Water sector action on climate change adaptation for Aguas de Portugal

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The severe drought that Portugal has been facing highlights the wider water threat posed by climate change. Nuno Brôco is director of engineering at the services company of Portuguese water utility group Águas de Portugal and will be speaking at the WEX Global event taking place in the country’s capital, Lisbon, in March. Keith Hayward spoke with him and reports here on the group’s climate change adaptation strategy, and in the following article on its action on energy efficiency.

Vigia Dam, Alentejo, Portugal. © mrfotos / Shutterstock
Vigia Dam, Alentejo, Portugal. © mrfotos / Shutterstock

The current efforts of water utility group Águas de Portugal (AdP) to progress a climate change adaptation plan coincide with what is the latest serious drought faced by the country. What was a climatic drought is now a hydrologic drought affecting not just Portugal but also northern Spain, significant as the source of a number of rivers crossing into Portugal, according to Nuno Brôco, director of engineering at the services company of AdP. Dams in the southern part of Portugal have levels below 15%. ‘We are now facing a problem not only in terms of stored volume, but also in terms of poor quality of that water, because with such low levels in the dams, we start to have problems,’ adds Brôco.

Challenges present an opportunity for learning, and this is proving to be the case as far as the country responding to this latest drought is concerned. ‘One of the lessons that we learned during the last year was the need for a very strong coordination between all the players in the water cycle,’ comments Brôco. Tensions have been emerging between the different users of water, and Brôco notes the need for frequent coordination between parties such as the environment agency, regulators, industry, society and the water agencies in order to manage the scarce resource.


Building on earlier lessons

The current drought is of course not the first Portugal has faced. Recent serious droughts have included those in 1995, 2005, and 2012. Such experiences led AdP to invest in its infrastructure. This includes not just building reservoirs, but measures such as increasing the capacity of water treatment plants so that they are able to cope with poorer quality raw water. ‘We had some years ago the vision to improve and make our plants more resilient,’ says Brôco. He says there have been some problems with very small systems served by groundwater, but that overall the group has not had big problems, and in fact has provided support to other systems outside of the group.

Even so, the earlier experiences highlighted that there was room for improvement, leading the group to begin work on its climate change adaptation project some two  years ago. ‘We found that our systems had some resilience, but some vulnerabilities to these kinds of extreme event – and we are not talking only about drought, we are talking also about floods and others,’ says Brôco. ‘So we decided to study the vulnerabilities of our assets and then to foresee measures to increase the resilience.’

Brôco explains that one approach could have been to make scenarios about future conditions, estimate the potential impacts on services, establish from this the likely vulnerabilities, and to use this as the basis for selecting the actions to undertake. An alternative, and the approach that AdP chose to pursue, is to start with current vulnerabilities and to evaluate whether climate scenarios will increase or decrease those vulnerabilities.

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Nuno Brôco will be speaking at the WEX Global event taking place in Lisbon, Portugal, March 13-14. Energy efficiency and climate change adaptation will be two of the key themes featured in sessions at the event. For more details, see: http://wex-global.com.


  • Portugal, climate change, Water utility management, utility management