Use of water resources

The "Use of water resources" fact sheet measures the evolution of the pressure exerted on water resources in terms of the demand, in terms of applications submitted and authorised through the Permits for the Use of Water Resources (TURH) issued by the Portuguese Environment Agency.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD), which establishes a Community action framework in the field of water policy, establishes, as minimum requirements to be met as part of the basic measures programs intended to achieve and maintain a 'Good' status for water bodies, an adequate management of pressures, which allows reducing or eliminating the resulting impacts, thereby ensuring an efficient and effective licensing, as well as the systematisation and updating of information on the pressures affecting water resources.

In this regard, the Water Law, which transposed the WFD into the national legal system, is chiefly aimed at the sustainable management and protection of water, and so, Article 56 of said Law states that activities with a significant impact on the water bodies’ status may only be pursued after the issuing of a use permit. Thus, any water resources use that is not provided for in Article 58 of the Water Law (common use and fruition) requires the submission of an application to the licensing entity, which will evaluate its impact and decide on the most appropriate license for the purpose in question, to be issued under the terms and conditions set forth in the Water Law and in the Legal Framework on Water Resources Use (Decree-Law no. 226-A/2007).

The Integrated Environmental Licensing System (SILiAmb), of the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA), emerged as a response to the need for standardisation, de-materialisation and streamlining of licensing processes. Its entry into operation, on 23 October 2012, confirmed the effort to integrate and harmonise the licensing processes into one single platform, which has since stood as a key support tool for water resources, already supporting the licensing of most of the water resource uses considered in the legal system.

For water resource users, it allows submitting requests for new uses, monitoring the status of applications and managing existing permits, namely, uploading data from a self-monitoring programme, submitting applications for the renewal, amendment, transmission or cessation of existing use permits, sending documents and reporting faults/anomalies. For the administration, it provides specific functionalities to support the technical appraisal of applications and for issuing and managing permits in a faster and harmonised way at the national level.

The elaboration of this indicator will allow annual monitoring of the evolution of the use of water resources, analysed in terms of applications submitted and titles issued by hydrographic region and type of use. As for permits issued, the goal is to perceive the pressure that is actually allowed to be exerted over water resources.

It should be noted, however, that the information presented in this sheet reflects only the universe of applications submitted and permits issued through SILiAmb between the years of 2016 and 2020, for the following water resource uses:

  • Water abstraction (includes groundwater and surface water intended for human consumption, irrigation, industrial production, livestock production, recreational or leisure activities and animal watering);
  • Buildings, beach support facilities and equipment and infrastructures (includes buildings, licensed beach support facilities, public domain occupation – temporary or permanent, parking and access to the public water domain);
  • Extraction of inert materials;
  • Hydraulic infrastructures;
  • Wastewater disposal (includes domestic, urban and industrial wastewater, wastewater from livestock farms and the use of wastewater for irrigation of agricultural soils);
  • Reuse of treated wastewater (includes the reuse of wastewater treated by other entities, other than the one involved in the wastewater treatment).

With the entry into force of the legal regime for the production and use of water for reuse (Decree-Law No. 119/2019) the permits for the application of waste water treated by another entity other than the one that carries out the treatment of waste water, issued the under Decree-Law No. 226-A/2007 and previously considered in the preparation of this indicator, will remain valid until the end of the period described in the condition for review, in general, 5 years from the date of issue of the respective permit. However, they will no longer be accounted for in this indicator, as from August 22, 2019, no further permits have been issued for this purpose.

This fact sheet concerns mainland Portugal and shall be updated on an annual basis.

Objectives and targets: 

The monitoring of this indicator contributes to assess the level of attainment of the goals, deadlines and targets set out in the following documents:

  • SDG - Sustainable Development Goals of Agenda 2030, which aim at guaranteeing, among others, the availability and sustainable management of drinking water and sanitation for all (Goal 6). This objective aims to guarantee a safe and affordable consumption of water, sanitation and hygiene by 2030. Compliance is expected to contribute to improving water quality and water use efficiency, encouraging sustainable abstraction and consumption, and water reuse. Protecting and restoring ecosystems in which water is relevant, such as forests, mountains, wetlands and rivers, is essential to mitigate water scarcity as well as the implementation of integrated water resources management;
  • A Blueprint to Safeguard Europe's Water Resources, which sets the "Reduction of illegal abstraction/retention" as a specific objective, since excessive abstraction of water has been identified in 16 Member States as the second largest source of pressure on the ecological state of water bodies in the European Union. According to this document, the attribution of excessive amounts of water to different users of river basins, due to an overestimation of the quantities available or to political or economic pressures, must be distinguished from water abstraction which is illegal in nature, which is done without authorization or in breach of a granted authorization;
  • The 7th Environment Action Plan of the European Union for 2020 "Living well, within the limits of our planet", which aims, inter alia, to maximize the benefits of EU environmental legislation by improving its application;
  • Water Framework Directive, Water Law, Legal Framework on the Use of Water Resources and the Economic and Financial System, namely in promoting a sustainable  water use, based on long-term protection of available water resources;
  • River basin district Management Plans, in which the improvement and recovery of the quality of water resources are the basic goals, thus promoting the good status of water bodies by preventing degradation processes and by the gradual reduction of pollution, in order to guarantee 'Good' water quality for ecosystems and their different uses;
  • Report from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the implementation of the Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and the Floods Directive (2007/60/EC), which establishes that for Member States third River Basin District Management Plans should clearly identify gaps related to individual pressures and bodies of water preventing a good condition from being achieved;
  • PENSAAR 2020 - A new Strategy for the Water Supply and Sanitation Sector - Operational Objective 3.6: Allocation and efficient use of water resources, aimed at implementing the proposed strategy for the efficient use of water resources in public supply, highlighting the importance of the licensing of abstractions for human consumption to effectively control the water masses from a quantitative point of view, avoiding potential water stress situations, and an efficient allocation of water resources that respond effectively in critical situations of quantity reduction and public water supply resulting from the effects of climate change;
  • The European Green Deal provides an action plan to boost the efficient use of resources through the transition to a clean and circular economy, restore biodiversity and reduce pollution, establishing it as one of the main objectives related to the EU policy. water the review of catchment and impoundment licenses to promote fluvial continuity and ecological flows;
  • The new EU Climate Change Adaptation Strategy highlights the importance of sustainable freshwater availability as a key element for climate resilience, proposing that it is essential:
    • To ensure sustainable use, resilient to the effects of climate change, promoting efficient and rational water management in all sectors, improving the articulation and convergence of sectoral plans with the Hydrographic Region Management Plans and promoting effective licensing, considering existing and future availabilities and achievement of the WFD objectives;
    • To significantly reduce the use of water, focusing on efficiency, circular economy, as well as sustainable management of the land and of land use.
Progress analysis:

With regard to the applications submitted to the administration for the use of water resources, the following chart shows its evolution by river basin district in the time period under analysis, 2016-2020.

Last update: 
Tuesday, 21 September, 2021