Acheloos drops but detour a go

Falling water levels in the Acheloos River in Western Greece – of 11.6 percent over the past two decades – have not affected the government’s plans to divert the river’s waters to irrigate the intensively farmed plain of Thessaly, despite predictions that levels will continue to fall. Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias, who visited Thessaly last week, has since made no mention of the new findings and even reiterated that the project was necessary, although he shifted the emphasis from irrigation to the conservation of the Pineios River supplying water to towns in Thessaly, the restoration of Lake Karla and the construction of the Gyrtoni Dam on the Pineios River. The latest measurements by the Hellenic Center for Marine Research, recently presented to the parliamentary committee for the environment, have cast doubts on the efficacy of the project, first touted 40 years ago. The first phase of the Acheloos diversion project is the construction of a 165-meter-high dam at Sykia with the capacity to hold 530 million cubic meters of water. A 17.5-kilometer tunnel linking Sykia to the village of Pefkofyto, near Karditsa, is due for completion by the end of this month. «The lack of water in Thessaly is 80 percent attributable to a reduction in rainfall and only 20 percent attributable to over-exploitation of surface and underground reserves,» Souflias said during a visit to the Sykia dam site. Last month, the country’s six major conservation groups issued a joint statement condemning Souflias’s promotion of the project, accusing the government of squandering dwindling water reserves and funds. Souflias has described the plan as «a project of national importance,» noting that the cultivation of cotton is crucial to the economy and must be protected. However, he said recently that he would stop calling it a «diversion,» as the project would involve only the «transfer of a certain volume of water.»