Greece’s water resources are somewhat murky to the prying eyes of the European Union

Greece is perhaps fortunate in not possessing major industry, since it enables it to claim there is no problem of pollution of the country’s water. Pollution regulations are implemented only after pressure from the European Union, and then in form, not in substance, with no concern for the results. Due to a lack of heavy industry, the main sources of water pollution in Greece are urban waste and agricultural runoff. EU Wastewater Treatment Directive 91/271 on processing urban sewage obliges Greece to draw up a list of vulnerable lakes and rivers and generally water bodies that waste runs into. This is due to the rising incidence of eutrophy, or the likelihood of its appearing. (Eutrophy is when overly nutrient-rich waters cause algae and other organisms to proliferate, reducing oxygen content and thus extinguishing other forms of life.) Environmentally sensitive areas are chosen by the member states. For example, Ireland and Denmark have characterized all of their bodies of water as sensitive. In Greece, only nine lakes have been characterized as such – Vistonida, Volvi, Langada, Marathon, Mitriko, Paralimni, Petres, Yliki and the Mornos artificial lake. In a study on water sources conducted by the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) and the Institute of Geology and Mining Exploration (IGME), 70 percent of lakes which were examined showed a tendency to eutrophy. In addition, the study recommended that lakes Vegoritida, Doirani, Zazari, Kastoria, Lysimachia, Pamvotida and Heimaditida be added to the list of sensitive areas. Andreas Andreadakis, professor of the NTUA’s Department of Water Resources, Hydraulic and Maritime Engineering, stated that «as a rule, lakes are vulnerable, thus it’s no exaggeration to say that with certain exceptions, all lakes should be considered sensitive.» And he added, «Inclusion of an area as a sensitive area demands a series of actions, investment and measures.» The requisite measures demand funds that no one wants to give and clashes with vested interests. Typically, in 2000 the Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) itself sent the EU a study on the Saronic Gulf that described it as beginning to show signs of eutrophy. When the EU said that the gulf should be classed as sensitive, the ministry questioned its own study. Thessaloniki’s Thermaic Gulf also presented a problem of eutrophy – the solution was to send urban waste via a pipe into yet deeper waters. Greek rivers are less prone to eutrophy, «either because they have a sporadic water supply or because they are seasonal rivers,» said Andreadakis. But human pollution has resulted in problems in the Soulou and Pamisos, the Alpheios and the Pinios in the prefecture of Elis. Water quality, while within limits, is regarded as dubious in the River Pinios of Thessaly as well as the rivers Axios, Strymon and especially the Evros. Even in areas classed as sensitive, the requisite measures have not been carried out. «Whatever runs into these lakes, rivers or littoral areas should have been subjected to tertiary wastewater treatment. The works should have been completed by 2000,» Andreadakis explained. Of the 16 cities and settlements in areas where tertiary wastewater treatment plants should have been constructed, 10 have been built. Nitrates Another important source of pollution of both surface and underground water is runoff from farms. «Often proper farming practices are not observed, resulting in nitrate contamination. When this occurs, the region should be considered affected and measures should be taken,» said Andreadakis. To date, areas designated as vulnerable are Lake Kopais, the Argolid plain, the Pinios river basin and the plain of Thessaly. According to the study, however, there should be at least 20 areas designated as vulnerable zones, including the coastal strips of Gargalianoi-Kyparissia and Astros-Leonidio, the receptor basin for the Mesolongi-Aitolikos lagoon and for Lake Lysimachia, the area south of the Amvrakikos Gulf (Vonitsa-Amphilochia), north of the Amvrakikos Gulf (Preveza-Arta), the receptor basins of the Vegoritida, Heimaditida, Zazari, Kastoria, Volvi, Langada, Doirani, Mitrikou and Vistonida lakes, and the river basins of the Axios, Gallikos, Strymon, Angitis, Chrysorhoe, Evros, Erydropotamos, Kompsatos and the Dytikos tributary. According to Andreadakis, this is water which is not used for supplying homes, so not much attention is paid to it. «That means, however, that we write off considerable water resources,» he said. Before long, we will have to take the issue more seriously. Andreadakis says that the implementation of EU Directive 2000/60 calls for the country’s water resources to be in a «good ecological state,» which is determined by the variety of organisms found within the particular river or lake. «Until now, we have made some measurements which are not complete. These assess water quality according to its suitability for irrigation or supplying homes,» he explained. «From now on, however, assessment of water quality will be based on whether the water is in a good ecological condition, which means the condition of a river or lake should be in accordance with the region and the depth of the water, and whether there have been any human activities.» «That is, water quality will be evaluated according to how much it diverges from this condition. The lake or river will be classified on a scale of one to five,» added Andreadakis. By 2008, Greece will have to have set specific goals for all the country’s water resources and by 2015, it needs to have taken all the necessary measures to achieve these goals. Naturally, there has been absolutely no progress in this direction as yet.