Omissions in new state water policy

The European Union recently adopted a directive that takes a new, integrated approach to the management of water resources but, as usual, Greece has some way to go before fulfilling all the requirements for cleaner waters by the deadline of 2015. At a recent presentation of the main points of the EU’s new water policy by the environmental organization WWF Hellas, it was pointed out that while Greece had harmonized its legislation with that of the European Union with Law 3199 and had brought responsibility for water policy under one authority, there are still many omissions. Speaking at an event held by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment, WWF’s Panayiota Marangou said that Directive 2000/60/EC, adopted on October 23, sets out a framework for water management but leaves details and methods to the discretion of the member states themselves. «The directive is based on the general premise that water is a heritage that has to be protected. It also introduced the idea of water ecology, that is, a body of water should not only be ‘clean’ but should be able to support biological communities. For example, there are cases of rivers that are free of chemical pollutants but are ‘dead’ rivers, either because of the construction of dams or other manmade projects that prevent the development of natural flora or fauna.» It is the idea of a single system for water management that is the greatest innovation. For each river basin, some of which cross national borders, such as the Danube, a «river basin management plan» – a detailed account of the objectives (ecological status, quantitative status, chemical status and protected area objectives) – will need to be established and updated every six years, according to the directive. «This is not the first EU legislation on water. There have been another 11 directives, mostly regarding water quality. Many of them are out of date, so there was the need for a new framework to cover all aspects of water,» explained Marangou. Participation The directive also puts an emphasis on the participation of local communities in formulating policy in order to balance the interests of various groups and to ensure the directive’s enforcement. Article 14 specifically refers to member states’ obligations to inform the public and to organize negotiations. «Local communities to a great extent will need to cooperate in a different way. Every year there are reports of disputes in Thessaly between Larissa and Karditsa over the use of the region’s water sources. Groups such as these will need to cooperate in a different manner,» said Marangou. The directive specifies that caring for Europe’s waters will require more involvement from citizens and other interested parties, such as private enterprise and non-governmental organizations. Article 14 says that information and consultation will be needed when river basin management plans (which must be in draft form) are established and the background documentation, on which the decisions are based, made accessible. «People need to know what they are being asked to give opinions on; they need to have the facts and to be able to respond. They need to know what is expected of them in order to participate actively instead of just listening to a speech and then giving their ideas – that is a parody of participation,» said Marangou. By 2015, all of Europe’s waters are supposed to have «good ecological status» and though 11 years might seem like a long time, there are several intermediate goals that must be met along the way. By the end of this year, an environmental effects plan should have been completed for each use of water in each basin. By the end of 2006, monitoring programs should be in place and negotiations begun on management plans, which should be published by 2009. «If one regards it piece by piece like that, one sees that the schedule is tight,» pointed out Marangou. In Greece The first deadline EU member states had to meet was that of December 2003 when their legislation had to be in line with that of the EU. Greece was one of the countries that in fact did meet that deadline. The central authority for water management now lies with the Environment and Public Works Ministry, a simplification of the previous system where responsibility was divided between the Development Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry (where farm issues were concerned), Environment and Public Works (for protected areas), the Health Ministry (drinking water) and the National Tourism Organization (GNTO) for areas with mineral springs, for example. Instead, the Environment and Public Works Ministry has now set up a Central Water Resources Service and a National Water Resources Committee, a council of ministers who will determine policy and give directions. Councils at a regional and national level will comment and give opinions on policies and measures. However, the law contains many omissions, according to WWF. For example, it does not include the directive’s environmental target, that is, to have water at good ecological status by 2015. It does not refer to many of the other deadlines in the directive and there is no mention of definitions, such as quantity and viable use, or specific provisions or commitments for incorporating water policy in other sectors. It does not define the river basins themselves – that will come with another amendment. Nor does it include full reference to Article 14 on participation; although it mentions participation at regional level, it does not provide details or schedules. The same applies to punitive action – nothing specific is mentioned regarding the «effective, proportionate and dissuasive» penalties required to enforce the legislation. Marangou also mentioned that while bringing authorities under one roof is positive, the plan has a very complicated administrative structure. Although the law says responsibility will rest at regional level, it does not provide the regions with precise instructions. WWF also feels that the national and regional councils rightly cover a very broad range of interested parties but, as they only meet twice a year, they will have very little contact and not very clear powers. «We feel they might simply be arenas for the various organizations to vent their feelings and not have specific results,» said Marangou. Many of the issues missing from the law, such as the deadlines and technical details, are supposed to be covered in a presidential decree that has been continually postponed throughout the year as the ministry awaits comments from other ministries, organizations and services. Meanwhile, the environmental effects studies supposed to have been completed by the end of 2004 have not been done because funding has not yet been approved by the ministry. «We see the directive as an unprecedented opportunity that changes the way countries are asked to manage their water resources and introduces public participation. It presents member states with a considerable challenge. The fact that Greece is already behind makes us skeptical as to whether the state will seize this opportunity or whether it will be ‘business as usual’.» Ecology: The bigger picture The increasing need to look deeper into the meaning of ecology as an overall view of the world we live in, rather than piecemeal in connection with individual issues, will be the subject of the society’s next scheduled event, «Ecology as a Science and as a Political Approach to our World,» a talk by Evthymios Papadimitriou from the University of Ioannina. On Monday, December 6, at 7 p.m. at the society’s headquarters at 20 Nikis St, Syntagma.