River diversion row rages

The decision by Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias to revive the controversial plan to divert Greece’s second-longest river to Thessaly in central Greece yesterday stoked strong opposition from officials in western Greece. Local politicians and administrative officials from the prefecture of Aitoloacarnania told Kathimerini that they will travel to Athens on Monday to meet with MPs and members of the government to make their complaints known. They said they were angered by Souflias’s decision to push ahead with the huge engineering project to divert the Acheloos River in western Greece to the heavily farmed plain of Thessaly despite opposition by environmentalists and the Council of State. Greece’s highest administrative court ruled last April that the project should be canceled due to lack of a complete, coordinated plan and the absence of proper assessment of its potential repercussions on Greece’s overall water resources. «Mr Souflias’s persistence is incomprehensible,» Giorgos Papanastassiou, the president of the branch of the Technical Chamber of Greece in Aitolocarnania told Kathimerini. «What is his logic in labeling the diversion a matter of national importance? Does he want to feed a hungry Greece or to produce more cotton which the European Union can no longer absorb?» The project, which calls for diversion of 600 million cubic meters of water a year, was first launched in the 1980s but became bogged down in legal wrangling. Authorities in western Greece are concerned that they will lose access to the river and that the diversion will have a severe environmental impact on their area. Papanastassiou suggested that a number of small dams should be built instead which could help build up reserves in the water table in Thessaly. Some 500 million euros has been spent on the diversion program so far. Souflias, whose constituency is in Thessaly, yesterday reiterated his determination to press ahead with the plan. He accused environmentalists of being «provocative» in their ignorance of water shortages in Thessaly during the summer and insisted that the diversion was an «environmental project.»