Almargem and Zero have “major reservations” about the future desalination plant

Losses, costs and climate change are the basis of the position of the two associations

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The environmental associations Zero and Almargem have «great reservations» regarding the «real contribution» of the construction of a Desalination Station in the Algarve, whose public consultation on the Environmental Impact Study ended on December 19th. 

The reservations of the two entities relate to the objectives of “guaranteeing the resilience of public supply to the population of the region” and the “availability of water for current and future consumption”.

For these two associations, «the documents under public consultation do not adequately justify the need for the project, leaving out an analysis of current and future water needs for public supply, characterization of current origins, competing uses and predictable scenarios taking into account the hierarchy of uses and the project's contribution to meeting these needs, the impacts that the increase in water supply for the urban sector will have on other uses (namely irrigation based on large-scale monocultures) the socioeconomic impacts resulting from the increase in the price of water, both for consumers and for entities managing supply services that operate in the region».

In this joint position, Almargem and Zero summarize the three «main reasons why they consider that this project should be subject to a more in-depth evaluation process, and these aspects should not be referred to RECAPE (Environmental Compliance Report of the Execution Project) ».

In the latest report from the Water and Waste Services Regulatory Authority, it is indicated that, in the 19 management entities in the Algarve, the percentage of unbilled water is, on average, around 30%, with management entities exceeding 50%.

«According to the Algarve Regional Water Efficiency Plan, real losses in the distribution networks exceed 13 million m3 (13 hm3), that is, a volume that could be greater than the desalinated water inserted in the supply system that it will be, on average, 12,5 hm3/year», say the associations.

Thus, in the opinion of Almargem and Zero, “fulfilling the objective of strengthening the water resilience of the Algarve supply system and guaranteeing the current and future water needs of the public supply will be at stake if there is no effective effort to increase the efficiency of supply networks”.

The RE-C09-i01 investment – ​​Algarve Regional Water Efficiency Plan (PREHA) includes a set of complementary measures, including the promotion of seawater desalination, which includes EDAMA, and also the reduction of water losses. water in the urban sector.

For this last measure, managed by the Algarve Intermunicipal Community (AMAL) under PREHA, the PRR foresees an investment of 35 million euros, a budget recently increased by 8,9 million euros, making a total of almost 44 million « for the rehabilitation of failing water supply systems aimed at reducing real water losses”.

At the end of the project's execution, it is expected that «125 km of the failing water supply network will be rehabilitated, contributing to a reduction of 2 hm3 in water demand in natural systems» (2), the equivalent of «just over of 15% of the system's current real losses, which appears to be clearly insufficient to justify investment in desalination», says the document.

Another aspect highlighted is the fact that there is no “analysis of the impact that the production costs of desalinated water will have on the tariffs charged to final consumers and on the economic-financial balance of the entities managing supply services”.

According to Zero and Almargem, «considering that desalinated water may cost ten times more than water produced traditionally, it could significantly increase the tariffs paid by consumers».

«This analysis is even more relevant when the new strategy for the sector (PENSAARP 2030), recently approved by the Council of Ministers, highlighted the excessive dependence on subsidies of a significant part of managing entities and the need to implement tariff increases as a way of reduction of this dependence and ensuring compliance with the user-pays principle, which if achieved in the Algarve as it is being introduced into the supply system, water with a substantially higher production cost could result in the burden of consumers too much effort”, they say.

Added to this is the fact that the project "evidently harms the objective of mitigating climate change due to its clear contribution in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, which is very significant."

«The EIA does not establish a consistent argument to the contrary, simply stating that the construction of “a photovoltaic renewable energy production system” contributes to the project not compromising the mitigation of climate change. However, the operation of the photovoltaic plant, despite its 10 thousand panels occupying 4,5 hectares, only covers 14% of the energy needed, with the remainder of the energy coming from the public grid, increasing the demand for energy and GHG emissions. (more than 9 tCO000eq/year – over the useful life it will be 2 t CO270eq)».

«There is also the impact of protected habitats, including priority habitats. The Birds and Habitats Directives (Directives no. 79/409/CEE and no. 92/43/CEE) presuppose the protection of certain species and habitats, regardless of whether they are found within protected areas, however, the analysis of compliance with the DNSH principle focuses only on the allocation of Natura 2000 Network areas, without taking into account the affected habitats, including three priority ones (6220 (*Grasses and annual substeppes of the Thero-Brachypodietea) and dune habitats 2130 and 2270.) nor in relation to the allocation of the Important Bird Area (IBA) Vilamoura», concludes the statement.

The future Algarve Seawater Desalination Station should be built in an area next to the final section of the Quarteira river, close to Rocha Baixinha beach, on the coast of the municipality of Albufeira.

The construction of the desalination plant is one of the measures financed by the Recovery and Resilience Plan for the Algarve, with an investment of around 90 million euros.

The plant will have a capacity of up to 24 cubic hectometers.