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Extreme drought conditions but “no shortage of water” for human consumption

EXTREME DROUGHT CONDITIONS BUT “NO SHORTAGE OF WATER” FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTIONMore than 60% of mainland Portugal was in extreme drought at the end of February and 29.3% in severe drought, according to date by the Portuguese Institute of the Sea and the Atmosphere (IPMA). However, the Portuguese Environment Agency assures us that “there will be no shortage of water” for human consumption.

Pimenta Machado, vice-president of the Portuguese Environment Agency, speaking at a meeting in Tomar yesterday, assured that “there will be no shortage of water” for human consumption and welcomed the effect of the contingency measures. He announced that, in addition to Tagus and West stream basins, the Algarve and Alentejo regions will also advance with the Regional Water Efficiency Plan.

The vice-president said that the contingency measures adopted in view of the drought allowed the storage capacity in the Castelo do Bode reservoir to increase by 80 centimetres, equivalent to 10 cubic hectometres of water, which is about 15 days worth of water needed for human consumption and ecological flow.

“Water will not be lacking for what is our utilitarian use, which is human consumption. It won’t be missing. And nobody would forgive us” if this happened, he said, at a meeting that took place at the Municipal Library of Tomar (Santarém) and was attended by almost 100 people (mostly ‘online’), from various institutions.

Pimenta Machado said that the weather forecasts suggest that the levels of the dams in the north of the country will be recovered, namely in Lima, Lindoso, Douro and even in Zêzere and, next week, that there will be rain in the south, stressing that the Algarve is the region of greatest concern.

That is why it the Algarve is the first region to have the Regional Water Efficiency Plan approved, and already has funding of 200 million euros guaranteed by the Recovery and Resilience Plan, which will allow water savings both in agriculture and in the urban sector, those that experience higher levels of water loss, he said.

Pimenta Machado also stressed that another pioneering plan in the Algarve, the reuse of wastewater, both for golf courses and for agriculture and washing, will also go ahead in the Tagus and West regions, scheduled to begin on World Water Day – March 22nd, when the button will be “pressed” allowing all the green spaces of Parque das Nações, in Lisbon, to be irrigated with water coming out of Wastewater Treatment Plants.

The APA official also confirmed that the production license for the Tejo Atlântico has already been issued and that the license for use by the Lisbon City Council is being concluded, for the use of 1,200 cubic metres daily from the Beirolas WWTP to water gardens in the Parque das Nações.

Pimenta Machado, who declared himself ‘unfavourable’ to solutions such as transfers, also said that a proposal was being prepared to “gain independence from Spain”, taking into account the “great dependence” on the section between Belver, Fratel and the mouth of the Zêzere, in Constância.

The meeting in Tomar followed those in the Algarve and Alentejo, with the North subcommittee meeting scheduled for today, in Ponte da Barca, and for March16th in Coimbra, concluding the regional consultation round. 

Welcoming the fact that these meetings are taking place on rainy days, Pimenta Machado stressed that the droughts have become structural, which requires an effort to adapt and undergo changes in demand, improve efficiency, especially in agriculture and in the urban sector, and in supply, strengthening the importance of reusing wastewater. He mentioned the commitment to desalination, with the first “large plant” to be built in the Algarve by the end of 2025.

As an objective, he suggested we reach 10% reuse by 2025 (20% in the Algarve) and 20% in 2030, declaring that it is unacceptable for regions with water scarcity to use “drinking water” for such things as washing trash bins, cleaning terraces and streets, or for watering plants.