Pamvotida, Europe’s second-oldest lake, a dumping site

Few would dispute the ecological importance of Pamvotida, the biggest lake in the Epirus region and one of Europe?s oldest, yet this body of water next to the city of Ioannina is treated as little more than a watery dumping ground. Much is said about the sad state of this 5-million-year-old lake, but little is done to relieve the pressure of residential development and prevent urban and industrial waste from polluting its waters, not to mention put a stop to the foot-dragging of the authorities, and so its rare ecosystem continues to deteriorate.

According to environmental activists in the area, Pamvotida is where much of the waste from the city of Ioannina and the surrounding villages — many of which are still not connected to the sewerage system — ends up.

At the same time, some 700 livestock farms, mostly poultry farms, operating in the area also use Pamvotida to hide their dirty little secrets, with a recent study revealing that the solid waste coming from these units is twice that of the entire city of Ioannina. Furthermore, a report published by the Epirus branch of the Technical Chamber of Greece also found that more than 40 tons of phosphorus are dumped into the lake every year.

It comes as little surprise, given all these factors, that Pamvotida was recently defined as being eutrophic, which means that it has high concentrations of algae due to excessive nutrients and is therefore lacking in oxygen. The problem of oxygen depletion is further compounded by the fact that the streams feeding the lake have been choked by rubble and because of uncontrolled irrigation, and Pamvotida has become stagnant.

?You see waste pipes leading into the lake on every shore,? the president of the Pamvotida Management Fund, Petros Tsoumanis, an engineer who took up the post 18 months ago, told Kathimerini. ?It is the easy solution and when there are no controls, it?s the one people use.?

Tsoumanis added that there has been increasing pressure to build on the shores of the lake, saying: ?The pressure to ?develop? the lake is formidable. Plans have already been drawn up for the construction of three hotels in the protected shore zone.?

In fact, the Epirus Regional Authority has already approved the environmental studies presented for the three hotels, despite the fact that any construction on part of the shore of Pamvotida Lake is forbidden by presidential decree.

?Maybe there is something behind the fact that even though the parliamentary debate over this presidential decree was completed a year ago, it still has not been voted through,? Tsoumanis said, adding that the early phase of the hotels? construction is already going ahead, even though the Pamvotida Management Fund has nixed the development.

Efforts to delist the contentious 300 meters of shoreline that is protected from construction were recently the subject of a question posed in Parliament by Michalis Tremopoulos, an MP for the Ecologist Greens party. The issue was also picked up by the Epirus branch of the Technical Chamber of Greece, which, in a letter addressed to the environment minister on November 10, said, ?Any more delays [in the enforcement of the presidential decree] will encourage activities that on a daily basis will create conditions that will be irreversible and will have a significant impact on the environment and the rational zonal planning of the Ioannina basin.?

Pamvotida Lake, however, still hosts a wealth of wildlife. Despite the fact that the populations of certain endemic species — such as the ray-finned carp of Epirus or the picarel, and the Epirus grasshopper — have been irreversibly hit, the lake continues to serve as a haven for dozens of other rare and protected species. Among those that breed in the lake are the ferruginous duck, the pygmy cormorant and the lesser kestrel, as well as the famous Dalmatian pelican, the black stork and the black kite.

Pamvotida Lake is part of the Natura 2000 network of protected ecological sites, while the entire Ioannina basin was also listed for protection this summer, raising a storm of objections from locals who want to see more active development in the region.