Due to the proposed desalination plant in the borough, which the locals view as an "environmental crime" that might result in "irreparable damage" to the area, a group of foreign residents of the Algarve have threatened to take Albufeira Municipal Council to the European Court of Justice.

The organisation presented a petition opposing the project to the Municipal Assembly of Albufeira, outlining all the scientific justifications for why desalination is not the solution for the Algarve.

Plataforma Água Sustentável who is also against the construction of a desalination plant near Albufeira, in the Algarve sent The Portugal News a report corroborating their ideas on why this proposal will be “disastrous” for the region.

Plataforma Água Sustentável (PAS) is a project that combines many environmental and social associations, which are working together to prove that a desalination plant in Albufeira would not alleviate the impact of drought in the region.

The desalination plant would be placed in a Protected Marine Area, namely the recently approved Refice do Algarve Marine Natural Park, which brings environmental consequences in an area that is being protected by the authorities. According to PAS, the rejected brine would come back to the sea, filled with “the extracted salt, inorganic and organic chemicals, heavy metals and a high level of microorganisms,” that would pollute the sea. Furthermore, the atmosphere would also be feeling the consequences of the desalination plant, as PAS mentioned in their statement, because “the emission of polluting gases into the atmosphere associated with the type of fossil energy used, contributing to a greater greenhouse effect.”

Water pollution

Given the project, the brine rejection would be discharged “just 1,8 kilometres away from the beach”, impacting not only the marine environment but also the quality of water and, therefore the tourism and fishing industry. Plus, the discharge of the brine would create an imbalance when it comes to the salinity of sea waters, “although there is a reduction in the diffusers, it continues to be higher than that of seawater”, consequently seawater pH could be affected as well “depending on the amount of acid/base added, but with variations that can reach more or less than two.” Not being careful with the quantity of salt in the sea waters can bring many consequences to every species that lives in the area, as “poor brine dilution can cause hypersalinity in the marine environment, reducing the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water.”

The weather conditions could be affected by the wrong discharge of brine in the sea, once again affecting sea fauna and flora. Hypersaline fluid on the sea can “modify the reflection coefficient of the filtered light, causing the formation of a fog that hinders the passage of light, affecting the photosynthesis of marine plant species.”

PAS also mentions that constructing “a brine rejection pipeline on the seabed is considered one of the worst possible alternatives since the pipeline itself multiplies the probability of environmental risk.”

The process mentioned in the project for the desalination plant in Albufeira focuses on “reverse osmosis membrane technology, with two stages.” Starting with filtration while “using high pressure pumps through a semi-permeable membrane,” then, after flowing through the membrane, water will be less concentrated in salt and impurities, usually called sludge. The PAS statement states that the mentioned process “represents around 85% of all existing desalination plants worldwide”, nevertheless the process is not efficient, as it has only 40% efficiency for drinking water.

Noise pollution

Regarding noise pollution, the consequences would be felt mostly on the surface, even though “regarding underwater noise, not enough information was found on the subject.” However, some studies prove that the noise of the desalination plant would create an impact, as suggested by Fuentes-Bargues, in a study carried out in 2014, quoted by PAS in their statement. Fuentes-Bargues affirms that “‘On the surface, noise, energy consumption, visual impact provoked by the facilities, and the collusion and electrocution of birds with the power lines are the major impacts identified and assessed.’”

PAS suggests that the underwater noise must be analysed, as, during industrial works, it is expected that machines may be producing vibration and sound that could affect local communities. And just like vibrations from “vehicles, extractive activities and even wind turbines” may affect underwater life, reducing the number of species individuals in the area, and also “increased stress, effect on the ability to attract mates.”

Alternatives for desalination

The group states in the press release sent to The Portugal News that desalination must be used “as a last resort, when all other alternatives have been exhausted,” as the process consumes high levels of energy, causing “major environmental impacts,” as mentioned before.

Besides being an expensive, and polluting measure, according to PAS, desalination has low efficiency, not being the most sustainable tool to diminish the drought’s effects, as “the efficiency of the process of obtaining drinking water will only be 40%, which means, in addition to all the issues mentioned, substantial losses throughout the technological process, possibly due to having opted for a less innovative chemical process, which has costs to medium and long term.” PAS also exemplifies what is happening in other countries, like Spain, where there are about 800 desalination plants and there is “more water scarcity problems than Portugal.” Plus, the desalination of seawaters would cause social consequences, such as “social injustice that results from the fact that the water necessary for life is of poorer quality and more expensive than that from dams and aquifers,” supplied for agriculture and golf courses.

To prevent all the mentioned consequences, PAS suggested some measures that could replace the desalination plant in Albufeira. Above some of the measures, PAS states that, in Portugal, the percentage of water reuse “is only 1,02%”. The action in this field was already planned and could be targeted by responsible authorities.

Agriculture is where most water is being spent, thus control of the water spent on the field must be guaranteed by the Government, affirms PAS, which highlights that the desalination plant would serve water only for people’s homes. Thus, quantifying the water spread by aquifers, for example, should be regulated.

In conclusion, because of the possible negative effects on the environment, society, and economy, the proposed desalination plant in Albufeira, Algarve, has sparked a great deal of discussion and criticism.

In light of growing water scarcity, the concerns expressed by groups such as Plataforma Água Sustentável highlight the significance of giving water management methods serious thought and thorough review.

Desalination may appear like a workable option, but its high energy costs, negative effects on the environment, and social injustices underscore the need for a more comprehensive strategy that places an emphasis on innovation, conservation, and sustainable water usage.

In the face of water issues, stakeholders may collaborate to guarantee the long-term health of the Algarve's ecosystems, people, and economy by promoting communication, carrying out in-depth studies, and looking into other solutions.

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