In March, the Algarve municipalities approved a set of measures to reduce drought in the region, such as the closure of some public swimming pools in the summer, the limitation of irrigation in green spaces or their conversion to species that need less water.

“Increasingly worrying”

“The balance [of measures to fight drought] is positive. But the situation is not positive. It is increasingly worrying,” António Miguel Pina told Lusa agency.

The president of AMAL warned that, if it continues not to rain until the end of the year, “more difficult measures” will have to be taken, such as reducing “part or all” of agriculture’s access to available water or “restraining” public consumption through a “significant increase” in water bills.

António Miguel Pina, who is also mayor of Olhão, estimated the reduction in water consumption achieved by the measures that AMAL took this summer represented 8%, compared to 2019, as well as with a “greater awareness” of the population to the problem of water scarcity.

The 16 mayors of the Algarve decided last July to close the public municipal swimming pools during the month of August, a measure that was extended until the end of September, with the exception of pools in more inland territories.

The Intermunicipal Council also approved, at the same time, the closure of ornamental fountains, the reduction of irrigation days and stopping the irrigation of public green spaces.

Lack of water

According to data from the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), the Algarve dams currently have only 90 cubic hectometres (millions of cubic meters) of water in reserve, when the annual public (urban) consumption is 72, rising to 110 if the consumption of agricultural units is added.

"This means that if it doesn't rain more than last year, there will be no water to continue serving both types of consumption", said the mayor.

At the meeting, it was decided to wait until the end of the year, which coincides with the first three months of the beginning of the hydrological year (the rainy season, which starts on October 1), so that, in January, the Algarve municipal authorities reassess the situation.

“At that time, if it doesn't rain more than last year […] we will, perhaps, have to take more difficult measures, such as reducing in part, or in full, access to this water by agriculture”, said the president of AMAL.

Water bill increases

Another measure that “can” be taken is, “eventually, to curb public consumption through an increase” in water tariffs, as had been suggested in August by the Government.

The executive announced at the time that, in order to face the drought situation, they would recommend increasing the water tariff for the largest consumers (from 15 m3) in 43 municipalities in the most critical situation, including three in the Algarve (Lagos, Vila do Bispo and Aljezur).

The tariff increase, according to Environment Minister Duarte Cordeiro, should target consumers of more than 15 cubic metres of water, with the average consumption of a family being around 10 cubic metres.

Duarte Cordeiro explained that the tariff increase is intended for the 43 municipalities with the least water, adding that “nothing prevents other” municipalities from doing so.

António Miguel Pina concluded that these measures will be “on the table” at the meeting that AMAL will hold in January and, “until that time, the Algarve municipalities will maintain water saving measures and hope that nature is favourable”.