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Multiple struggles against new large dams, Portugal


The government launched the National Program of Dams with High Hydroelectric Potential (Programa Nacional de Barragens com Elevado Potencial Hidroelétrico, PNBEPH) in 2007. The 12 new mega-dams - 10 from the PNBEPH plus two more (Baixo Sabor and Ribeiradio) - correspond to 8% of total installed capacity and 4% of electricity production, and are capable of responding to 1% of the country’s total energy demand.

At that time, part of the national strategy for renewable energy was to combine hydro and wind power. The new dams were to be constructed using reversible technology, as the combination of pumped storage systems plays an important role in preventing wind power from being wasted.

Environmental organizations, academics, researchers, and civil society movements, among others, came together to protest against this plan. Their main criticisms were the disregard for public participation in the decision-making process and the lack of importance given to the cultural and environmental values of the sites selected for construction.

These movements were undoubtedly empowered by the successful fight against the Foz Côa dam (see the description of the case in this Atlas). There, with the support of political parties and national and international organizations that share environmental and cultural concerns, the local population was able to stop the dam from being built and preserve the world heritage site threatened by the project. There are cases, however, such as the fight against the Sabor dam, which did not succeed in halting the project in its tracks. The Sabor dam was built , despite intense opposition led by the Plataforma Sabor Livre (Free the Sabor River Coalition). Home to a diversity of fauna and endangered species, it is the “last wild river” in Portugal.

This coalition carried out protests, sent complaints to the European Commission, and even boycotted the biodiversity fund managed by Energias de Portugal (EDP), the concession holder. However, it was not enough to stop the construction underway and the dam became operational in 2014.

Similarly, the construction of the Foz Tua dam in the Alto Douro wine region, which is recognized as a world heritage site by Unesco, is facing strong opposition. Founded in 2013, the Platforma “Salvar o Tua” (Save Tua River Coalition) has received international attention by acting on various fronts. It brings together non-governmental organizations and people from diverse backgrounds. It has filed various lawsuits against this project, organized information campaigns and created artistic and cultural projects to give this whole process greater visibility. In 2013, the coalition submitted to parliament a petition called “Manifesto for the Tua valley”.

In 2015, this manifesto, which is still online and has more than 7,300 signatures, was discussed in parliament. On the day of this discussion, some of the signatories travelled to the assembly to protest inside the plenary, where the proposal to suspend work on the Foz Tua dam was voted down by the majority of political parties.

In addition to these cases, there were also conflicts involving the Ribeiradio-Ermida dam on the Vouga River, and another four hydropower plants in Gouvães, Padroselos, Alto Tâmega, and Daivões. Once again, non-governmental organizations and the population participated in and organized protests and petitions, and supported the position of certain political parties.

The broader movement against mega-dams in Portugal succeeded in showing that many people did not support the claim that the dams were being built in “national public interest”, used to justify the approval of PNBEPH.

Portugal has also witnessed protests by NGOs against new mini-hydropower plants on the Mondego and Paiva Rivers due to their substantial environmental impacts. Environmental groups and other civil society organizations were able to stop both projects. The main reasons for suspending the projects was the failure to comply with licensing and contract procedures: failure to meet the requirements on a minimum water flow in the Paiva River; incompatibility of the fish ladders built in the Mondego River, and the broader changes they would bring, which included, in both cases, the expropriation of people's houses.

In early 2016, the PNBEPH was revised. Seven dams were part of the original plan:Foz-Tua (Tua River), Fridão, Alto Tâmega/Vidago, Daivões (Tagus River), Gouvães (Louredo River), Girabolhos (Mondego River), and Alvito (Ocreza River). Only four dams will be built. Authorities cancelled the Girabolhos and Alvito dam projects and postponed the decision on the construction of the Fridão dam (Tagus River) for three years. The final deadline for the construction of the dams is 2023.

In general, the organizations defend that no more dams should be built in Portugal and the cancellation of public subsidies for hydroelectric dam projects. Municipal leaders in municipalities near the dams, on the other hand, protested against the decision to reduce the number of dams, claiming that it will result in the loss of potential profits and benefits for local businesses.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Multiple struggles against new large dams, Portugal
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The national program for dams with high hydropower potential, known as PNBEPH planned to add a power capacity of 1343 MW and to reach a production of 1896 GWh/year

Level of Investment for the conflictive project Program+New dams 1.546̣ to 3.541,000,000
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:2007
Company names or state enterprises:Energias de Portugal (EDP) from Portugal - Concession holder
Iberdrola Ingenieria y Construccion (Iberdrola) from Spain
Naturgy (Naturgy) from Spain
Relevant government actors:Ministério do Ambiente, Comissão Europeia; Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente-APA, Comissão de Coordenação e Desenvolvimento Regional do Centro CCDR‐Centro, Administração de Região Hidrográfica do Centro, Instituto de Água-INAG, Laboratório Nacional de Engenharia Civil-LNEC, Direcção-Geral do Património Cultural, Partido ecologista Os Verdes, Coligação Democrática Unitária-CDU, Partido pelos Animais e pela Natureza-PAN
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Central Bank (ECB)
International Monetary Fund (FMI)
European Commission (EC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Acção, Liberdade, Desenvolvimento, Educação, Investigação, Ambiente (ALDEIA)
Associação Cívica e Ecológica Os Amigos do Rio (Olho Vivo)
Associação de Municípios do Alto Tâmega (AMAT)
Associação de Municípios do Baixo Sabor (AMBS)
Associação dos Amigos do rio Mondego
Associação dos Amigos do Vale do Tua (AAVT)
Bird Life International
Centro de Estudos da Avifauna Ibérica (CEAI)
Clube do Ambiente e Património do Arda e Urtigosa (URTIARDA)
Coordenadora de Afectados pelas Grandes Barragens e Transvases – Seção Portuguesa (COAGRET)
Ecologistas en Acción
European Rivers Network
European Youth For Action
Fundo para a Proteção dos Animais Selvagens (FAPAS)
Grupo de Ação e Intervenção Ambiental (GAIA)
Grupo de Estudos de Ordenamento do Território e Ambiente (GEOTA)
Liga para a Proteção da Natureza (LPN)
Movimento Cidadania para o Desenvolvimento no Tâmega
Plataforma Mondego Vivo
Plataforma Sabor Livre
Plataforma Salvar o Tua
Associação Nacional de Conservação da Natureza (Quercus)
Sociedade Portuguesa para o Estudo das Aves (SPEA )
SOS Rio Paiva

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Informal workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Recreational users
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Refusal of compensation


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Food insecurity (crop damage), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Health ImpactsPotential: Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusPlanned (decision to go ahead eg EIA undertaken, etc)
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Strengthening of participation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Project cancelled
Project temporarily suspended
Proposal and development of alternatives:Local communities and ejos don’t want the implementation of the new dams, as it only responds to companies and state’s interest.
They also propose the increase in the installed capacity of the existing dams in place of constructing new ones.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Although the campaigns against the project had some successful results at the international level (the case of Padroselos dam and Tua dam), the project is still ongoing, despite local mobilizations, international campaigns, public appeals and even UNESCOs declaration of the area as a World Heritage (wine region where the Tua dam is located).

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Decree-Law n.º 151-B/2013 October 31th

Changes on the environmental impact assessment of the effects of public and private projects

Decree-Law n.o 226-A/2007 May 31th

Changes in the scheme for both public and private use of water resources

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

MELO, J. J. Public works policy in Portugal: a case study in unsustainability. International Journal of Engineering and Industrial Management, n. 1, p. 195-208. 2009.

PATACHO, Domingos. A barragem do Baixo Sabor: um caso de má aplicação da avaliação de impactes ambientais. CNAI ́10-4ª Conferência Nacional de Avaliação de Impactes, Vila Real, 20-22 Out. 2010.

SANS, Judit S. Participação social na gestão dos recursos hídricos. Olhar sobre o conflito da barragem do Baixo Sabor. Universidade Nova de Lisboa: Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia, Dissertação, 2010.

MELO, J.J.; CHAINHO , P.; FRÁGUAS, B.; SANTOS, P.T.; PATACHO, D. A barragem do Baixo Sabor: um caso de má aplicação da avaliação de impactes ambientais. CNAI ́10-4a Conferência Nacional de Avaliação de Impactes. APAI/UTAD, Vila Real, 20-22 Out., 2010./resumos publicados em brochura, comunicações em CD.

MELO, J. J. Not sustainable: the sad business of Portuguese new dams. CENSE ‐ Centre for Environment and Sustainability Research, Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade Nova de Lisboa, IAIA 2012-2nd Annual Conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment, 2012.,%20Jo%C3%A3o.%20%20Not%20sustainable%20-%20the%20sad%20business%20of%20Portuguese%20new%20dams.pdf.

Plataforma Salvar o Tua

Plataforma Mondego Vivo

Movimento Cidadania para o Desenvolvimento no Tâmega

SOS Rio Paiva

LUSA. Barragem do Sabor começa a produzir energia no final do ano, Observador, 7 Set. 2014.

DIÁRIO LIBERDADE. EDP e Estado não estão a cumprir imposições da Unesco para a barragem do Foz Tua. Diário Liberdade, Consumo e Meio Ambiente, 11 Jun. 2014.

DIÁRIO AGRÁRIO. Suspensão das minihídricas: LPN congratula-se com a decisão. Blog, Agro Notícias Portugal, 14 Mar. 2012.

Coordenadora de Afetados pelas Grandes Barragens e Transvases-COAGRET

AGÊNCIA LUSA. Mais de 400 canoas desceram o Mondego contra construção de mini-hídrica. Público, 2 Mai. 2011.


COSTA, Maria João. Barragem ameaça achados arqueológicos com mais de 10 mil anos. Renascença, 27 Ago. 2014.


News Article. OBSERVADOR. Ambientalistas e autarcas contestam revisão do Programa Nacional de Barragens. 20 abr. 2016.


GEOTA. Início. Rios Livres-GEOTA. Acedido em: 18 jun. 2016.


RTP. Chumbo do Ministério: Mexilhão trava uma das quatro barragens do Alto Tâmega, 22 Jun. 2010


News Article. DN. Grandes barragens: decisão do Governo não chega, dizem as ONG. Diário de Notícias-DN. 18 abr. 2016.


News Article. CABRITA-MENDES, André. Cancelamento das barragens da EDP e da Endesa tem "custos zero para os cidadãos". Negócios. 19 abr. 2016.

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Foz Tua dam

Tamega dam


PAeM – Vídeos sobre a barragem do Alqueva e barragens de Portugal

Other comments:The GPS refers to center Portugal.
Sabor river Dam (Moncorvo/ Bragança/Trás-os-Montes) GPS: 41.1765100; -7.1110800;  Tâmega river dams (Amarante/Celorico de Basto) GPS: 41.390072, -7.960309; Tua river dam (Alijó/Vila Real) GPS: 41.211609; -7.430940; Vouga river dams (Ribeiradio/Oliveira de Frades e Ermida/Sever do Vouga) GPS: 40.742478; -8.319434; mini hydropower plant Foz do Caneio (Penacova/Coimbra) GPS: 40.177844; -8.319884; mini hydropower plants Paiva river (Arouca/Viseu) GPS: 41.028511; -8.225814

Meta information

Contributor:Lúcia Fernandes, Sofia Bento and Teresa Meira
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1732





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