Kifissos’s repeated flooding is due to poor coordination

The Kifissos River can be compared to an injured wild animal, according to Grigorios Varras, president of the Geotechnical Chamber of Greece’s eastern Sterea branch. The recent floods, he said, are the river’s way of reminding us of its presence and its power. «The flooding may have been a painful shock for some people,» Varras told Kathimerini recently, «but for us it was the expected response of a much-abused watercourse, where for decades problems have been dealt with only spasmodically, usually providing solutions at local level – and often the wrong ones – that only make things worse. The solutions we proposed in 1994 to the then public works minister, Costas Laliotis, are not costly and so do not allow for much profit in the form of kickbacks, that is why they were not popular. But how do you stop water with concrete? The point is to deal with the problem further upstream, to prevent so much water reaching the riverbed in the first place.» Parts of a river such as the Kifissos that are outside the city limits come under the jurisdiction of the State’s Forestry Service, which quite correctly treats rivers as a feature of nature that has to be protected. From the moment a river enters settled areas where there is farmland, it becomes the responsibility of the irrigation department of the Agriculture Ministry, whose goal is to provide water from the river for farming. When the river enters the city proper, it becomes the responsibility of the urban water and sewage company (EYDAP, in the case of Athens), which treats it as a drain. That is why the most common solution proposed is to close over these rivers. With such a division of authority, it is almost impossible to have a comprehensive plan that takes all the technical and geotechnical parameters into consideration. Rainwater, which pays no heed to the actions of man, looks for channels to flow into. Even if people block or build over these channels, the water that falls as rain will flow into neighborhood streets, eventually to find its way to the Kifissos riverbed. Because of the lack of soil surfaces which could retain some of the water, and the disappearance of individual water channels that used to lighten the burden of the main channel so that only some of the runoff reached the sea, now the entire volume reaches the Kifissos. «No one talks about how far the sea reaches up into the river. There is a considerable difference in height between the riverbed and the seabed, so the sea pours in, putting pressure on the river at its mouth, slowing down its flow at a point where it should be fastest,» he said. «The problem of flooding is not only restricted to the Kifissos but affects all water catchment areas encroached on by housing development. Flood protection works should include provisions for green spaces in and around the city and ways to retain surface water runoff, among other things.»