In America we pipe oil all around the country, vast distances, no problem. Why can’t water be piped to the Algarve from the North? That’s a good question.

The American Petroleum Institute says, “More than 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines traverse the United States. They connect producing areas to refineries and chemical plants while delivering the products American consumers and businesses need. Pipelines are safe, efficient and, because most are buried, largely unseen.

The distance from the North to the South of Portugal is less than 600Km, probably less from the principal dams in the North to the dams in the South, which are already linked. Water is easier to move than oil.

One answer, sadly, is that the authorities in the North don’t want to share their water with the South. An article in Diário de Notícias a couple of weeks ago reported that northern regions, with their 80% plus full dams and reservoirs, rejected the idea of piping water to help the drought-stricken south. Their headline reads “In a year when reservoirs are full, the North rejects the idea of ​​transfers to the South: “We don’t have any more water”. That seems to say it all.

Rights of way

Another issue which is bound to come up as an objection to piping water from the north is what are called ‘rights of way’. The need to get permission from hundreds, if not thousands, of landowners to allow pipes to be buried under their land. We have an extensive, fully connected motorway network from the north to the south. Why couldn’t pipes be buried alongside these roads? It's not rocket science.

Of course, there are plenty of other objections. Rui Cortes a member of the National Water Council and of the Douro river basin defence movement ‘MovRioDouro’ is reported as saying these infrastructures “imply very high investments, which would increase the cost of water fivefold”, but “they are tragic in terms of the environment and land use planning“. “We have to preserve aquatic ecosystems and their quality,” He admits that this year it has rained “more than average” in the north of the country, which means that most of the reservoirs in the Douro Basin are now full or almost full.

Face the facts

The Algarve is a popular tourist destination and a major hub for the tourism industry. However, this region is facing the challenge of water scarcity, which is likely to worsen as tourism expands. Tourism increases water consumption to an alarming level, which has led to water shortages and restrictions in the region. The mixing of saltwater with groundwater in the Algarve has damaged the soil and made it unusable for farming in many areas. Groundwater extraction and uncontrolled irrigation practices have contributed to saltwater mixing with groundwater, leading to water shortages.

Although golf is a significant industry in Algarve, efforts are being made towards sustainability by using drought-resistant grass species and efficient irrigation systems that use wastewater for irrigation.

One interesting project that gets little publicity is the Algarve Multi-Municipal Water Supply System which was established in 2000. The Algarve water supply system operates four water treatment plants and 32 pumping stations along the network of treated water and raw water pipelines. The treated water pipeline runs at an average elevation of 100m above sea level along its 454km length, with the individual pumping stations extracting water at pressures and volumes as required. These are controlled remotely in the main water treatment plants at Tavira and Alcantarilha.

What about desalination?

There is a project to build a desalination plant near Albufeira near Olhos de Água. The problem is that the regional water company Águas do Algarve still does not have possession of all the rustic properties where they intend to build the plant. One man, Juan Ferreiro Diaz, has refused the offer for his land, and refusing to vacate. He claims the compulsory purchase order is half of the sum he paid to buy this land in 2005. He is threatening to go to court, and we all know how long court processes can drag on for.

Tenders for the construction of the plant should have opened at the end of last month. António Pina, president of the Algarve Municipalities Association (AMAL), claimed that the new facility will be able to produce “one-third of the Algarve’s urban water needs.” What about the other two-thirds?

Just waiting for it to rain

Duarte Cordeiro, Minister of Environment and Climate Action made a balance of the measures taken against the drought and the optimization of the water resource after the Government was accused by Bruno Coimbra of the PSD of just “waiting for it to rain”. The deputy spoke of water losses of 30%, of the “almost non-existent use of treated water.

No joined-up thinking?

There are no shortage of plans and projects. Connecting dams from the north, desalination plants, and treating wastewater. Plans seem to run into trouble so easily. The North don’t want to share their water, the desalination plant cant even start to be constructed because one man doesn’t accept the price he is offered for his land. There a few private wastewater treatment plants. I get the impression that many people in Lisbon, the centre of government, and further north look down on the Algarve.

Despite their apparent low impression of the Algarve, they still come down for their holidays, vacation home, golf, etc. This problem needs strong government intervention and coordinated planning with no excuses accepted.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman