Evros River busy wreaking its revenge on works of man

Floodwaters on the Evros River border with Turkey are finally receding, but the scenes of inundated villages and fields on both sides of the river are far from new. These latest floodwaters are the result of Bulgaria releasing enormous volumes of water from its dams. More than 24,000 hectares of cultivated farmland were submerged by floodwaters from the Evros and from its tributaries, the Arda and Erythropotamos, as well as smaller watercourses. According to an initial estimate, 1,600 sheep, 350 cattle and 150 pigs have drowned, while 75 homes have had to be abandoned. River narrowed The problems originally began with the construction of embankments, first of all on the Greek side, when a decision was made to narrow the bed of the river in order to make more land available for farming. The Turks did the same on their side of the river. As a result, the width of the river was narrowed to just 150-160 meters from what had once been 1,500 to 2,000 meters. In order to protect the adjacent fields, embankments were built on both sides to a height of 3-4 meters. This went on for several years. In the 1980s alone, the Greek water services recorded 1 million square meters of sediment transported to and deposited on the river bed, forming several large islets. The proposed solution involved the construction of dams in Bulgaria to contain the sediment and the building of more embankments in Greece and Turkey. All these works, combined with changing climatic conditions and continued human intervention – in defiance of the old saying that «the river always returns to its original course» – have led to the current situation. Between 1980 and 2005, the Greek state paid out about 30 million euros in flood-protection works on the Evros. Now there seems to be a general agreement that the solution must come from the three countries working together toward a flood-protection framework for each catchment area, paying particular attention to areas where human settlements could be at risk. Crucial to this process is Bulgaria’s decision to adhere to existing European Union legislation on water governance and cross-border cooperation. One hopes that Turkey decides to act accordingly. Since 1934 In 1934 a Greek-Turkish accord was signed on «water management projects on both sides of the river border» between the two countries. A US firm was commissioned to design the project, monitored by a permanent Greek-Turkish committee. Work began in 1955 and was scheduled for completion in 1959. Due to the crisis in bilateral relations in 1956, the Turkish representative to the committee was recalled. Problems emerged in scheduling the work, and much of it that was to take place on both sides of the river was simply not carried out. The Greek section of the river receives huge volumes of water flowing out of Bulgaria, with which an initial agreement was reached in 1970, providing for an alignment and work on the bed of the river, the construction of embankments and an exchange of territories. The accord was only partly adhered to, since the Bulgarian side faced periodic financial difficulty that prevented it from taking substantial action even during flooding.