Water waste on farms

Most of Greece’s water resources are being overexploited for farmland, much of which is cultivated solely due to subsidies from the European Union, according to figures presented at a recent conference held by the Citizens’ Movement for an Open Society by Professor Maria Mimikou of the National Technical University. Of all the water consumed in Greece, 86 percent goes to farmland, chiefly in Thessaly, which accounts for 25 percent of that amount and 21 percent of the total demand for water for any purpose. At the other end of the spectrum, the millions who live in Athens consume just 4 percent of total reserves from the Yliki, Mornos and Evinos reservoirs. Moreover, farmers in Thessaly have been waiting for years for the diversion of the Acheloos River, even though their water-guzzling cotton crops remain piled up in warehouses. Thessaly is followed by Anatoliki Sterea – Eastern Mainland Greece – (12.5 percent of demand for farm use) and Central Macedonia (10.5 percent), the latter also accounting for the second largest volume for urban use (10.5 percent) because of the demands of the Thessaloniki construction industry. Greece’s water uses hint at an economy with considerable structural problems – just 2 percent of water used by industry and 1 percent for the production of energy. However, 26.5 percent of water for industry is consumed in Central Macedonia and most hydroelectric projects are in Ditiki Sterea (Western Mainland Greece), accounting for 19.8 percent of the energy used. Noting the lack of a central administration for water reserves, Mimikou estimated that agricultural consumption of water should be drastically reduced, from 86 to 50 percent of total consumption, either by switching to alternative crops or by restricting leaks in irrigation pipes that result in a loss of 80 percent of the water in each region. According to other participants in the conference, agricultural overuse of water reserves through thousands of illegal wells drilled has led to a rapid deterioration of quality in the water used both for irrigation and household consumption. According to Professor K. Kosmas of Athens Agricultural University, the rapid increase in water consumption, together with reduced ground cover that decreases the absorption of water by the soil, is leading to a degradation of available water reserves and even the infiltration of salt water into coastal water tables. As a result, 150,000 hectares of the country’s total area needs soil improvements due to salination. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides broadly used in farming are also a hazard. Kosmas claims that more than 450,000 hectares have been polluted in this way. According to Professor Michalis Angelidis of the Aegean University, four prefectures – Argolid, Ileia, Viotia and Larissa – are polluted by chemicals at considerably above the permitted limit. «Many people in Argos, in the Peloponnese, do not drink the tap water there because the concentration of nitric ions per liter is three times over the limit,» he said. Apart from the need to save on water used for irrigation by means of a pricing policy for water destined for farm use, and by means of tight restrictions on new wells, the conference participants drew attention to the lack of any unified central plan or state monitoring of water management. Monitoring is vital since the major consumers – farms and major urban conurbations – are in the eastern part of the country where there is less rainfall than in western Greece, while the Aegean islands and Crete present a particular problem with regard to the natural replenishment of water reserves. At the same time, according to Athens University professor Michalis Skoullos, law 3199/203 on the protection and management of water is in effect inactive.