Four mistakes with water

Thoughtlessness and a lack of a strategy and vision have characterized the approach to agriculture and the future development of the country’s geological capital. The state has allowed this valuable resource to be treated as the property asset of whoever owns the land under which it lies. Moreover, despite warnings from the country’s scientific community, the state continues to issue permits freely, even in areas where reserves are at a low. The authorities have no mechanism for finding out if a well is being overdrilled. Every time an attempt is made to introduce hydrometers, they meet with resistance from farmers. This year, following warnings of a very dry summer, the state is issuing more permits. However, the way they are issued could serve as a temporary solution to the problem but actually creates more serious ones. The decision to issue permits has since 2004 been assigned to regional water resource governance departments rather than the prefectures, as it was before. Although there were some expectations that the system would be reformed, it seems that a superficial approach has continued. According to Sabatakakis, the only criterion imposed is the distance between bores. No one calls for any examination of the water table from which two or even three wells draw water. «The only exception to this rule is in the prefecture of Messinia, where for three decades the prefect has asked applicants for a special survey by hydrogeologists as to the capacity of the water table,» he said. «The Athens Prefecture took a similar initiative, but unfortunately there are so many illegal boreholes (about 70 percent of the total) that there is no point.» Applicants are not required to install a hydrometer, so there are no limits as to how much is wasted. In many municipalities, no sooner is one well drilled than more are needed. This is a far cry from the situation in Sicily, where about 50,000 irrigated hectares are watered by remote control by the water governance authority. Based on studies, the authorities there know the precise amount of water needed by the particular crop; once that amount has been used, the water supply is automatically cut off; farmers themselves are unable to control the flow. Meanwhile here, expert advice is never sought. Although IGME scientists know the levels of the water table exactly, they are not consulted, since the law does not require it. However, Sabatakakis admits the experts themselves are partly to blame. «Everyone claims to be an expert on everything, so scientists cannot agree among themselves. So the authorities are often confused by conflicting opinions and assign responsibility elsewhere.» Illegal drilling, however, remains a major problem. According to sources, the authorities become aware of it only when someone reports them.

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