From the Cruz Quebrada train station – on the Cascais line – you can already see people enjoying a day t the beach … But can you swim here? At the main entrance, there’s a small sign from the Portuguese Environment Agency that says: “Swimming Discouraged.” However, these and other beachgoers prefer not to follow the advice. An feel very much encouraged to swim.

Cruz Quebrada beach is not among the four official beaches in the municipality of Oeiras, identified as bathing waters and qualified for swimming, which even obtained Blue Flag status in 2020: Caxias, right next to it, Paço de Arcos, Torre, and Santo Amaro.

The water quality of these beaches is monitored by the Portuguese Environment Agency – ARH Tejo and Oeste. Information about occupancy levels, available facilities, water temperature and quality, and tide times can be accessed on a webpage.

None of this happens in Cruz Quebrada.

However, in recent times, the Facebook page of the Association “Vamos Salvar o Jamor” has been sharing water quality analyses that show it to be good.

The reports from SIMAS, the municipal water services, analyzed the water in 2021 and 2022, and the results are positive. The reports can be found (in Portuguese) here and here.

How can we explain this? According to the Municipality of Oeiras, the beach is not recommended but not prohibited for swimmers.

The Municipality explains that in the last three months, the water analysis results for Cruz Quebrada beach have classified it as suitable for swimming. However, this is not sufficient for it to be classified as a bathing area. This is because the classification of a bathing water is not based on a single report but on the set of evaluations from the last four bathing seasons, with a minimum of 20 analyses conducted evenly distributed throughout the year.

Therefore, Cruz Quebrada beach does not meet these requirements, which is why it is not registered, does not have a flag, and lacks surveillance.

Hence, searching for Praia da Cruz Quebrada on the website of the Portuguese Environment Agency, responsible for the aforementioned sign at the entrance, does not yield any results.

Cruz quebrada praia jamor oeiras poluição verão turistas
Photo: Inês Leote

The environmental association ZERO claims to be unaware of the results of these analyses conducted at Cruz Quebrada beach but suggests that the non-classification as a bathing area may be due to the fact that the Jamor River discharges there, which could still result in some water contamination.

Cruz Quebrada beach is flanked by two breakwaters, now partially destroyed by the tide, which have not been repaired after being affected by flooding. The breakwaters serve to protect the stretch of sand on the beach, and it is between them that the Jamor River flows. The association “Vamos Salvar o Jamor” frequently shares images of pollution on Facebook.

Pollution or not, that is the question

The Municipality of Oeiras states that it is sometimes not possible to prevent pollutants from the Jamor River from reaching Cruz Quebrada beach. “Occasionally, small pollution hotspots are detected, which result from the improper use of stormwater or wastewater drainage systems, or occasional collapses of existing sanitation structures,” explains Councilor Joana Batista.

There is not as much pollution as there used to be, partly due to the operation of the Costa do Estoril Sanitation System and because the majority of wastewater flows are now channeled to Treatment Plants (ETARs). According to the Municipality, some “rare and threatened species have already established themselves in the Jamor River and other municipal watercourses.” However, pollution still appears from time to time.

Cruz quebrada praia jamor oeiras poluição verão turistas
Jamor River. Photo: Inês Leote

The association “Vamos Salvar o Jamor” accuses the Municipality of Oeiras of neglecting “to provide the necessary facilities and safety conditions for the population to fully enjoy this nearby beach” considering the known analyses. Isabel Sande e Castro, the president, also accuses the municipality of a lack of supervision regarding illegal discharge of pollutants into the Jamor River, which eventually reach the beach.

“There must be supervision by the Municipality and the municipal water management company to identify those who have not properly carried out sanitation and whose discharges end up in the stream.”

Councilor Joana Baptista from the Municipality of Oeiras argues that daily monitoring of watercourses is carried out. Whenever a discharge is detected, it is addressed for identification and resolution.

This controversy goes beyond Cruz Quebrada beach and extends to the Jamor River

Cruz Quebrada beach is in the midst of controversy, the same controversy that led to the creation of the association “Vamos Salvar o Jamor” – the enormous venture planned for this entire coastal area called Porto Cruz, which includes the land of the beach and the neighboring factories of Lusalite (fiber-cement) and Gist-Brocades (Dutch yeast).

The project is currently halted due to a court order – an interim injunction requested by the Public Prosecutor’s Office due to the irregular approval of the Detailed Plan of the Right Bank of the Jamor River Estuary, which occurred during Paulo Vistas’ presidency in 2014. This plan includes the responsibility of the real estate group SIL for the aforementioned project.

According to the association, this will partially cause the beach to cease to exist.

However, according to Joana Batista, that is not the case. The councilor states that there will be an “area of beach, larger in surface area than the existing sandy beach, along with an oceanic pool, the continuation of the promenade, and a marina.”

The Porto Cruz project is contested due to its location on the banks of the Tagus Estuary. It plans for 27 hectares of construction and five towers, consisting of apartments and offices, one of which will have 19 floors.

The Municipality of Oeiras argues that the project “will address the issue of asbestos in the former Lusalite factory and increase the public area from 3,000 square meters to 70,000 square meters. Additionally, it will create 2,000 job opportunities.” They also mention the creation of pedestrian spaces, an avenue connecting the Jamor Valley to the Tagus River, a surface tram space aiming to restore the connection between Algés and the Jamor Sports Complex, and the redevelopment of the Cruz Quebrada train station.

While none of this has materialized yet, the future of Cruz Quebrada beach remains uncertain, and its present state is marked by the neglect of the authorities and the care of a few fearless or unaware swimmers.

Cruz Quebrada: From the “Garrafão” Beach to the Pollution Beach

Formerly known as the “Garrafão” beach (large jug) due to the habit of many visitors bringing along a wine jug to accompany the abundant lunch (codfish, chicken rice, fava beans) that families would share from a large pot wrapped in newspapers, as described by Eurico de Barros in Time Out magazine, Praia da Cruz Quebrada was once among the most popular choices for less affluent residents of Lisbon.

Today, despite its bad reputation, the beach remains in the memories of some and continues to be the bathing spot of choice for others, for various reasons, including its proximity.

That’s why Solange Lopes and her friend Filipa Gonçalves chose Cruz Quebrada: because it’s close to Cais do Sodré. Both had to return home early but wanted to take a dip. They didn’t even notice the informational sign at the entrance. It’s the second time Solange has been to Cruz Quebrada beach. “And it will probably be the last,” she says when alerted to the sign.

Emilio Teixeira usually goes to Estoril, but whenever he passes by Cruz Quebrada beach on the train and sees it crowded with swimmers, he decided to give it a try, despite realizing that the beach was not suitable for bathing since it lacked surveillance.

Cruz quebrada praia jamor oeiras poluição verão turistas
A praia da Cruz Quebrada. Foto: Inês Leote

At 82 years old, Emilio enjoys his retirement with a well-defined routine. He lives in Lisbon and takes the Carris bus number 760 to Cais do Sodré, then catches the train to Estoril beach. When it’s time to return home, he walks to Cascais and takes the train from there. However, this time he wanted to break away from his routine and ended up disappointed.

The experience hasn’t been pleasant either. “I fell several times because I couldn’t maintain my balance on the rocks,” he says. “Besides, the tide is low, and you can see the sewage pipe that ends up at the shoreline. The canal that leads here broke, and they haven’t fixed it. It should carry the water further away. You can see it’s dirty, greasy… You take a bath just to get wet, but it’s uncomfortable,” he says.

That doesn’t seem to deter a group of two women and three children who are already sitting on their towels, having lunch under a beach umbrella. Natalia Rangel, a Brazilian, has been coming to Cruz Quebrada beach for three years. She lives in Algés and often brings her children. This time, she also brought a friend. She says that because it’s a quiet beach, it tends to be inviting to bring children, which according to Natalia, is quite common.

“Last year, I made friends with several mothers, and we planned to bring the kids together,” she says.

Fernanda, who lives in Amadora, prefers Cruz Quebrada beach because there is no parking meter. She acknowledges that the water is polluted and the beach quality is not as good as the neighboring beaches in the municipality of Oeiras. However, she believes that if bathers were in danger, the authorities would alert them.

“I’ve been coming here for many years, and I’m still alive. I’m turning 62,” Fernanda says, in a relaxed manner.

Cruz quebrada praia jamor oeiras poluição verão turistas
Photo: Inês Leote

Mário doesn’t really believe that. Even though he goes there every day for his jogging routine, when he sits on the rocks to soak up the sun after exercising, he never goes into the water, he assures. In fact, he never has. “I always knew it wasn’t suitable for swimming,” he says.

Even when he was younger and went there with friends, he would advise them not to go into the water because of the pollution. “They wouldn’t listen to me,” he recalls.

On top of the narrow wall of the Jamor River canal, which flows into Cruz Quebrada beach, is Pedro, holding a fishing rod. Pedro has been fishing since he was 7 years old, and it’s his second time fishing here. He is aware that the water may be polluted, but it doesn’t bother him. “That doesn’t matter at all, anything goes for fishing,” he says.

The water quality doesn’t seem to be a concern for those who frequent Cruz Quebrada Beach, nor for the various websites that recommend it when conducting a brief Google search. Nevertheless, a few kilometers away and one or two train stops away, there are four Blue Flag beaches.

Perhaps they would be a healthier option, just to be on the safe side.

You can read this article in Portuguese here.

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