Spanish farmers demand government stops sending water to Portugal

By Diogo Augusto

6 Oct 2022 by The Water Diplomat

Around 3.000 Spanish farmers from three different provinces have taken to the streets of Leon, a town in north-western Spain, demanding that the Spanish government stop sending water across the border to Portugal as per the treaty signed by the two countries in 1998. Spanish farmers accuse the country’s central government of turning their backs on rural areas amid the drought, while Spanish officials have pointed out that releasing the water is in accordance with the 1998 Albufeira Convention. The Albufeira Convention was signed in 1998, regulating the protection and sustainable management of the waters of five transboundary river basins shared by Spain and Portugal.  

According to the Convention’s stipulations, and in order for Spain to meet its annual quota, two of the country’s largest  hydrographic basins, Almendra and Ricobayo, would now need to release half of their current water reserves. Spain is under obligation to transfer 87,000 m³ of water to Portugal by the end of the hydrological year (defined as the 30th of September). With both countries currently experiencing severe drought, Spain currently needs to release a relatively high volume of water in order to meet its obligations.

This is caused by an uneven distribution of water flow throughout the year, made worse by the drought and high temperatures that have severely affected both countries. Spanish farmers claim that the water currently filling these basins was saved by them and are protesting the large quantities that have been released across the border.

Authorities in Madrid have stated that, despite current difficulties, Spain will do its best to meet its obligations with Portugal. However, the amount of water being released to Portugal is now being reduced and the Spanish government is now entertaining the possibility that the country might not be able to meet the agreed quota this year.

Officials from both countries have been meeting to try to reach an understanding on how much water should enter Portuguese borders to try to respect the Albufeira Treaty rules. However, Spanish farmers claim that the 24-year-old agreement needs to be revised as it does not reflect the current weather conditions of the region.