Assessing the use of harvested greenhouse runoff for managed aquifer recharge to improve groundwater status in South Portugal


Concentration of nitrates in groundwater at the Nitrate Vulnerable zone of Faro, south Portugal, reaches values as high as 300 mg/l; therefore, according to the EU Water Framework Directive, mitigation measures need to be implemented. A Managed Aquifer Recharge scheme is proposed to accelerate the dilution and natural discharge of nitrates from the system. Source water availability is estimated from rainfall intercepted at existing greenhouses. Within the highest nitrate concentration area, estimated water availability for injection in existing wells is 1.50 hm3/year, a significant volume which represents approximately 15% of the aquifer direct recharge. It is proposed this is recharged to the aquifer through existing large-diameter traditional wells that are no longer used for abstraction. Injection test results suggest that the likely infiltration capacity of such wells is more than sufficient to allow collection of 95% of daily rainfall events. The effect of injecting this volume in the aquifer was estimated with the support of a 3D numerical groundwater flow and transport model. Results show considerable improvement in nitrate concentrations in the study area, in certain locations decreasing up to 70 mg/l by 2027. The model results predict a decrease in the number of nitrate threshold exceedances in observation points, from 33 to 30 by 2027 and 14 to 9 by 2040. It is likely that this measure may have a positive effect on other issues identified in the area, mostly related with quantity problems and seawater intrusion. Notwithstanding, issues including landowner support, clogging, conditions of greenhouses and wells, water quality, and climate change impacts will require further consideration to develop a successful and beneficial MAR scheme.

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(Adapted from Hugman (2016))

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Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study regarding historical nitrate concentration and groundwater levels are openly available at the Portuguese database of national information of water resources ( Rainfall used in this study is openly available at the Algarve Regional Department of Agriculture and Fisheries ( Additional data on groundwater levels and nitrate concentration used in this project was obtained during FP7/2007‐2013 619120 MARSOL Project and by the lead author with the support of PhD grant SFRH/BD/131568/2017 funded by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia.


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The authors thank the Agência Portuguesa do Ambiente and Direcção Regional de Agricultura e Pescas do Algarve for the institutional support and the elements provided, in particular the land use survey, wells database and rainfall gauging stations data. The authors also thank the constructive comments and suggestions of one anonymous reviewer that helped to improve the manuscript. Luís Costa would like to acknowledge Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia for the PhD grant SFRH/BD/131568/2017.


The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007‐2013) under grant agreement no 619120 (Demonstrating Managed Aquifer Recharge as a Solution to Water Scarcity and Drought – MARSOL) and PhD grant SFRH/BD/131568/2017 awarded to the main author Luís Costa by the Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (Portuguese public agency that supports science, technology and innovation).

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection and analysis were performed by LC, RH and JPM. LC wrote the first draft of the manuscript and all authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Luis Ricardo Dias da Costa.

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da Costa, L.R.D., Monteiro, J.P.P.G. & Hugman, R.T. Assessing the use of harvested greenhouse runoff for managed aquifer recharge to improve groundwater status in South Portugal. Environ Earth Sci 79, 253 (2020).

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  • Groundwater contamination
  • Nitrate vulnerable zone
  • Recharge wells
  • Numerical modeling
  • Water sensitive design
  • Managed aquifer recharge