New group raises objections to Acheloos River diversion

Contrary to claims by supporters of the Acheloos River diversion, the entire population of Larissa and the plain of Thessaly are not in favor of the project first raised as an idea in the 1970s. A few years ago, a survey by the Hellenic Society for the Protection of the Environment and Cultural Heritage showed that opinion was equally divided – with about 39 percent in favor and as equal a percentage against. The survey’s results were not made known by the authorities. Recently, a group of Thessaly residents calling themselves Unguarded Crossing, headed by Professor Dimitris Kouretas of Thessaly University’s Department of Biochemistry and Biotechnology, submitted an alternative proposal for resolving the problem of water supply to the plain, one they claim is more viable and economical as well as being more effective. History For the past 10 years, the project has been on the back burner. The country’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, had canceled it three times, but the European Union has refused to fund it, as international experience has shown that these kinds of projects have been abject failures with irreversible repercussions on the environment. However, since Giorgos Souflias became environment and public works minister, plans have moved ahead. The project has been submitted to Parliament to prevent the Council of State from stopping it. «Not everyone in Thessaly is in favor of the diversion, quite the opposite,» said Kouretas. «There would be even fewer in favor if someone explained to them what it means exactly. However, people here don’t know that there are alternatives; they don’t know how much the diversion will cost, or that it will take at least five years before it will be able to supply water, by which time Thessaly will no longer need it because the cotton subsidies will have stopped. They don’t know that after the diversion is completed, an irrigation network will be needed, at additional cost.» «Our proposal,» said Kouretas, «is for six small and medium-sized dams along the Pineios River and its tributaries that will collect water in the winter months and function as irrigation channels. That will solve Thessaly’s problem in a viable, speedy and economical way. It is not our own idea, but the result of a study of the exploitation of surface water in the prefecture carried out by the Electrowatt firm in 1964.» Two of these dams, the Smokovo and Mouzaki, are being constructed separately and are not part of any framework as a result of pressure from local communities and because, in contrast to the diversion, they are being funded by the European Union. One more, the Gyrtoni, is on the drawing board, while the other three suggested are at Pyli and Neohoriti (in Trikala) and Enippea (Farsala). The cost of building all six will be just 25 percent of what is needed for the diversion, and 75 percent of it will be funded by the EU, in contrast to the diversion, which would receive no subsidy. The entire project, meanwhile, would take just two years. The group also raises questions regarding the project: The designers of the project refer to a need for another 800 cubic meters of water in Thessaly, but they do not take into consideration the waters of the Pineios River that flow into the Thermaic Gulf. These waters, they say, are equal to the amount of water needed on the plain. The group wants to know why water resource departments are not set up at the prefectural and regional level, instead of the current system of two to three staff members untrained in modern water governance. They want to know why there is no water governance plan for Thessaly, in accordance with what is provided for by law, and the reason for the delay in a governance study the Development Ministry undertook to draft in 1998 on the regions. Is the Acheloos investment economically viable, given that it will cost three times as much as the smaller dams, when the crops it is supposed to irrigate will no longer be subsidized to the same extent, if at all, during the period 2007-2013? What are the prefectures doing to close down the 30,000 illegal wells that have led to the salinization of Thessaly’s water table and what are they doing to prevent the construction of makeshift and illegal dams along the Pineios, which is banned by national and EU law? According to sources, every year the prefecture issues a ban on drilling for water, which goes into effect at the end of January and stays in force until the end of the year. Naturally, the first few days after the new year, drilling begins, during which there are no controls.