Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Time for decisions on Salgados lagoon

In spite of recent torrential rains, the lagoon at Salgados has been empty for nearly two weeks. There is even less water in it now than when the environmental protest campaign got underway at the end of spring. Unlike then, however, the dryness now is normal and not a cause for concern.
When coastal lagoons like Salgados become overfull after heavy rains in autumn or winter, they break out and empty into the sea naturally. It is important that this happens so that the lagoons do not become overladen and eventually overwhelmed by sediments. Usually after 10 days or so of dryness, the basins refill with a mixture of freshwater and seawater. This natural, refreshing process is what is happening right now at Salgados.
It does not mean that all is well there. Far from it. If this popular birdwatching site is to become a stable sanctuary, two things need to be done quickly.
First, the Secretary of State for the Environment must decide, based on advice from the Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente, if an environmental impact study is to be carried out before construction is allowed to begin on the proposed tourist development between Salgados and Praia Grande. An impact study is mandatory in law when a new 18-hole golf course is planned.  In this case the development company may be hoping for a legal loophole. It is believed it has opted to build not a single 18-hole course but two 9-hole courses.  If such a plan circumvented the requirement of an impact study, it would, of course, be preposterous and strenuously opposed by NGO environmental groups. The Secretary of State is expected to make an announcement shortly.
The second urgent matter is to implement an agreed conservation management system so that the water level in the lagoon is under control at all times, especially during the breeding season. Such a system was agreed back in 2008 between all the parties involved in protracted negotiations aimed at protecting Lagoa dos Salgados.
As intended then, water is now being fed into the lagoon from a new, nearby sewage treatment plant. But the agreement to incorporate an overflow system to prevent flooding of the existing Salgados golf course has not yet been implemented. The stumbling block back in 2008 was who should pay for it.
The problem has been compounded by a major inadequacy in Albufeira’s sewage disposal. It is said that as much as 25% of Albufeira’s waste water is at present deposited straight into the sea near the mouth of the lagoon. The plan is to channel this waste through a pipeline to the Salgados treatment plant. It is a separate and much more costly project, but for practical purposes it would have to be carried out in tandem with the management plan. The combined costs would be well over €1 million. The question remains, where is the money going to come from?

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