The contract for the Faro-Olhão sewage treatment works "will be awarded in April," claims the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Carlos Martins, said that recent approval of an investment package of €30 million for Águas do Algarve will enable the new wastewater treatment plant to at last be built.
The cost is budgeted at €15 million and the plant will deal with effluent from Faro and Olhão council areas. The Secretary of State recognised the "challenges in this area of the Algarve" referring to the current treatment plant which causes partially treated sewage to flow into the Ria Formosa lagoon.
The new Far-Olhão treatment plant will replace the current one which for years has triggered complaints from locals, environmentalists and the Ria Formosa shellfishing community which has to put up with the effects of raw and partially treated sewage and chemicals flowing into the lagoon area.
Águas do Algarve launched an international tender in February 2015 to find a contractor but nothing yet has happened to sort out the problem which breaks health and pollution laws on a daily basis.
The company has admitted that the treatment plant that needs to be replaced is undersized and can not cope with seasonal variations in volume with lagoons of sewage established to hold fluids.
The new infrastructure will accommodate sewage from Faro, Estoi, São Brás de Alportel, Olhão, Pechão and Quelfes.
The new sewage plant will be located next to the current Faro East facility, about two kilometres east of Faro, and the work will take another two years. In the meantime, sewage will continue to flow into the Ria Formosa, ruining shellfishing nursery beds and triggering bans on shellfish harvesting due to poor water quality test results.
The new Secretary of State may not be aware of the environmental damage caused by the current sewage treatment facility but must be aware that the State has condoned pollution on a grand scale for years, a situation that has seen the shellfishing industry all but collapse.
The location of the new plant right next to the old one means that reuse of treated water for agricultural purposes will remain non cost-effective. The resulting water from the new plant will continue to contain antibiotics, hormones, phosphorus, nitrogen, potentially toxigenic phytoplankton, and varying amounts of organic matter, all of which may end up in the Ria Formosa lagoon as before.
The phosphorus and nitrogen are fertilizers used in agriculture, which trigger the uncontrolled growth of marine algae, especially phytoplankton, which as it decomposes consumes the oxygen dissolved in water.
The organic matter in suspension, in addition to causing clouding of the lagoon waters, prevents plants from photosynthesis, condemning them to an early death, and enables the proliferation of Perkinsus Atlanticus, the main cause of the death of clams.
The sewage outflows from the city of Olhão are another source of pollution caused by waste pipes connected to rainwater systems leading most notably to the port and the ferry terminal area.
The council claims to be half way through sorting out this problem and had a one-off grant of €500,000 to re-route the offending pipework after pinpointing the problem areas from extensive underground CCTV surveys.
There are over 30 illegal sewage outflows into the Ria Formosa but the largest polluter is the current treatment plant near Faro. The sooner this is replaced the better but why it has taken so long, while contravening EU pollution laws, may never be answered.