Monday, April 19, 2010

A Really Big Barragem

We flew from the Azores to Lisbon, 2 hours late perhaps because of all the air delays due to volcanic ash in northern Europe. Got our rental car and drove south to rejoin the 38 degree latitude line at Sines (pronounced "seench.") and stayed nearby in the small fishing town of Porto Covo. Sines (37°57'N; 8°52'W) is the birthplace of Vasco de Gama, the seafarer who actually FOUND the ocean route to India from Europe. North of here is a major wetlands area with white storks and signs about nesting least terns (later in the year)...shades of California's coastline. A surf competition and a big bike race in the region livened up the weekend.
We drove across Portugal today (on the 38th parallel) to Beja (38°01'), where we met with Jose Martins, director of the regional Quercus office; that is the "Sierra Club" of Portugal, the major NGO environmental group of Portugal. Jose educated us about water issues, especially the "barragem" (reservoir) on the Guadiana River, which is the largest in Europe. The river has most of its watershed inside Spain, where there are about 40 dams before the water ever reaches Portugal. The new reservoir (completed in 2002, but just filled for the first time this year, which has been wet after years of drought) has not yet delivered any water, because the canals to move it around are still being built. It does not serve urban use, but like California's federal Central Valley Project, primarily serves farms. There are lots of issues and concerns, as always, with such an approach to water management. Many new olive orchards are being planted anticipating the water deliveries, which is interesting because olives, grown in the traditional way, do not require irrigation. Intensive olive growing has become the new way to boost production, with applied pesticides and water; a worrisome new trend in an industry that had been traditionally well-balanced with the Mediterranean climate. The wildflowers are beautiful, since this year the rain has been plentiful.
There is also a huge solar array near here, one of the largest in the world, which we'll visit tomorrow. At the moment, we are sitting on a skinny little sidewalk outside the Espacio Internet, picking up a wireless signal. World travelers must make do with what they have!

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