Alqueva Dam in southern Portugal

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Cota 139 movement

TRACCE no. 13 – by Movimento Cota 139

How EU and national policies can still promote unsustainable models of rural development that destroy habitats and species protected under EU law.

13 – April 2001    special issue devoted to the Guadiana Rock Art

Alqueva Dam

in southern Portugal

How EU and national policies

can still promote

unsustainable models

of rural development

that destroy habitats and species

protected under EU law


The Alqueva dam on the River Guadiana in southern Portugal, whose construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2001, will result in the largest artificial lake in Europe.

The entire Alqueva project which includes a total of 10 dams, 3,000 miles of irrigation canals and dozens of new roads, bridges and pumping stations is being funded by EU taxpayers.

The Portuguese Government plans to start flooding the area by the end of 2001 and create a 250 sq km reservoir (of which 63 sq km will lie within Spain), mainly for irrigation. For that purpose, on February 22 it started a clearing programme that will affect an area of 19.740 ha until the end of the year in a total of 24.320 ha of one of the most important natural areas in the Southern Iberian Peninsula, dominated by the characteristic montado ecosystem, mediterranean woodland and riparian habitats. The disappearance of these priority habitats will be dramatic for several threatened species of vertebrates. The reservoir will inundate 94% of the Habitats Directive Guadiana River-Juromenha site and affect the Birds Directive Special Protection Area of Moura-Mourão-Barrancos. In spite of the inclusion of the Alqueva region in the cartography prepared by Universities and its inclusion as studying area in the technical proposal, it was finally withdrawn from the national list for no technical justification in order to ease the approval of the project.

The clearing operation, not subjected to an environmental impact assessment and without any of the planned minimisation measures been implemented, was started on the presumption that the dam will be filled up to its full storage level at 152 meters and that water will be needed for the irrigation of an area larger than 110.00 ha and for a planned diversion from the Guadiana to the Sado basin. However, neither was the irrigation scheme fully defined (crops, water costs, funding) and the extremely high risk of salinization of the soil to be irrigated considered, nor was this diversion taken into account in the initial plans or subject to an environmental impact assessment, as required under EC EIA Directive.

Portuguese NGOs demand:

  1. for no clearing to take place above the level of 139 metres, saving more than half a million trees and important protected habitats from immediate destruction, while not precluding any options in the future regarding the actual use of the dam;
  2. for flooding to take place in stages, according to needs;
  3. for a debate to be initiated at national and European level on the viability of the irrigation plans in the development of Alqueva.

Movimento Cota 139


With the support of Confederação Portugesa
de Associações de Defesa do Ambiente
Information and Coordination Office (GIC): Rosa Matos (LPN),
T: ++ 351 21 778 00 97, ++ 351 91 975 02 92





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