Shrinking Pamvotis: The lake whose official shoreline is offshore

The Greek State is yet again having to answer to the European Union over its inability to do anything serious about protecting the environment. This time, the issue is not the illegal landfill sites or waste management (although these still have to be confronted), but Lake Pamvotis, which fronts the town of Ioannina and is gradually shrinking. The problem has its origins in the draining, a few decades ago, of Lapsista Lake, a natural extension of Pamvotis, in order to limit the incidences of malaria in the region and also to create more cultivated land. Of the 4,000 hectares that emerged, however, only 700 are now being cultivated. Later, during the 1967-74 dictatorship, and in order to develop the region of Amphithea, a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile)-long dam was built that not only reduced the lake by 250 hectares but more importantly, cut it off from springs on Mt Mitsikeli, depriving it of 37 million cubic meters of clean water each year. Pamvotis became a closed system, and the rain its only source of replenishment, as the waters of the springs on Mitsikeli now flow straight down to the sea. Today the problem is not only the quality of the water but the sufficiency. Pamvotis is at risk after decisions regarding «eco-development» made a few months ago by the previous leadership of the Environment and Public Works Ministry, which even defined the shore of the lake as being further offshore than it already is. The Ioannina Environmental Protection Association has taken recourse to justice (with a request to the Council of State to have Ministerial Decree 22943/2003 abolished) and the European Union authorities. In a question to the European Council and the Commission, Alexander de Roo, vice president of the European Parliament’s environment committee, has referred to Greece’s violation of at least three EU directives, and describes the situation in the bleakest terms. He mentions the considerable deterioration of the lake due to man-made pollution, liquid urban waste, fertilizers and overuse for irrigation. Above all, he draws attention to the Greek State’s inability to define the lake’s boundaries and to protect it from land-grabbers, another major blight, for which various state bodies are to blame – as usual. «It is tragic that we are forced to appeal to the European Union, but for years we have had to deal with the indifference or unwillingness of the Greek State,» said the association’s president, Aristides Sotiriades. A basic prerequisite for protecting the lake is the delineation of its shoreline, which has been pending since 1978. At that time, then Agriculture Ministry Inspector Stylinaos Kasapidis, who had been trying to resolve the issue, was suddenly transferred elsewhere. Committee followed committee, most of them agreeing that the boundary should be the original natural shoreline. At the same time, the first concerns began to be expressed about the existence of the dam. Twenty years of inaction passed and in 1998, the state property service changed its mind and called for the shoreline to be set at the level of the dam. Moreover, it rewarded the land-grabbers by lowering the official shoreline by about a meter. This led to protests from the General Navy Staff which sternly reminded the service that setting the shoreline at mostly lower levels essentially excluded many parts of the lake, with many signposts indicating the boundary as actually inside the lake itself. In 2001, the law suddenly changed, and on the basis of Law 2971/2001, the navy’s opinion was not requested and the naval representative replaced by a prefectural representative. Finally, 26 years after the first attempt to define the lakeshore, the actual boundary is in many places still unclear, to the benefit of certain people. As for the lake’s survival, the Management and Protection Authority has not yet been activated. New Deputy Environment and Public Works Minister Stavros Kaloyiannis, who comes from the area, said the problem of the renewal of the waters had to be dealt with as soon as possible. How? By building a pipeline from the Metsivitiko River to channel fresh water into the lake at Ioannina – that is, by means of yet another human intervention in order to rectify other human action in the past.

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