Dam proves controversial

A controversial project left dormant for 40 years has been resurrected. The damming of the Aposelemi stream in Potamies, Crete, is a major project aimed at solving the water supply problems of the town of Iraklion but it has sparked opposition. Experts and local residents fear it will cause widespread environmental damage that will jeopardize plans for developing some tourism. They also question its effectiveness in dealing with the water shortage. Then there is the financial aspect: The project is budgeted at 586.9 million euros, of which 158.5 million has been provided by European Union finds. Where will the rest of the money come from? As planned, a massive cement cone will collect all the water from the Lassithi plateau instead of allowing it to run off down the mountains in torrents like the Aposelemis, which, however, feeds springs in nine neighboring municipalities, according to a recent study by the Institute of Geology and Mineral Exploration (IGME). The water will be directed to a tunnel 900 meters long and 3 meters wide, to be dug inside the mountain; from there the water will drain by pipe to the catchment basin. The 56-meter-high dam is to be built right beside village of Potamies. (The study states that if the dam broke, the village would be at risk of inundation.) It will extend to the village of Avdos, submerging the village of Sfentyli and all the fields belonging to Avdos residents. High price The environmental cost will be high. When the dam is being built, 70,000 trees will be felled in the Lagada catchment basin, while installation of the pipe in the Goion gorge and construction of a new road nearby will cause irreversible damage. The Lassithi plateau is a unique habitat for migratory birds and other endemic species, biologist-ornithologist Michalis Drettakis, a researcher at the Natural History Museum of Crete, told Kathimerini. The area has been listed as a habitat with priority for preservation by EU Directive 92/43. «Besides,» said Drettakis, «most of the Gonion gorge is protected by the Natura 2000 program because it is a breeding ground for vultures.» Apart from the fines Greece may incur for violating EU directives, the dam will have further economic repercussions. As Hersonissos Mayor Spyros Danellos told Kathimerini, the project will scuttle plans for developing light forms of tourism that are in keeping with contemporary perceptions of development in the provinces and rational management of natural resources: «We have proposals for walking tours, cycling and horse riding and incorporating the cultural heritage such as ancient and Byzantine monuments. The dam is located on Crete’s only organized hang-gliding site where national and international competitions are held. These constitute our passport for upgrading the area, but they are in jeopardy. The dam will destroy our social and economic foundations and cause the disappearance of the natural wealth which is our main source of income and a factor in social cohesion.» It is not even certain that the dam will solve Iraklion’s water supply problems. Giorgos Tsakiris, director of the National Technical University’s water resources and management laboratory, says the project will produce far less water than has been claimed. «The studies for the dam are unreliable,» he told the Ministry for the Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works, «because they have overestimated the amount of water available. Instead of 27.8m3 (cubic meters), the inflow is expected to be 18.5m3. The guaranteed amount will be less than 13.5m3 and it will have to serve not only the city of Iraklion, but also Aghios Nikolaos and the northern coastal zone.»