Landslides pose a real threat to Attica

Attica is riddled with thousands of boreholes. Without control, access to information on Greece’s water table, consensus among scientists or adequate legislation, Attica has acquired more and more legal – but in reality illegal – drill holes that are fast depleting water resources and precious reserves for drought conditions. Industry, farming, lawns, swimming pools, gardens, construction and all other works have sapped the resources in Attica’s aquifers. The concrete sprawl also prevents the absorption of rainwater and obstructs any attempt to boost supplies to the water table, resulting in the penetration of seawater into water aquifers over an area of 10 to 15 kilometers in Attica, according to data from the Land Reclamation Service. The hardest-hit areas are Marathon and Elefsina. There is also concern that landslides might seriously affect urban areas. The problem is particularly acute in the northern and southern suburbs due to the overpumping of water for urban use. Protracted overpumping of water from the water table in areas with loose soil, as opposed to rocky ground which is more stable, often causes landslides. In Thessaly and in Thessaloniki (Peraia and Kalohori) landslides occurred after the overpumping of water for more than 30 years in areas with unstable soil, causing damage to crops and homesteads. Some damage was also caused to homes, which have since been abandoned, as well as to crops in the Thessaloniki area. Nobody seems to be especially concerned at the moment in Attica. Permits for drilling, according to the Attica regional services, continue to be issued. Illegal drilling is also being carried out under apartment blocks. Since the 1998-2000 drought, water has become more expensive and lawns need more water. Water gauges that would show the amount pumped at any one time are a bone of contention between the government and users, even though the law mandates their use, but very few have been installed. The state coffers that would have been filled with the fines (as high as 3,000 euros) are still empty. The main problem is the involvement of experts in the granting of permits. Everyone knows that ground water resources are running dry. In the USA, dams have been constructed to direct rainwater into underground cisterns, thus boosting supply to the aquifers. This has successfully increased quantity and improved water quality. The exact number of boreholes in Attica is unknown. It is believed over 20,000 have been drilled to meet farming, industrial and urban demand for water. Nobody knows exactly where the holes are, the distance between them or the amount of water pumped. «In the period between 2004 and 2007, 131 permits were granted,» said regional authority officials, «for drinking, cleaning, watering of communal areas and shops, for air-conditioning and heat regulation systems, for construction and industrial use, as well as for fire safety, bottling and recreation. In order to meet all production, development, farming and urban requirements, half the population of Greece applied for only 131 permits. The small number is indicative of the number of illegal drillings that must have been conducted.» According to the law, into which EU Directive 60/2000 has been incorporated, permits may be granted depending on: the surface area of the plot of land to be irrigated, the distance from neighboring boreholes, and the distance from specific boreholes used for communal purposes. Once a permit application has been submitted, the regional authority carries out an inspection and then issues the permit. All permits provide for the installation of a water gauge. If the borehole does not have a water gauge, then a fine as high as 3,000 euros can be imposed. However, no such fine has ever been imposed as no control mechanism has been proposed to verify adherence to permit requirements. The regional authority is aware that boreholes are being drilled even under apartment blocks. «Only a complaint would alert the service and only during the drilling process can work be stopped and the hole closed. If the borehole has already been drilled, then the procedure for approval is initiated. At this stage, the main concern relates to the intended use of the water from the borehole. If its use conforms to stipulations in the law, then only a fine is imposed; if it does not conform, then in addition to the fine the hole is also closed. The problem is that no one is willing to make a complaint and the state is equally unwilling to impose fines. To date, no one knows if anyone has had to actually pay a fine (since October 2006 when the regional authority was responsible for granting permits).» While making efforts to enforce the law, employees of the relevant service at the regional authority have found many gray areas. Many maintain that for the law to be implemented properly, other ministerial decisions and presidential decrees will be necessary. Scientists at the regional authority frequently have to work without the requisite information, as they themselves cannot conduct surveys and relations with the National Technical University of Athens – which has conducted a water table study using EU funds – are not very good. They claim that they cannot obtain the data they request. Delay of permits in Attica The prefectural counselor of East Attica recently asked the Attica regional authority to delay the issue of drilling permits for the watering of green areas (such as lawns, gardens and pools) and for stringent criteria and conditions to be applied when issuing permits for watering purposes. The counselor has also requested a postponement in the issuance of permits to farmers unless they are registered in funding programs. These measures were requested in order to reduce the brackishness of water in the area. In addition, it was decided to provide citizens with detailed information about using and conserving ground water.