Getting water to Greek islands a costly affair

In the past nine years the General Secretariat for the Aegean and Island Policy has spent the staggering sum of 68.4 million euros on the transportation of water to Greece’s arid islands – millions of euros that have basically evaporated, used to bring temporary relief rather than a permanent solution. An even greater shame is the fact that much of the water is lost owing to leaky and ill-maintained island water grids. Island water policy is a big issue made more pressing by the crisis and demands a new and comprehensive approach.

Things have changed a lot since 1969, when Syros became the first Greek island to get its own desalination plant. The number of islands with insufficient natural resources has risen along with tourism, pushing demand up every year. At the same time, islanders who were once cautious about their use of water and ensured a degree of self-sufficiency by building reservoirs and using other means of storing the resource have become more reliant on imported water and more complacent about its sufficiency.

It is a common misconception that water transfers are cheap if not free. Data from the General Secretariat for the Aegean and Island Policy showed 68.4 million euros have been spent since 2006 on the transportation of water to the country’s arid islands. The most expensive year was 2008, at 12.5 million euros. The cost is estimated to come to around half of that by year-end, with 2.6 million euros already spent since January.

“There is a lot of demand this year due to tourism growth and we have had requests from islands that never had a problem before,” Nikos Zoidis, general secretary for the Aegean, told Kathimerini recently. “A characteristic example is Myconos, which will cost us around 800,000 euros by the end of the year, not for the transportation of water but for the temporary installation of a desalination unit operating for three months. We also had a request from Leros for two or three shipments and from Patmos for another three.”

It is estimated that there are around 45 desalination units in the Aegean today. No one can say exactly how many there are or how much drinking water they produce as there is no central record and they have not all been installed by the same company or state body. There is also a number of plants which have been paid for and installed but are not operating; the government aims to have them all up and running by May 2015.

The general secretariat has allotted funds for desalination plants on the islands of Patmos, Leros, Donousa, Kimolos, Amorgos and Symi, while the Regional Authority of the Aegean has funded units on Leros, Koufonisia and Halki. The Halki plant is the only one that is working, meaning that the remote island is no longer dependent on water shipments.

Desalination is not a complete solution to the problem. For Greece’s islands to have the same high-quality water as that available on the mainland, several steps need to be taken.

“Desalination plants need to be meticulously maintained, which is why our proposal is for this task to be assigned to private companies,” said Zoidis. “Furthermore, islands need to start replacing their water grids. You can’t spend so much money on water and have losses in the 30-40 percent range. Depending on water imports is just wrong.”

Following the launch of a new desalination plant on Hydra, the state is exploring the possibility of assigning an entire network of units on all islands to private companies in a bid to acquire the infrastructure at as low a cost to the state as possible.

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