Two environmental associations reveal that Alqueva’s water is being used for unauthorized irrigation “on some 6,500 hectares” and accuse the competent authorities of maintaining “half measures” against offenders.
In a statement sent to the Lusa news agency, the Zero and Almargem associations state that “an area larger than the size of the city of Porto, essentially in the municipalities [alentejanos] de Beja, Évora and Serpa, is using public water from the Alqueva dam without authorization, in many cases for several years”.
The two associations add that it is about “an area of about 6,500 hectares”, which, together, “it would constitute one of the largest irrigation blocks in the Alentejo region”.
“The lack of control in the expansion of irrigated areas, in what is the benchmark irrigation project in terms of modernity, is immensely worrying,” says André Pinheiro, from Almargem, quoted in the statement.
This official adds that, “in a scenario where water tends to be more scarce, it is necessary to guarantee the establishment of clear limits of use, which are guided by principles of equity and which, at a minimum, guarantee compliance with the Impact Statements and applicable regulations”.
According to Zero and Almargem, the unauthorized use of Alqueva’s water “It led to cultural conversions that generate irregularities from the urban point of view” in the region.
“How do you explain the transfer of water to areas that are violating land use planning? How is irrigation allowed on large areas that have not been authorized for years?” asks Pedro Horta, from the Zero association, also quoted in the statement.
This situation leads the two associations to consider that both the managing body, the Alqueva Development and Infrastructure Company (EDIA), and the national irrigator body, the General Directorate of Agriculture and Rural Development (DGADR), “are halfway , with many of the offenders going unpunished and taking advantage of the illegal use of public waters”.
“It was not until March 2022 that the managing body formalized complaints before the national irrigation authority […]but only a fraction of the situations were reported”, being equivalent to “35% of the identified area”spot.
EDIA says it reported all illegal cases
Contacted by Lusa, the president of EDIA, José Pedro Salema, refuted these accusations, stressing that it was the company itself that identified the unauthorized irrigation zone in the area of the Alqueva Multipurpose Project and that “all cases have been reported” to the DGADR. “EDIA has to do what corresponds to it and leave in the hands of the competent authorities the actions that can be determined in the infringement administrative process”, he added.
José Pedro Salema also revealed that EDIA’s water use plan for 2023 already provides for the fight against these illegalities, “with the establishment of authorized flows, precisely to control the growth of unauthorized areas.” “I am convinced that the rules defined by EDIA completely resolve this situation”he said, noting that “an authorized volume associated with each record” was defined.
According to the manager, “this authorized volume was calculated based on the irrigation allocation and the authorized areas and, if the percentage of unauthorized area is high, it will be completely impossible and unfeasible to continue developing that crop on that site.”
“Therefore, farmers will be forced to make this change because they will not have water to irrigate these areas,” he concluded.