Guadiana River Basin (Portugal)

The Guadiana River is born in Spain in Ruidera lagoons and stretches over a total length of 810 km, until it joins the Atlantic Ocean in Vila Real de Santo António, Portugal. The river basin extends on an area of 66 800 km2, 11 580 km2 in south-eastern Portugal and the remaining 55 220 km2 in Spain. It constitutes one of the three main drainage units of the Iberian Peninsula shared between Portugal and Spain. Total population in the basin accounts to 1.900.000 inhabitants, of which 230.000 in Portugal. In Portugal, the river has a total length of 260 km, of which 110 km correspond to the border between Portugal and Spain.

The Guadiana River has a Mediterranean fluvial regime where floods alternate with dry spells. It represents a typical semi-arid region where human activity and modification of the hydrological regime over previous decades have led to increasing water scarcity and the identification of water shortage as a 'structural characteristic' of the system.

Future climate change will act to amplify existing water stress, with important consequences for the availability and distribution of water between different land uses (McEvoy D. et al. 2009). The Guadiana Basin includes some of the poorest municipalities in Portugal, severely affected by an ageing population, due to a generalized and progressive population loss in the last decades, and unemployment.

Land occupation is predominantly rural and part of the water quality problems are due to sewage water discharges from agro-industrial units and to agricultural activity, both in Portugal and Spain. The poor economic indicators are frequently associated by the Portuguese Authorities to the lack of water availability (WWF 2003). Water has always been considered an important development factor for the Guadiana river basin. There are several large dams along the Guadiana river, mostly built for irrigation purposes, which create a pressure in the ecological status of the river. Alqueva is the largest and one of the newest dams in the Iberian Peninsula; the construction of the main infrastructure was finished in 2002. One reason given by the Portuguese Authorities to justify the Alqueva dam was the need to address the water deficit through a "strategic water reservoir".In fact, there is a slight water deficit in the Guadiana River Basin, aggravated in extremely dry years.

The SIAM report (2001) showed that precipitation decreased over the period between 1931shorter rainy season, an increasing number of consecutive dry days, and an increase in the frequency of severe and extreme droughts, particularly in the southern region, over the last ten years (SIAM 2001). This evidence is emphasised by the drought of 2004-05, which was the most severe recorded since the 1940s (Comissão para a Seca 2005) and where the Guadiana Basin was the most affected in Portugal. It is expected that the frequency and intensity of extreme events, in particular droughts, will become increasingly problematic for the Guadiana basin.

In this case we will study the socio-economic impacts of water scarcity in the Guadiana River basin and we will analyse the instruments that are in place to decrease vulnerability to extreme events. Information regarding the effects of the drought episode of 2005 and of the measures that were adopted for drought management in that context will provide fundamental knowledge for this purpose. We will also use the opportunity of the preparation of the Management Plan for the Guadiana River Basin, which will take place during 2009-2010 to perform an assessment of the effects in social and economic resilience of the programs of measures that will be under discussion, as a complement to the cost-effectiveness analysis foreseen in the WFD. We will also aim at proposing a framework for policy evaluation accounting for resilience and vulnerability concepts. The support of the Alentejo River Basin Authority, that is responsible for the management of the Guadiana River Basin in Portugal, is fundamental for this purpose. The ECOMAN group is already collaborating with the Alentejo River Basin Authority in the scope of the preparation of the RBM plans and the President (Paula Sarmento) has already given her support to development of this research.