Algarve drought written on cartoon with dry soil and mountains and sky background

In the event of a state of calamity in the Algarve in the second half of 2024, due to drought, the government could authorize Águas do Algarve to use abstractions from public or private entities and declare a state of environmental emergency under the Water Law.

The government published this Tuesday in the Diário da República the Council of Ministers’ resolution that “recognizes the alert situation in the Algarve region due to drought and approves a framework of response measures” to the lack of water in the south of the country, authorizing the different entities to spend the amounts already authorized – a total of more than 26 million euros – to curb the situation and ensure that there is water in the taps of Algarvians in 2024 and 2025.

The water-saving measures decided by the government should come into force immediately and will be active until “the end of the current hydrological year, which ends on September 30, 2024”.

The resolution stipulates that the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), the Algarve CCDR and the Algarve Intermunicipal Community submit to the government by June 1, 2024 “a status report on the implementation and effectiveness of the measures”, which should also “include recommendations for extending the measures until December 31, 2024, as well as additional measures if the minimum reserves for the public supply service for 2025 are not guaranteed”.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of additional, more severe measures being taken, to a higher degree of contingency, as a result of a reassessment of the situation in June 2024 […] The Government reserves the right, should the measures now adopted prove insufficient, to declare a state of calamity under the Civil Protection Framework Law,” the resolution warns, explaining that this will allow non-essential uses of water to be limited and even the supply of water to be rationalized.

In the event of a state of calamity in the Algarve in the second half of 2024, due to the drought, the government could authorize Águas do Algarve to use water abstracted by public or private entities and declare a state of environmental emergency as provided for in the Water Law.

Describing the situation in the southernmost region of the country as “particularly critical”, the government warns that if the same water use is maintained at current levels, without the application of extraordinary measures, “the supply of water for human consumption in the Algarve region will be severely compromised”. In other words, without savings and cuts in consumption, there will be a shortage of water in the region, warns the Executive, which wants – at the very least – to “guarantee the needs of the summer season and end 2024 with reserves for 2025”.

In this context, cuts of 15% have already been announced in the urban sector (including domestic and non-domestic uses), which includes the tourism sector, cuts of 25% in the agricultural sector and cuts of 18% in the golf sector. This is compared to the volumes consumed in the same period in 2023.

From the outset, Algarvians who fail to comply with these cuts will pay additional tariffs for excessive water use. In other words, the government will create “an additional tariff component” that will be applied to those who exceed a consumption equivalent to 85% of what was recorded in 2023. This “excess” will be calculated and charged by Águas do Algarve, as the concessionaire of the multi-municipal water supply and sanitation system, and the rules will still be defined by order of the Secretary of State for the Environment. The amount of this penalty, which will appear on the bill for people who use too much water, will be used to fund water efficiency measures and strengthen the resilience of public water supply systems in the Algarve region.


These are the measures that those living in the Algarve will have to face
Families will have less pressure to shower and wash dishes and will not be able to wash their cars with mains water. Those who consume little water will be able to keep the water prices they are charged now, but the sector regulator (ERSAR) is already talking to the municipalities about approving new tariffs that will increase according to the consumption levels.

In public supply, these are the rules dictated by the government:

Reduction of water pressure in the public water supply network under adequate operational conditions to the minimum essential levels that do not affect the quality of service;

Suspension of the use of water from the public network or drinking water extracted from other natural water sources for watering green spaces and public gardens, with the exception of the exceptions necessary to ensure the survival of trees of a unique or monumental nature;

Prohibiting the use of water from the public network or drinking water extracted from other natural water sources for watering gardens and lawns on private property, with the exceptions necessary to ensure the survival of unique or monumental trees;

Use of water from alternative sources, such as water for reuse, for watering green spaces and public gardens, as well as gardens and lawns on private property, which may only take place during hours of lower solar radiation, between 8pm and 8am;

A ban on the use of water from the public network and water extracted from other natural water sources in ornamental fountains, artificial lakes and other aesthetic water features;

A ban on washing floors, patios, walls and roofs with water from the public network or with water extracted from other natural sources;

Prohibition on the use of water from the public network and water extracted from other natural sources for compacting roads (paths or road bases) and controlling dust from paths in public or private works, whenever ApR is available at a distance of less than five kilometers;

Use of water from alternative sources for urban non-potable uses, such as washing streets, sidewalks, vehicles and equipment of public entities and urban waste containers, with the frequency of washing being reduced;

Suspension, between June 1 and September 30, 2024, of the use of water from the public network for washing vehicles (light or heavy), motorcycles, quadricycles, scooters or similar, unless it is carried out in establishments licensed for commercial activity and which have water recirculation systems or use sponges and buckets outside commercial establishments;

Suspension of the supply of water from the public network through meters for water uses that do not generate wastewater (aka "irrigation meters");

Creation or reinforcement of emergency pickets for monitoring and repairing breaks in water distribution networks, ensuring availability 24 hours a day, seven days a week;

Evaluating and, if necessary, implementing extraordinary complementary solutions for transporting and making water available for public supply, namely mobile desalination units and transporting water by different routes;

Review of low water supply tariffs for domestic and non-domestic users, as well as for uses that do not generate wastewater, in accordance with ERSAR guidelines;

Application of ERSAR's tariff recommendation for water services, with a view to increasing efficiency in contingency situations;

With regard to tourism, the government wants:

Implementation of water efficiency measures in tourist resorts, namely the installation of devices to reduce pressure or recirculate water;

Suspension of the supply of water from the public network for irrigation of golf courses;

Reducing the irrigation of golf courses with natural surface water to a maximum of 1.3 hm3 (1hm3 Sotavento and 0.3 hm3 Arade);

Reducing the rate of water renewal in public swimming pools, without compromising public health;

Closure of showers and foot washes in bathing areas, except in cases where they exclusively use seawater;

Implementation of a water efficiency label applicable to tourist resorts, attesting to the effective reduction in water consumption and the companies' commitment to implementing water efficiency measures that contribute to sustainable water saving and management.

As for agriculture, the Council of Ministers’ resolution establishes the following measures, which have already been widely criticized by professionals in the sector:

Definition, by the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DGADR), of reference values for survival irrigation for permanent crops, within a maximum period of three months, for the purposes of, if necessary, apportionment by users of irrigation perimeters;

Updating the contingency plans for collective irrigation for drought situations, specifically providing for the suspension of the registration of new irrigated areas in relation to the previous year;

Evaluation and implementation of the use of the dead volume of the Arade reservoir for agricultural irrigation;

Control of the volumes allocated to collective irrigation for 2024, ensuring compliance with the commitments made in this resolution;

Authorization of underground abstractions requested in conjunction with the irrigation association in the area of the Sotavento irrigation perimeter for survival irrigation, up to a maximum limit of 2.5 hm3/year, with the possibility of an increase to 4.5 hm3/year as long as the supply for human consumption is safeguarded;

Authorization for underground abstractions requested in conjunction with the irrigation association in the Alvor irrigation perimeter area for survival irrigation, up to a maximum limit of 0.5 hm3/year;

Authorization for a collective underground abstraction in the West sector requested by the irrigation association in the Alvor irrigation perimeter area to reinforce the Alvor perimeter, for survival irrigation, up to a maximum limit of 0.5 hm3/year.

The government has also decided to suspend the granting of new water resource use permits (TURH) for abstractions in the 22 underground water bodies in the Algarve region, and the current permits will also be limited by up to 50%.

At the Bravura dam, the water can only be used for public supply, “with the titles for other uses being temporarily suspended”. In this reservoir and also in Odeleite and Odelouca, the dead volume of the dams will also be used.

Environmental Fund to provide “lion’s share” of 13.3 million to combat drought in the Algarve

As for financial support, the government has allocated an “indicative budget of 26.65 million euros”: 12.4 million for public water supply measures, 10 million for tourism, 2.9 million for the management, monitoring and inspection of water resources and 350,000 euros for agriculture. Of this amount, 13.3 million will come from the Environmental Fund.

The Executive authorizes the APA to spend 2.9 million from the Environmental Fund in 2024 and 2025 to reinforce monitoring and inspection systems and infrastructures, hire external teams and reinforce resources, carry out urgent interventions to guarantee the operating and safety conditions of the Funcho dam, prepare studies to assess water availability and support drought management and to promote information and awareness campaigns.

Águas do Algarve, on the other hand, can spend 10.9 million euros over these two years on the construction of the Odelouca dam’s dead volume collection system, including supervision and commissioning; new groundwater abstractions and the rehabilitation of existing strategic public abstractions to reinforce the multi-municipal public water supply system; temporary reinforcement of teams, among other measures.

For their part, the region’s 16 municipalities will already receive 1.5 million euros from the Environmental Fund in 2024 to control water leaks from the network and rehabilitate existing public catchments.

The 350,000 euros from agriculture will go to the DGADR or the Association of Irrigators and Beneficiaries of Silves Lagoa and Portimão to reinforce the conditions of the Arade dam.

Extraordinary support for companies in the tourism sector will be provided through Turismo de Portugal, “using the balance of this institute, for a total amount of 10 million euros, to support applications to be submitted by companies in the tourism sector to implement water efficiency measures,” the resolution states.

Five working groups will also be set up to coordinate the implementation of the measures, under the general coordination of the APA, the Algarve Regional Coordination and Development Commission and the Algarve Intermunicipal Community.

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