Drought prompts Portugal to restrict water use at more hydropower dams

FILE PHOTO: View of a previously submerged village revealed by low water level in Cabril dam reservoir in Pedrogao Grande

LISBON (Reuters) - Hit by drought, Portugal on Tuesday expanded a previous order to temporarily restrict water use for electricity production and irrigation to more of its hydropower dams.

Heat and little rain has left around 40% of mainland Portugal in extreme drought while the rest of the territory is classed as facing a severe drought, according to the Portuguese Institute of Meteorology (IPMA).

According to the Lusa news agency, David Boyd, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, told a news conference in Lisbon on Tuesday that the "severity of the drought in Portugal was really impressive".

In February, the government ordered five dams in central Portugal to halt their electricity production almost completely, and one dam in the southern Algarve region had to stop using water for irrigation, prioritising human consumption instead.

Now, a total of 15 dams across the country have been ordered to temporarily suspend their electricity production.

There are around 60 Portuguese hydropower dams, which last year produced 26% of the country's electricity but only 11% in the first eight months of this year, according to the Portuguese Association of Renewable Energies.

The government said the measure would come into place on Oct. 1 and would only be lifted when the dams' capacity return to minimum levels or if the water is needed to guarantee the security of the country's energy supply.

The government said total water storage at Portugal's dams stood at 26%, a number which was expected to drop further and affect the country's hydropower production capacity over the winter.

"It is also in the winter period that the gas supply difficulties are likely to intensify across Europe," the government said.

To tackle the energy crisis, Portugal revealed details of its energy-saving plan, which includes measures such as turning off indoor decorative lighting earlier than usual and slightly lower central heating temperatures.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony Editing by Sergio Goncalves and Mark Potter)