With concerns growing over the scarcity of water in the region, Tomorrow spoke to Teresa Fernandes, the CEA (Comunicação e Educação Ambiental) for Águas do Algarve. Teresa is one of the warriors at the front line of the battle for a sustainable water solution.
Water scarcity is a global problem, but it is a particular concern for the Algarve region, which is experiencing increasing drought conditions. According to the PDSI index, 19.2 % of the country was classified as in severe drought at the end of August and 27.1 % in extreme drought.
The fact that 46.3% of Portugal is experiencing drought is a worrying statistic, with extreme temperatures recorded during the summer months exacerbating the problem.
A Water Warrior
Teresa Fernandes recognises that the challenges presented by these conditions are enormous. “We must continue to do more and better, maintaining a high quality of service for all our customers throughout the year, always within a framework of economic, social and environmental sustainability. It is a huge mountain to climb. But, I am determined to continue working tirelessly to leave a legacy of respect for the earth for future generations.”
Teresa has always been passionate about the environment and committed to its preservation. “I grew up exploring trails, admiring natural landscapes and learning about different ecosystems. These experiences awakened in me a deep respect for the earth and the conviction that it is our duty to protect it.”
Teresa has an impressive resumé as a resource to take on the challenge. She graduated in Business Marketing, followed by a postgraduate degree in Marketing from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Algarve. Since 2016, she has held the accolade of Marketing Specialist, conferred by the APPM – Portuguese Association of Marketing Professionals. In 2020, Teresa completed a postgraduate degree in Branding from the Faculty of Design, Technology and Communication, but she admits that she doesn’t just have a professional interest in the environment. She credits her role as more of a passion project than a job.
“Every day, I embark on an exciting journey in the environmental and sustainability field, where the passion for what I do is the force that drives me forward. A workday is 24 hours for me because I can’t switch off!” Teresa´s day consists of exploring innovative projects that require thinking outside the box. Her team must solve problems, share ideas and work together to achieve ambitious goals. “In the office, I am surrounded by the creative energy of dedicated colleagues across the company, all with a common vision: maintaining and achieving Águas do Algarve’s levels of excellence. The best part of my day is knowing that my work has a real impact. Each successful project brings us closer to our goals and contributes to the evolution of our sector. And at the end of the day, I leave work with a deep sense of accomplishment, knowing that I’m making a difference.”
In 2018, Teresa became the National Coordinator of the Specialised Commission on Communication and Environmental Education for the Portuguese Association of Water Distributors. This has led her to participate in various environmental initiatives, from beach clean-up campaigns to promoting sustainable practices in my community. “I believe that through education and example, we can inspire others to join in this global conservation mission. I believe that every action, no matter how small, contributes to a healthier and more balanced world.”
Águas do Algarve
Águas do Algarve, S.A. has been in business for 23 years and is the concessionaire for the Algarve Multi-municipal Water Supply and Sanitation System, serving the region’s 16 municipalities. It operates as a private company in the state’s business sector. It has invested around 650 million euros to manage an average annual volume of more than 70 million m3 of water. The company also treats more than 40 million m3 of wastewater, thus playing a decisive role in maintaining and improving the quality of the environment in the Algarve region.
The scarcity of water resources is a growing concern on a global scale and one that is ever-present in the Algarve. Over the last two decades, the company has focused on adapting the municipal water system to water scarcity. Together with other stakeholders, the company is putting a strong impetus on increasing the availability of water resources and the region’s resilience to drought. They aim to make water services carbon neutral, thus contributing to the region’s sustainable economic development. “The challenges associated with climate change and water scarcity require an immediate and coherent response from all of us. Water is a precious commodity!” observes Teresa. “A joint effort is needed to manage this resource sustainably.”
Algarve Desalination Plant
One of the most notable and exciting projects to increase water supplies is the construction of the Algarve Desalination Plant. It is one of the measures financed under the Recovery and Resilience Plan (PRR) with an investment of around 50 million euros. The Desalination Solution Project in the Algarve region foresees increasing water supplies by approximately 16 hm3 per year. It aims to guarantee the continuous water supply to the Algarve region’s population, which will be safe to drink.
“According to the studies carried out by Águas de Portugal and which will be delivered for the environmental impact assessment, the location which we are going to propose is the borough of Albufeira,” said Minister of Environment and Climate Action, Duarte Cordeiro, in Parliament in June. Desalination plants are viewed by the current government as one of the best options to combat drought and the Albufeira plant will go out to tender by the end of this year.
Another of the options for mitigating the effects of water scarcity is to reuse water for non-potable purposes. This process involves treating water from wastewater treatment plants even more rigorously and building water supply systems to harness this resource for compatible uses, such as irrigation. Another measure planned to give more resilience to the Algarve’s water supply system is creating and maintaining new storage systems. There are also contingency measures to limit the increase of demand and control of groundwater abstraction, which will guarantee an average annual water availability of 17 million m3. in 2023, totalling an accumulated yearly increase of around 62 million m3 in 2026 throughout the Algarve region.
Algarve tap water comes from the dams of Odelouca, Odeleite and Beliche and some underground catchments located in different parts of the Algarve. It is completely safe to drink unfiltered, which is guaranteed by laboratory monitoring of accredited parameters. Águas do Algarve complies not only with the national legislation for water safety but also with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation, the specifications of the Food Safety Certification, as well as the specifications of the certification of the product water for human consumption.
Águas do Algarve know that education plays a vital role in combating climate change, being a fundamental tool for understanding how the human-caused climate crisis is affecting the planet. They use initiatives to complement their structural improvements, targeting all segments and age groups of the population and developing projects throughout the year. These include the Water Challenge Environmental Education Project – Savings Without Borders, accessible through www.desafiodaagua.pt
Teresa also provides executives with training in marketing, strategy, crisis management, public relations and protocol. She has been invited to speak at different events in both national and international markets. She is also the author of articles in business communication and environmental education, collaborating with some regional and national press agencies. With more than 20 years of experience in marketing and environmental education communication, Teresa has received merit awards nationwide for developing several projects.
The Águas Sem Fronteiras project promotes environmental awareness sessions developed according to requirements for each year group and presented in schools, in addition to a presence at events and exhibitions in the region. The topics covered focus mainly on issues of hydrological sustainability, including the natural water cycle, urban water cycle, circular economy, climate change, environmental preservation and the efficient use of water. “Our main objective is to ensure that all students and the population as a whole acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to promote a future based on sustainable development,” explains Teresa.
Water is Life is another ongoing awareness campaign implemented at a national level, but the challenges facing the entire population in general are immense. For this reason, several parallel projects have already been developed, and others are in development, in partnership with entities and municipalities in the region, aimed at different age groups.
Waving a Blue Flag
The Algarve´s waste-water sanitation system allows the collection, treatment and return to the environment of rejected water through advanced treatment technologies. The process is monitored closely as the efficiency of this system is crucial for the Algarve, as the “blue flag” and “golden quality” badges awarded to its beaches are essential to the region’s main economic activity.
The Algarve was nominated as the best beach destination in Europe and the best sustainable tourist destination in Europe in 2023. This is a personal triumph for Águas do Algarve and other entities whose activities have contributed to this. Teresa notes, “We are the region with the most decorated coast in our country, with blue and gold flags, and are one of the best-positioned countries in this ranking. Many of these accolades are due to the strong investment made in this area of wastewater treatment, as well as as a result of more efficient management of beaches and the behaviour change boosted by the commitment to environmental education.”
We take it for granted that tap water is always at our disposal in the Algarve, in the quantities we need. Clean water emerges from our taps 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, while our beaches are some of the cleanest in Europe. For this, we need to be grateful to the teams of people who work daily to make this happen and strive to make it continue into a future of climate change.
Let’s all raise a glass of clean tap water to Teresa and her team at Águas do Algarve.