Portugal cuts golf course irrigation in drought-hit Algarve tourist hub

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Facing an unprecedented drought, Portugal will cut irrigation of golf courses and green spaces in its tourism-dependent Algarve region to avert water rationing for human consumption, the country’s environment minister said.

Mainland Portugal already has 99% of its territory in severe or extreme drought as a result of the recent heat wave, according to data from national meteorology institute IPMA published on Friday.

IPMA said that, in the first 17 days of July, maximum temperatures in mainland Portugal averaged 33.9 degrees Celsius, 5.2 degrees above the same period last year.

Fire burns near a swimming pool during a forest fire in the village of Lavradio, Ourem, Portugal. EPA-EFE/NUNO ANDRE FERREIRA

Environment Minister Duarte Cordeiro said the restrictive measure in the Algarve had been freely agreed by the government and Algarve’s AHETA hotels association, and would save 100 million litres of water in the coming summer months.

In Portugal, where more than 10 million people live, the daily consumption of water is 18 litres per capita.

“It is confirmed this is the most serious drought of this century and requires water savings by all Portuguese – families, the tourism sector, farmers and industry,” he told reporters.

He said that “August will also be a very hot month” across the country, but added that “there will be no rationing of water for human consumption”.

The number of foreign tourists visiting Portugal in May jumped almost six times to more than 1.58 million, but still fell about 9% short of pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, the according to National Statistics Institute (INE).

Visitors from Britain accounted for the largest share of total arrivals in May at 16%, with the vast majority heading to the Algarve.

Climate change has left the Iberian peninsula at its driest in 1,200 years, and winter rains are expected to fall further, a study published this month in the journal Nature Geoscience showed.

Agriculture consumes 75% of Portugal’s water supply, but the environmental agency APA estimates that about a third is wasted due to the outdated irrigation and distribution system.

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