Solutions being proposed are ‘from the 1960s’
Is there a water shortage in Europe, or is the problem more one of poor water quality? The problem is different in every country and every region. For example, in Brussels, there is no treatment of urban waste water. In Northern Europe, the problem chiefly has to do with pollution. In the south, we have a problem of sufficiency, such as on the Greek islands and the plain of Thessaly. What exactly does the «good condition» referred to in the directive as the goal for all surface and groundwater actually mean? It means one thing when it refers to a river in the mountains and something else for a river on the plain. The goal is to determine the parameters for similar «kinds» of water. In fact, for the first time the term «good condition» not only refers to the pollution of a river but also to the existence of microorganisms that enable it to function as an ecosystem. In many rivers there is no pollution, because of the dams that have been built, but the fish cannot swim upstream. Also, when a river is trapped within tons of concrete, its ecological condition is affected. That is one of the main reasons there are floods in Athens. It is very important to realize that this issue is not about little animals or nature lovers. The directive on water has many social and economic implications. How does water quality in Greece compare with that in other European countries? Unfortunately, that is something we don’t know. Greece and Italy are the only countries in the EU that have not provided data, as they were supposed to by March 2005, on the state of their waters and the pressures they are subjected to (from farming, waste, industrial use and so on). According to the directive, the member states should inform the EU by 2009 on the measures they are to take for each catchment area so that water resources are in «good condition.» According to that timetable, the directive’s goals should be achieved by 2012. Is it possible for water management in Europe to be unified, given that the uses and problems differ so much? No, it can’t be managed centrally. The directive proposes – and all member states have agreed – a specific approach to the situation and the problems. The way these are to be dealt with in practice is up to each individual country. The directive does not give specific instructions; for example, it does not suggest building new dams or knocking down old ones. The directive also calls for transparency, so that all users have a clear understanding of why things happen. What about the cooperation of farmers in water management? Has this occurred in other countries? I know what happens in Greece when farmers think their rights are being violated. However, take the example of Spain, where the problems are so obvious that even farmers have begun to be concerned. I also know that in Thessaly, the water table has dropped by dozens of meters. Yes, but the solution put forward has been the diversion of the Acheloos River. These are the kinds of solutions used in the 1960s and 1970s. Certainly it will not be easy to take steps and the decisions must be made at the local level. If Athens imposes something on the provinces it will not be accepted. In Spain, farming cooperatives disagree, but at least they are talking and that is important. There will only be agreement if everyone stands to gain. In Germany, water companies and farming cooperatives reached agreement on a reduction in the use of pesticides in order to reduce the cost of cleaning the water and making it drinkable. In fact, the firms even paid out something for it. Greece’s management of its water resources leaves much to be desired. Why is this so? It isn’t for a lack of experts. There is no political will, however. The issue of water management is not high on the political agenda, even though there are serious problems. Even if a political decision is made, it is not implemented because too many authorities are involved. In Greece, very few people are dealing with the problem. Is it likely that the EU directive on water will be used as a means to cut funds? Payment of subsidies will depend on the implementation of more environmentally friendly solutions in farming. Also, the management of water resources will also play a major role. Much is being said about the pricing of water since the price should include the cost of obtaining it. There are a number of loopholes in the directive on this issue, so perhaps nothing will change. Nevertheless, the cheapest way to enact some measures might be to raise water prices in certain regions for certain uses. That will also help create a different mentality. Do you think it is possible for Europe to grow and at the same time protect the quality and quantity of its water resources? If we are talking about the kind of growth that has occurred so far, definitely not. If we continue in this fashion, we will soon lose the water we have. However, there are solutions that have not been used, such as organic farming, where Greece is at the bottom of the EU list. Certainly we will have to do things very differently in future, however.