Winter’s floodwater goes to waste

The obvious question following the deluges of the past winter is whether there will now be enough water for our needs. March 22 was World Water Day, this year falling just when Greece’s volume of surface water and the water table have risen considerably. Yet the specter of drought has simply receded for a few months, since the lack of infrastructure and works to feed the water table have resulted in enormous amounts of valuable water flowing into the sea. «There is enough water for eight-10 months, and then we will have a problem again, because the average amount of water available is still not very much,» said Professor Themistocles S. Xanthopoulos, the rector of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA). The Athens Water Supply and Sewage Company’s (EYDAP) reserves have reached 1,115.89 million cubic meters, double the 532.65 million cubic meters of this time last year. Ground water reserves have also been replenished. Nikos Kourmoulis, a hydrologist with the Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration (IGME) responsible for the ground water monitoring network, said the increase in the amount of ground water has been the greatest in the past decade, with the water table rising from 10 to 60 meters in some areas. More reserves The greatest increases have been in the Peloponnese and the Aegean islands, where reserves have almost doubled, but are still insufficient. There have also been increases in central and southern Greece, according to IGME data. Despite the positive outlook, the problems have not been solved. In areas where there have been long-term shortages, coastal water tables have almost been totally destroyed, creating a serious problem of salination, such as in the Argolid and on the islands. At a recent conference in Iraklion, on the island of Crete, «Water in the 21st Century: Problems and Prospects,» held by the Geotechnical Chamber of Greece, rapporteurs emphasized that the problem of water shortages would be around for some time to come. «Water consumption is estimated at about 5.5 billion cubic meters a year,» said hydrogeologist H. Smyrniotis. «Between 80 and 84 percent of this goes on irrigation, 13-15 percent is used for household use and 2.5-4 percent for industry and energy. The entire water reserves are more than enough to meet these needs, but only a small part of it is economically and technically exploitable, that is why there are insufficient supplies in many areas,» he explained. According to the country’s water resource management plan drawn up by the Development Ministry in cooperation with NTUA, IGME and other scientific bodies for the month of July, when the demand for water is at its highest, the areas hardest hit are eastern Central Greece, Thessaly, the Aegean Islands and part of the Peloponnese. Attica has a slight surplus, but according to hydrogeologist Karolos Bezes, Athens has no local water reserves. «Water is brought in from further afield,» he said. Management problem Generally, Greece does not have limited water resources; the problem is one of management. «The first step to take is to conserve water. For example, in Athens we use drinking water in the washing machine, which is a great waste. In the islands, dams could be built to keep back rainwater and let it be absorbed by the soil, instead of flowing out into the sea,» said Bezes. Surface irrigation, according to Professor M. Sakellariou-Makrantonaki of Thessaly University, is an outdated method that is only 50-60 percent effective. Nevertheless, in areas with water shortages, such as Thessaly, this is the method most used. The problem is usually dealt with by means of grand schemes and emergency solutions. But the experts agree that what is needed is for the water table to be boosted so that rainfall and snow runoff will be absorbed into the ground instead of flowing out to sea. This year’s floods might do that, but they have also caused erosion as enormous quantities of water flowed over the land downhill to the sea, according to Sotiris Angelidis, vice rector of Athens University’s School of Agronomy. This damage could have been avoided if the proper works had been carried out and preparations made for the proper management of floodwater.