Δευτέρα, 10 Φεβρουαρίου 2014

The Aoos river and the diversion from the values of sustainable development

By Apostolos Katsikis, Emeritus Professor at University of Ioannina

  Translation in English by Faidra Faitaki.

The Aoos river originates in the northern slopes of the Pindos sierra, passes through the Zagori region, seeps through the Smolika-Timfi valley, passes through the Konitsa valley and enters Albania. Its entire hydrographic network is extended, due to the fact that important tributaries (Voidomatis, Sarandaporos, and others on Greek ground) come off the main stream. The Aoos’s route is 260km in total; of this, 70km of the river flows through Greece. Importantly, the aforementioned network has created a large number of habitats and feeds -in the literal sense- numerous ecosystems, with which it is inextricably linked. The substance, the existence, the present and the future of these ecosystems is a result of the specific characteristics and unique elements of the river system of the Aoos. A potential diversion or alternation in the system from a geological, geomorphological, hydrographical, environmental, climactic, hydrological, physicochemical and biological aspect, will have negative consequences on all aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems connected to the Aoos.

It should be remembered that the aquatic system of the Aoos river has undergone an important loss in water capacity, as approximately 100.000.000m3 of water is retained annually and supplies the lake of the Hydroelectric Station of the Aoos’s Sources. This had and still has as a result a dramatic decrease in the Aoos’s water supply. Retaining additional quantities of water (70.000.000m3 per annum, as predicted) will cumulatively have further negative effects on the whole ecosystem.
The river basin of the Aoos consists of 44 sub-basins, (seven of which belong in the sub-basin of the Dam of the Aoos’s Sources). It is suggested that the quantity of 70.000.000m3 of water could be pumped from the section of the 37 sub-basins and that, after enriching the reservoir of the Hydroelectric Station of the Aoos, it could be led to the Ioannina basin. It can be easily understood that these 37 out of the 44 river sub-basins of the Aoos system will face severe environmental consequences due to the loss of a substantial part of their waters.
The construction site of the diversion works is located within a protected area (Natural Park of Northern Pindos), whose ecological and aesthetic value is very high. According to the 92/43/ΕΟΚ Directive, 8 areas of the Natura network are located in the Aoos basin: GR2130002 Smolikas Mountain Peaks, GR1310001 Vassilitsa, GR2130001 Vikos-AoosNational Park, GR2130004 Zagori Central Part, GR1310003 PindosNational Park (ValiaKalda – Larger Area), GR2130006 Metsovo Area (Anilio – Katara), GR2130009 Timfi Mountain, GR1310002 PindosNational Park. These areas were incorporated into the Natural network with the purpose and aim of protecting and promoting their specific environmental characteristics and values. The diversion of the Aoos’s waters threatens to distort the characteristics in question.
According to the Management Agency for the Vikos-Aoos and Pindos National Parks, the environmental cost of the construction and operation of the diversion work is greater than any potential benefit (from the production of hydroelectric energy). At the same time, the possibility for moderate development in the area will be lost. Specifically, the construction of the work will have severe consequences, such as deforestation, road construction, general nuisance and increased extinction risks of protected species. It could also result in the coating with debris of the bottom of the artificial lake that will be created at the diversion point, the deprivation of the tributary ecosystems of the floods that are necessary for their survival, etc.
Associating the diversion to with alleged benefits, as far as the downgrading of the Pamfthiotidalake and the general area of the Ioannina basin are concerned, relies on the fact that the lake will be enriched with water. However, this (perhaps) ignores the negative consequences arising from the interconnection of the two different ecosystems (changes of the geomorphological, hydrological, physicochemical, biological, etc. parameters and their corresponding effects on the characteristics of the lacustrine ecosystem of Pamfthiotida, such as the differences in water temperatures, pH, composition, synthesis of fauna and flora, etc.). Connecting the two ecosystems will transform the lake into a dependent ecosystem, contrary to hydrogeological and environmental indications.
Ecosystems (especially their biological component) are highly sensitive to abrupt changes, so any form of intervention must be the result of a comprehensive study of the potential consequences (which might be medium to long-term). In fact, the Pamfthiotida lake does not suffer from lack of water (in terms of quantity) but from the lack of appropriate management of its aquatic resources (of the whole water basin). Moreover, the pressing problems of eutrophication and pollution can be attributed to the slow and inefficient blockade of the pollution sources (debris, polders, containment of size and depth, fertilisers, pesticides, etc.).
The work (as a whole) appears to violate the European Union regulation on water, the regulation on environmental consequences assessment, the regulation on habitats and species, the convention on cultural heritage, and the requirement of the Greek Constitution to protect the environment. The entire planning of the work is opposed to the principles of sustainable development (thinking along these lines has led to the cancellation of the diversion work at Achelloos river).
It should be remembered that the area in which the diversion work is implemented is part of the National Park of North Pindos and the Natura 2000 areas. Any intervention in the area should be compatible with the needs of the protection and sustainable management of the area’s natural and cultural wealth. The implementation of works that are related to water resources should be preceded by consultations with the bodies under the Water Councils, according to the obligation that we have as a country in light of the Water Framework Directive 2000/60. Every intervention should be integrated into an agreed plan concerning the management of water resources on a catchment level. It is obvious that, in this case, nothing has been agreed on. The work is not supported, either by the local community, or by the specialised bodies responsible for environmental policy issues. In particular, the Northern Pindus Management Body, the Pamfthiotida Lake Management Body, the municipalities of Konitsa, Zagori and Ioannites, the Technical Chamber of Greece, the local communities, and the environmental organisations which are active in the area (Callisto, WWF Greece, the IoanninaAssociation of Environmental Protection, the Association of Kalamas River Municipality, the Med-INA, and many more) are opposed to the construction of the work. Their opposition was publicly expressed but not taken into consideration.

The general area of Aoos constitutes a geographical unit of incomparable ecological, aesthetic and in generally environmental value. The aforementioned characteristics, combined with its  historic past, the traditional elements of the manmade environment and the social establishments around it can be considered as comparative advantages that favour the moderate development that prevails and has shaped the area’s character. This moderate development has been accepted by the residents of the area and is inextricably linked to the aquatic ecosystem of the Aoos. As such, the attempted diversion of the river is (also) a diversion from values, principles and desires that damages and rejects the expectations of the local community (and of many others) as far as the application of the principles of viable sustainability are concerned.

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