Last month, while mainland Portugal remained in a state meteorological drought, there was an increase in cases of severe and extreme meteorological drought as a result of the low rain levels.
The eastern Algarve, between Faro and Vila Real de Santo António, is already starting to feel the consequences of a rainless winter.
According to the head of the Association of Beneficiaries of the Eastern Algarve Irrigation Plan, which covers the municipalities of Castro Marim, Vila Real de Santo António, Tavira and Olhão, this year’s water reserves should sustain crops without needing restrictions, but next year will see “great difficulties” if Portugal experiences another dry winter.
Speaking to Lusa News Agency, Pedro Nascimento recalled that last May it “rained more than the whole year” of 2018, and the Algarve’s eastern dams (Odeleite and Beliche) were “in a better situation than those in the west”.
The dams currently have “reasonable levels”, at about half full, which are sufficient to ensure the irrigation year.
“But we are very worried, because if this year it does not rain enough during what is left of spring, and the dam does not rise to higher levels, next year we will have serious difficulties if it is a dry year”, he warned.
On top of worrying about needing to limit irrigation water in the event of a dry year, Pedro Nascimento pointed out other reasons that exacerbate the association’s concerns, namely a greater use of the irrigation plan by new producers, and the existence of a number of owners who want to adhere to the plan, but have properties outside the watering plan’s perimeter.
“The irrigation plan is being increasingly used, agriculture has in fact been developing over the last two to three years; there are huge new plantations, especially of citrus and avocados.
“There are orchards that currently use much less water than they will in a year or two, because the trees are growing and will need more watering in time”, he explained.
The association’s other major concern is, according to its Mr. Nascimento, the existence of “many people who have land outside the perimeter and want to irrigate their farms but cannot”.
When the dams of Beliche and Odeleite were created, Pedro Nascimento recalls, a third possible option was suggested, which would have been the dam of the Foupana stream.
However, he says, “this fell into oblivion, but in fact, here in the eastern area, the Foupana dam was essential and indispensable”.
On the western side of the Algarve the situation is similar, though water reserves in the Arade and Funcho dams are sufficient to guarantee a normal irrigation year for farmers.
“Fortunately, we have water reserves that can guarantee a normal year of watering.
“The irrigation campaign for this year is not in danger, because the Funcho dam provides backup if water is lacking in the Arade dam” explained João Garcia, president of the Association of Irrigation and Beneficiaries of Silves, Lagoa and Portimão.
However, he noted, the low rainfall registered in recent months “has created difficulties for water management”, leading the association to provide irrigation to beneficiaries in the western Algarve area earlier on in the year.
“Contrary to normal, this year we had to start supplying water at the end of February, when in a normal year it only starts at the end of May” he said, adding that last month “about one million cubic meters of water was supplied to farmers, which is not expected at this time of year”.
According to João Garcia, the lack of rain coupled with high temperatures in the Algarve “has altered the cycle of plants and the normal production cycle, which will cause drops in production, with an increase in production costs to be footed by the end consumer”.
“If farmers start watering crops earlier with the use of pumps, it is natural for the cost of production to increase and reflect on the consumer”, he concluded.