On 12 February, workers began clearing the trees to make way for the new project, designed to provide water for the parched southern Alentejo region and to open up this relatively poor area to investment, according to a spokesperson for the public-funded and government-owned company overseeing the project, EDIA. The spokesperson told edie that the reservoir would be dug by the end of the year, and that a 315-foot-high dam was also under construction on the Guadiana River.

The government says the project will generate hydroelectric power for the region, provide water to turn the arid soil into fertile fields and bring 20,000 jobs to the area, which is one of Portugal’s poorest, partly through building golf courses for tourists.

However, a coalition of five Portuguese environmental NGOs are furious about the so-called Alqueva project, which they describe as a “planned disaster”. The organisations, include one of the nation’s largest, the Nature Protection League, which on 15 February described the deforestation as “one of the biggest acts of environmental destruction ever in Portugal”, leading to the extinction of populations of species important at a national and European level. The value of the area, in terms of wildlife has not even been sufficiently studied, it says. New technology limiting the impact on the environment has been disregarded, the groups say, with a forestry plan and an evacuation plan for wildlife ignored.

Another major NGO, Quercus, offers no solutions to the life of the inhabitants of the Alentejo, with extra employment in agriculture, due to its declining nature, not offering any long-term solution. The expensive nature of the project, it says, defies Water Directive rules by not balancing the price of providing water with its actual value, whilst the new dam could lead to regional water conflict. There has not been sufficient discussion of the project, Quercus adds, and a new recently-signed convention between Spain and Portugal concerning shared rivers, may have been violated.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie