Criminal waste of precious water resources

Spanish Environment Minister Elena Espinosa convened and chaired a summit of environment ministers from all Spain’s autonomous regions last week in an attempt to reconcile those who had water with those who had not. Espinosa said in a radio interview that the urbanization of dry regions would be halted in favor of «more sustainable alternatives.» Such a centralized approach to water management is only a dream in a country such as Greece, which has no central water policy. The greatest consumer of the country’s water resources is agriculture (84 percent of the total), particularly the intensive agriculture practiced on the plain of Thessaly, mainly cotton fields, which use up a quarter of the water that passes through the country’s irrigation pipes. Yet they are still 1.5 billion cubic meters short every year, particularly in increasingly frequent drought years. From 1975 to 2005 the amount of rainfall in Thessaly decreased by 20 percent. Today, as farmers resort increasingly to drilling wells to make up the shortage, they are having to dig deeper and deeper, down to 400 meters, compared to just 50-80 meters in the 1980s. According to Nikitas Mylopoulos, an associate professor at Thessaly University’s Department of Civil Engineers, Thessaly is a unique example of a water supply area with such urgent problems that one could almost speak in terms of an ecological catastrophe. «What must immediately happen is a general switch from underground to surface water in supplying Thessaly,» he said. What is also needed is a restriction on consumption or a changeover to crops needing less water. In the cities, water leaks from old pipes – 100,000 cubic meters a year, or about 12 percent of the water channeled to the city from the country’s four reservoirs. In the provinces, about 40 or even 50 percent of the water supply is lost in this way. According to experts, what is chiefly to blame is no so much the fact that the network is old but that it is poorly managed. For example, differences in water pressure create leaks even within homes. Major damage to pipes is caused during public works and also because of the use of the wrong materials for the pipe network. Anna Karayianni is just one of 15,000 residents of Nafplion who suffered severe water shortages last summer. «For days the taps were dripping seawater and were dry for the greater part of each day. Things improved later but we all drink bottled water now,» she said. Due to overdrilling of the water table, the sea has infiltrated it. «All around the region of the Argolid and Corinth, people can’t even use a mop otherwise their floors turn white with salt,» added Karayianni. In other parts of the country, ground water has been saline for years. There are at least 200,000 wells that have been drilled legally as demand on the coasts has been increasing continually. This year’s rainfall has been of little help. Scientists believe the situation is reversible if drastic measures are taken. If not, there will be an increasing number of areas in which water quality will deteriorate. These coastal areas range from southern Crete to the coast of Rhodope, wherever there has been intensive tourism development and intensive farming.