NEWS

Projects poorly coordinated for lack of any central agency

What is the situation with surface and underground water? is it really decreasing or is this overstating the problem? Greece as a whole, with the exception of the Aegean Islands and eastern Crete, is not deficient in water, either at the surface or underground. However, it must be stressed that rainfall is not equally distributed throughout the country, while the exploitation of underground reserves, which is both technically and financial feasible, has not really been explored. So it is somewhat risky to use the term «reduction in water resources,» since we are experiencing a period of drought in southeastern Europe, particularly the drought in the urban Athens area. The term refers to a natural phenomenon that move in cycles and cannot precisely be determined. On the contrary, we could easily cite human activities as the main reason that large quantities of water are unfit for use (without necessarily resulting in a reduction in the total volume), are wasted (mainly in irrigation), or that valuable underground reserves are salinated due to over-drilling. With regard to the Aegean Islands and eastern Crete, as well as the Thessaly plain, one could say that both nature and man are to blame. In conclusion, I would say that nature provides us with water and it is up to the state to do what is necessary both to protect surface water and to carry out a systematic program of hydro-geological projects in accordance with rules. Price scales Is raising the price of water a way to restrict waste? Of course it is, as long as we keep fees for household water supplies (not including swimming pools, of course) down in cost. Apart from these supplies, introducing a rising scale with increasingly stiff fees for water would be a positive move. At the same time, users should be taught to respect and conserve this resource which has long ceased to exist in sufficient quantities. Every attempt should be made to avoid wasting drinking water, particularly in public areas (buildings, army camps, schools) where the water is not being paid for by those who consume it. In order to conserve large quantities of water, however, there has to be a frontal assault on the waste of irrigation water, which is paid for by the hectare and not by volume, with obvious results. Some people think crops requiring large quantities of water should be replaced with others that require less. Is that possible in Thessaly, where waste is the rule? The problem is not solely the search for crops that demand less water, since we are facing very stiff international competition for our farm products. Rather we should be restructuring our farmland and at the same time modernizing our irrigation networks, aiming to exploit over 80 percent of irrigation water and installed equipment. At present just an average 60-65 percent of land equipped with irrigation networks is irrigated. The problem is how can one expect to have viable agriculture in Greece when non-exploited irrigation equipment depreciates, losing money. We should not be deceived – the heart of our viable agriculture should be effective irrigation. Any delay in dealing with these problems will result in catastrophic results both for the industry and our national economy in general. So far, unfortunately, many people have interpreted the term «modernization of irrigation works» as a need to install more modern equipment, ignoring the fact that 35-40 percent of that land will not be irrigated. So it could be said that replacing old irrigation networks with new equipment and covering 100 percent of the original land means that public money will be wasted. The European Union issued a warning before 1985 that at some point funding would cease and only viable farmland would be subsidized. As an encouragement to member states, it drafted a special five-year plan (1985-90). It fell to this writer to draft a progress report in 1987. Unfortunately, none of the goals set had been met by more than a single-digit percentage. In other words, the train stopped, it whistled insistently, but we didn’t hear it. Is there a water management policy today and, if not, what should it comprise? Unfortunately the answer is no, because drafting a national water policy presupposes the existence of a national agency that can make recommendations to the government and be in a position to implement policy objectively and, above all, effectively. In order to be «objective,» this agency, which should be formed by consensus, should not be a consumer or a polluter of water. In order to be «effective,» it should be part of a ministry that is responsible for drafting the country’s economic growth programs. Above all, it should be responsible for managing public investment and European Union funds. There is no such agency in Greece, while responsibility for water is, as you know, scattered among several ministries and organizations, about 10 in all, without there being one effective coordinating, interministerial agency to link the activities of the various organizations, avert overlapping and fill in the gaps. For various reasons, an interministerial committee set up through Law 1739/87 did not achieve as much as expected. We should have had a water management agency decades ago, even if just due to the need to establish a national water policy. Moreover, we should not forget that Greece needs the appropriate policy, strategy and tactics to deal with the transboundary problems related to the quality and quantity of the waters of the Nestos, Strymonas, Axios and Aoos rivers and the Dioranis and Prespes lakes. Between 1976 and 1982, there was such an interministerial committee (at the Economy Ministry) which achieved wonders. Unfortunately, when PASOK came to power, it abolished the committee. As the basis for an integrated water resource management system, let me refer to a definition adopted by the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe’s Water Protocol. The term includes the entirety of means and measures (institutional, technical, economic, social and environmental) that aim to satisfy current water needs (in quantity and quality), seeking to conserve it to satisfy the needs of future generations, protect the environment and to achieve a balance between water and all natural ecosystems.