a tremendous loss for the Algarve, which would take years to recover», defended, on the sidelines of the session, António Pina, who was at the session as president of the Algarve Intermunicipal Community – AMAL.

«We believe it is time to design the second desalination plant, in order to give S. Pedro greater robustness and independence. We cannot wait for it to rain,” he added.

Another measure defended by both António Pina and Rogério Bacalhau is the transfer of water between regions, more precisely, between Alqueva and Odeleite, dams that even belong to the same river basin.

«In other parts of the country, there is water and, in some cases, an excess of it, which even becomes a problem. There are already some connections between river basins and it seems to us that, even for flood management, which is a phenomenon that occurs in the North of the country, the distribution of water from North to South is something that the country should study now», challenged the president of AMAL.


António Pina – Photo: Hugo Rodrigues | Sul Informação


Shortly before, during the session, José Apolinário had already argued that it is necessary to «create consensus in the region and look for a way to finance a second medium-level desalination plant in the Algarve».

Part of this money could be guaranteed by Algarve 2030, which has «66 million euros allocated to water policies», added the president of CCDR Algarve.

Rogério Bacalhau, who would even prefer to choose to build just one large-capacity desalination plant, which would allow the production of «70 or 80 hm3 per year», even asked José Apolinário to pass the funds allocated for these projects, in Algarve 2030, «to 90 or 100 million”, because “the cost of not having water is greater than any investment”.

This is because, warns the president of the Chamber of Faro, the water that was available in the Algarve dams until the beginning of the week is only enough for six months of urban consumption.

«We have water for about six months in the dams. We are at 40 hm3, when the Algarve's annual needs, just for urban consumption, are 80 hm3", he recalled.


Rogério Bacalhau – Photo: Hugo Rodrigues | Sul Informação


This reality had already become clear in the presentation made by Pimenta Machado, who highlighted that this «is the worst start of a hydrological year ever [starts on October 1st], in terms of availability in the Algarve dams».

«In relation to the beginning of the previous hydrological year, which now ended in September, we have 8% less water accumulated in the six dams in the Algarve [Bravura, Odeleite, Arade, Funcho, Beliche, Odeleite], which corresponds to 35 hm3 less» , he revealed.

«In the last 20 years, precipitation has decreased by 15% in Portugal. At the same time, there was an increase in temperature, which means, on the one hand, there is more evaporation and, on the other, more water is needed for irrigation», he added.

And if in the country the decrease is significant, in the Algarve we have been witnessing «a severe reduction in rainfall».

«We have had less than normal rainfall for 9 or 10 consecutive years here in the Algarve», illustrated the vice-president of APA.


Pimenta Machado – Photo: Hugo Rodrigues | Sul Informação


«The system we had to date, based on reservoirs, was predicted for a certain amount of rainfall, but climate change has already arrived. We didn't realize it and started late. But if we don't want, ten years from now, to continue saying that we started late, we need to do more than we are already doing and start designing now», defended, for his part, António Pina.

For Pimenta Machado, the priority is to execute the measures provided for in the Algarve Regional Water Efficiency Plan, which have financing guaranteed by the Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR).

«Above all, we have to focus our energies on implementing the projects that are financed in the PRR. The big focus is on the efficient use of water, whether in the urban sector or in the agricultural sector, this is our proposal and should be the priority", he began by saying, referring to the funds allocated to reducing losses in water networks .

«Then, it’s time to work on new sources, new water sources [desalination and connection of Pomarão to Odeleite], and the use of Water for Reuse», that is, treated wastewater.

Regarding the planned desalination plant, he argued, “it will be a large plant. It is 16 hm3 and is already prepared from a structural point of view to increase to 24 hm3. This is the big bet, in addition to the connection to Pomarão. At the end of the day, this is where we must focus all our energy on executing projects».

Regarding the demands made by the region for the construction of a new desalination plant and transfers from North to South, the vice-president of APA is cautious and will not commit to anything.

«There are no taboos here. Obviously we are open to discussing other solutions, naturally we are always open and available", he said, always insisting that "it is important, above all, to concentrate our efforts on executing the projects we worked on in 2019", that is, those planned in the PRR.




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