Every last drop of water

THESSALONIKI – Recycled water from waste treatment plants may be the antidote to Greece’s desertification problems as well as the increasing salinification of its numerous coastal areas. Scientists from the Engineering Department of the Democritus University of Thrace (DUTH) have been working with a new method to artificially enrich groundwater in Eastern Macedonia and Thrace. They are also running experiments at Nea Peramo in Kavala on supplying biologically treated wastewater to coastal areas that have advanced degrees of salinification in an effort to create a water barricade that will curb seawater from entering the groundwater supply. According to Ioannis Diamantis, an associate professor and director of the Geotechnical Engineering Department of DUTH, this project is a first in the field and, should the results of the experiment prove encouraging, it will represent a big step toward maximizing the use of non-conventional water sources such as overspill from urban waste treatment plants. No regulations Despite the well-recorded need to reduce the waste of natural water resources in agricultural areas such as Thessaly, the coastal zones of Eastern Macedonia and Thrace, the Argolid and Crete, to this day Greece has not instituted any regulations concerning the collection and use of recycled water nor has it applied any methods for saving irrigation water. Indeed, Greece wastes some 90 percent of its natural water resources on irrigation. The further absence of any unified European Union legal framework is seen as the most important factor curbing the reuse of treated wastewater. Other Mediterranean countries such as France, Israel, Cyprus, Turkey, Spain, Tunisia and Italy though have already instituted water management standards that have to do with the use of recycled water from agriculture in order to tackle the issue of where and how water resources are being used. «We usually remember the need to save water during times of drought,» Diamantis told Kathimerini. For example, agricultural zones that suffer from a shortage of irrigation water in the summer period seldom if ever apply methods of artificial groundwater enrichment, not even in the winter. Frittered funds A case in point is set by the manner in which the encouraging results of a pilot program for artificial groundwater enrichment in Xanthi – areas of which, such as the so-called White Field, are under serious threat from salinification – were put to use several years ago. The Agriculture Ministry at the time gave several million drachmas to research on the artificial enrichment of groundwater in the areas of Mangana, Vafeiko, Vistonida and Dekarchou in Xanthi. The program focused on areas that ran along the dried bed of the Kosinthos River and was a great success. The river had been diverted for different uses years earlier and following a series of studies water was drawn from springs and small creeks in the areas, such as Laspia, and pumped back into the Kosinthos. The farmers in the area, used to drilling for water at a depth 100-120 meters, watched in amazement as the level of the water table rose to 10-25 meters, levels similar to the time before the Kosinthos was diverted. But ensuing funding to the tune of 2 billion drachmas (about 6 million euros) was never used on groundwater enrichment, and went into other irrigation projects instead. A similar program was set up to artificially enrich the water which came from the Strymonas River in areas of Kavala during the winter, in order to build up a supply for the dry summer months. The costs, however, have put the brakes on the program.