Greek red tape plagues plan to manage water

The adoption of European Union Directive 60/2000 is to lead to a complete change in the way water supplies are managed, even how they are consumed. The changes are due to the way the directive has been adopted by the government, for although it is not required, the changes affect the entire approach to the way water is managed, as well as the agencies which manage it. For the first time in Greece, water is being viewed as an economic commodity, albeit as a means of conserving and protecting it, as a fee is to be charged for its use in any manner, whether supplied to homes or industry, for irrigation or energy production. Several questions – so far unanswered – have been raised regarding the pricing policy in Greece, a country where there is a serious shortage of water in several regions, and the proposed cost of water in the dry Aegean islands where large amounts of water are consumed but where tourism makes a major contribution to the economy. Most of the essential sections of the draft law refer to ministerial decrees to follow. The same occurred with the previous draft law on water management. However, those ministerial decrees never materialized, which is obviously why the law was eventually dispensed with. The government is attempting to reform the framework for water protection and management under a mantle of bureaucracy by means of a central service but with no infrastructure. In view of the requirement to adopt the European Union directive on «Sustainable Management of Water Resources,» the leadership of the Environment and Public Works Ministry has tabled a bill to replace the legislative framework set out in Law 1739/87, which, incidentally, was never implemented. Of the 30 presidential decrees and ministerial decisions required before the law could be implemented, only one-third of these have been enacted in the 16 years since its passage. According to many official sources, the same fate is likely awaiting the new Central Water Service being set up within the Environment and Public Works Ministry. With no provisions for staffing or infrastructure, this new service is being called upon to manage the entire range of programs to protect, manage, monitor and coordinate the protection and management of water resources, as well as to coordinate all relevant state services involved. This new service will have to deal with a wide diversity of issues such as drought and flooding, the design of water supply systems, water conservation in farming irrigation and costing policy. Meanwhile, the Economic and Social Committee (OKE) observes that the processing and evaluation of alternative water policies is «very difficult within the framework of the services’ administrative powers.» OKE suggests that an independent Water Resources Management Institute be set up similar to those in other European states such as Britain, France, Denmark, Spain and Portugal. As with most of the government’s recent legislation, this bill defers the settlement of a number of issues to the enactment of ministerial decisions at a later date, decisions that will establish the powers of each of the agencies being set up (see box). The transition process is likely to raise doubts about the Third Community Support Framework programs on water resources currently in progress, and budgeted at 1.5 billion euros. The basic reasoning behind the European Commission’s directive on water resources is firstly that these resources should be managed in a way that is compatible with environmental requirements, and, secondly, that they be viewed as an economic resource. A positive move is the adoption of specific definitions establishing the degree of pollution levels in water. However, other provisions will be difficult to implement in Greece’s climatic conditions. Officials at the Institute of Geological and Mining Exploration (IGME) say the directive’s main provisions reflect conditions in northern Europe, where there is rainfall, water that can be exploited and polluted and, therefore, requiring specific measures. The situation in Greece is very different, as is evident from the number of state tenders for the transportation of drinking water to arid islands, or the infighting among farmers over water resources on the plain of Thessaly. The directive also provides for a water management and recovery fee for every use to which water can be put – supplies to homes, irrigation, industry, power or recreation. Pricing policy is determined at a national level, with specifications at the level of the regions, which should be as self-sufficient as possible, according to the directive and provided for in the ministry’s draft law. Yet how is a region that has a serious water shortage, such as the Dodecanese, to determine its own pricing policy when major consumers such as hotels are the mainstay of the area’s economic development? How is water to be priced for the irrigation of cotton fields on the plain of Thessaly in order to keep prices competitive and also conserve water? According to IGME staff, the provisions for the pricing of all kinds of activities will lead to the complete commercialization of water. OKE simply says that the provisions involve the country in additional, unnecessary commitments.