Country is experiencing the worst drought ever at the start of summer
Alarms are sounding: water this summer will have to be managed with caution and limitations on public use are inevitable. Measures will be closed this month. May was very dry and forecasts for June are no better.
Saving water will have to be the watchword this summer. After some relief in March and April, the month of May was the hottest on record in Portugal and very dry. Accordingly the forecasts from the Portuguese Institute for the Sea and the Atmosphere, which are being worked on with the Portuguese Environment Agency, predict an even drier second half of June, which places the country in the most serious scenario ever in terms of water shortage at the beginning of summer.
The inter-ministerial meeting to assess the drought situation at the national level will take place soon, and the first package of measures for the summer should be closed at the time, after the various initiatives and constraints that took place at the beginning of the year, including the interruption of electricity production in dams where the quotas have dropped to the most critical levels (which remain).
The priority will be to ensure the water supply to the population and manage the reserves for public use and irrigation. As the course of the year is uncertain – the current hydrological year has been the second driest on record and there are no long-term guarantees that autumn and winter will be rainier – measures will have to take into account that the rainy months of end of the year may not be, so the approach is one of caution. “We have never been in such a bad situation at the start of summer,” according to a source linked to the monitoring process.
Inevitable conditioning of water use Two weeks ago, in an interview with Expresso, the Minister of the Environment anticipated a “difficult summer” in terms of drought, admitting at the time the conditioning of water use and anticipating that the meeting to assess the situation and measures would take place within three week
Meanwhile, the IPMA assessment for May confirmed the worst trajectory and, the Portuguese Environment Agency has also been working regionally to assess the more complex situations locally.
The Algarve is one of the concerns: in addition to the drought situation, the post-pandemic tourist recovery brings an increase in water consumption in the region and will be another factor to manage.
In other periods of drought, the measures involved limiting the filling of swimming pools and decorative fountains and also the watering of gardens and street washing, with the use of treated water for this purpose being advanced in recent months, but which still happens to a small scale.
If the constraints of water use in the summer are being seen as inevitable, part of the emphasis will also be on raising awareness
In recent months, several municipalities have launched campaigns to save water, from Portalegre to Mértola, passing through Famalicão or Castro Verde. One of the experts’ concerns is that Portugal has experienced successively drier years, so the recovery from a drought situation tends to be slower.
It only rained 13% of the time in May According to the May Climate Bulletin published by the IPMA at the end of last week, this was the scenario at the end of last month: 97.1% of the territory was already in severe drought and 1.4% was extreme, therefore 98.5% of the territory in the most worrying categories of meteorological drought. It needed to have rained more than usual this spring to make up for the dry months at the beginning of the year and if March and April were a relief, in May it only rained 13% of the record between 1971 and the year 2000.
It was the warmest May in 92 years, when records begin.
The hydrological year 2021/2022, considering the period from October to May, is the 2nd driest since 1931, after 2004/05. But in May 2005, as in the last great drought of 2012, the country did not reach the end of May, practically all of it in the most severe categories of drought. In both years there was a greater share of the territory in extreme drought, but a quarter of the country was still in moderate drought. At the end of May – and the June heat wave will have already worsened the situation – only 1.5% of the mainland was in moderate drought.