Things are not flowing smoothly for Greece’s sewage infrastructure

At a time when half the country is flocking to the beaches in the certain belief that they are clean, the entire crumbling edifice of wastewater treatment poses hazards both to the environment and to tourists’ health. According to Environment Ministry sources, one-third of all sewage treatment plants constructed in the country’s cities were never opened. A plant at Lidoriki, which was intended to protect the Mornos Lake that supplies Athens’s water, does not function. Yet another third of wastewater treatment units is poorly maintained and thus ineffectual. That leaves only one in three sewage plants that are functioning normally. Athens’s own sewage plant on the islet of Psyttaleia has cleared up the once-murky Saronic Gulf, but much remains to be done. Unsurprisingly, EU accusations over delays in the works and poor results are coming thick and fast. As for hotel wastewater treatment units, no one seems to know exactly what is going on. Some checks are carried out, usually at the beginning of the tourist season. But what happens later on? Money down the drain? In the early 1990s, sewage treatment plants had become imperative, as was the need for «environmental sensitivity,» imposed by the European Union. Billions of community and state funds were poured into the construction of sewage treatment units in various cities. Their fate since then is unknown. According to officials – who, understandably, do not wish to be named – the overall picture is discouraging. The absence of vital funding and of specialized personnel essentially limits the plants’ effectiveness, given the lack of proper maintenance. Funds dry up The abandonment of sewage treatment plants (and thus health and environmental protection) is due to the limited finances of local administrative and municipal companies, which lack the necessary capital to maintain units or hire specialized personnel. As a result, units set up with funding from, or under the supervision of, the Ministry of the Environment, Planning and Public Works (YPEHODE) are quite unable to do the job they were set up for. The Greek genius for disorganization is another factor. Wastewater units were not constructed to original specifications or lacked proper permits, with the result that they did not conform to those environmental regulations it was their job to maintain. Furthermore, no provision was made – in most cases at least – for the treatment of the sludge that was the end-product of primary treatment. Local authorities then opted to shut down the plants altogether. Weak central control The extent of the problem was concealed by local authorities, who, for obvious reasons, were not anxious to publicize it. Often, the issue went no further than the mass media, whose complaints failed to rouse competent authorities from their blissful slumber. The situation was aggravated by the lack of any central monitoring mechanism and administration of wastewater treatment plants in Greece. Some fall under the jurisdiction of the Water Supply and Sewage Company of Larissa (DEYAL), but the quality of maintenance of the scattered units remains unknown. Also in the dark is the fate of the daughter company announced by the management of Athens’s Water Supply and Sewage Company (EYDAP). It was to take responsibility for the creation, maintenance, and functioning of wastewater treatment units throughout the country. The daughter company was one of the more important ventures the company announced at its shareholders’ general meeting and is supposedly a basic investment scheme. Given that sewage companies worldwide are turning from simply supplying water to wastewater treatment and waste management, EYDAP’s involvement would have been beneficial on the entrepreneurial as well as ecological level. But the daughter company’s future is shrouded in mystery. Perhaps it is still awaiting some strategic investor or form of cooperative venture with the private sector, where construction companies have developed «ecological» interests.