LUSA 07/10/2024

Lusa - Business News - Portugal: Avocado project could dry up reservoir - environmentalists

Alcácer do Sal, Portugal, July 9, 2024 (Lusa) - The environmental organisation GEOTA warned on Tuesday that the Murta dam in Alcácer do Sal (Setúbal district) "runs the serious risk of drying up" if the avocado plantation project planned for the municipality is approved. In a press release sent to the Lusa news agency, the Group for the Study of Territorial Planning and the Environment (GEOTA) said that this reservoir "is a biodiversity hotspot and provides fresh water to countless species of birds and mammals, among others".

However, "if the avocado plantation planned for the Herdades de Murta and Monte Novo, in the Alcácer do Sal region, goes ahead with a positive opinion from the CCDR Alentejo, the Murta reservoir runs the serious risk of drying up," the note reads.

In warning of the possible disappearance of this reservoir, GEOTA emphasised that "it is not just a question of maintaining the diversity of habitats, but of concentrating efforts on mitigating climate change, preserving and promoting the sustainable use of water resources".

The Herdades de Murta e Monte Novo Agroforestry Project covers a total area of 2,402.10 hectares in the parish of Comporta and the Union of Parishes of Alcácer do Sal (Santa Maria do Castelo and Santiago) and Santa Susana.

The initial project, under the responsibility of the company Expoente Frugal Lda, part of the Aquaterra group, envisaged the creation of "an agricultural area for avocado pear production of 722.24 hectares and a forestry production area of 1,415.85 hectares", according to the non-technical summary of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA), available on the Participa portal, consulted by Lusa.

However, the proposal, which did not receive a favourable opinion from the Alentejo Regional Coordination and Development Commission (CCDR), was reformulated and entered the public consultation phase, which ends today.

The reformulated project now includes a reduction in the plantation area to 658.44 hectares, a change in the area of support structures and infrastructures to 76.04 hectares, the elimination of the Comporta/Galé Special Conservation Zone (ZEC) Interpretive Centre and two of the 34 planned water collection boreholes.

In a statement released today, GEOTA said that "the lack of vision of companies that focus on immediate profit/benefit, camouflaged by values of economic and social competitiveness, in promoting intensive irrigated tropical monocultures, is regrettable".

This type of investment, claimed the environmental organisation, "gradually de-characterises the landscape" and leads to "the exhaustion of water resources in an area of the country that has long been in structural drought".

"Avocado growing puts enormous pressure on aquifers and, if the CCDR Alentejo gives the go-ahead for yet another plantation, in this case covering more than 658 hectares, it is estimated that the volume of groundwater extracted per year by the company promoting the project will amount to a total of more than 2,850 million litres, altering the balance of this aquifer once and for all and consequently putting the Murta dam at risk," it warned.

The reservoir is "essentially fed by a spring in the groundwater aquifer that allows it to have water available all year round", but "if groundwater levels are lowered by intense extraction for irrigation, the spring dries up and the weir's lagoon could dry up", GEOTA insisted.

The organisation also argued that "the successive approvals of agricultural and tourism projects, mostly by CCDR Alentejo, as the EIA authority, have already allowed the destruction of 30% of the area of the Comporta-Galé Special Conservation Zone (ZEC), as well as the excessive consumption of water resources".

   RRL/ADB // ADB.