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Reunification of lakes a risky business October 16, 2007

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A state-backed and European Union-approved plan to reunify Lake Volvi, Greece’s second largest, with the heavily polluted Lake Koroneia, could provoke serious environmental problems, experts at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University warned yesterday.

Lake Koroneia is Greece’s dirtiest body of water, believed to contain the highest rate of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) in the world. Lake Volvi, also located in the Thessaloniki prefecture, is relatively clean. Rejoining the two lakes, which used to run into each other 30 years ago, would harm them both, experts stressed.

“We propose the biological monitoring of the two lakes separately so we can find out how to save Koroneia without disturbing the ecological balance of Volvi,” said the University’s biology professor Maria Moustaka.

But authorities in charge of plans to create a channel between the two lakes say there is no risk. “This has been approved by experts, Ministries and the EU,” said Savvas Anastassiadis, the regional official overseeing the project.

Asmaki canal’s water turned green October 11, 2007

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asmaki_canal.jpg  The water in the irrigation canal of the Thessaly Plain at Asmaki, pictured yesterday, has turned a dirty lime green due to an excess of plankton. Local tortoises have flocked to the banks of the canal to feed on the plankton, which also feed the canal’s aquatic life.

Cleaner Asopos River on the way October 6, 2007

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Greek Government heralds new networks to cleanse polluted river, supply safe water

Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias yesterday heralded in a series of measures to protect residents living near the heavily polluted Asopos River in central Greece.

The measures include the construction of a drainage network to channel toxic waste from local manufacturers away from the river, and the creation of a new irrigation network to supply residents of Oinofyta, Tanagra and Avlida with water from the River Mornos. Souflias, who met with local authority officials from the affected areas, also called for the creation of two pollution-measuring stations in Oinofyta and in eastern Attica to monitor the presence of toxic substances in the river water. Tests on underground reserves in both areas have revealed high levels of potentially carcinogenic depleted chromium.

The Minister also called for the delineation of “protected zones” in the area of the Asopos River and for stricter restrictions on the activities of local manufacturers as well as harsher penalties for offenders.

Last week a prosecutor ordered a probe to establish which firms have been dumping chemical waste into the Asopos. More than 10 manufacturers have been found to be illegally disposing of toxic refuse. They face heavy fines and the revocation of their operating licenses. The number of offenders is expected to rise once officials determine which firms have illegally installed secret pipes for disposing of their waste.

Local officials said they were satisfied, overall, with the additional measures heralded yesterday. But they called for constant inspections on local water quality and a comprehensive cleanup of the area. Regional MPs also called for prefectural departments to get staff boosts so that the new measures can be implemented quickly and effectively.

In a related development, tests in Ileia prefecture showed that local water in 50 Municipalities has been polluted following damage to the irrigation network due to August’s fires.

Cleanup of Asopos river begins September 28, 2007

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Firms dumping waste into the river will be punished, Minister says

Bulldozers yesterday started clearing up the riverbed of the heavily polluted Asopos, in central Greece, as Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias pledged to purge the toxic water believed to be posing a cancer risk to local residents.

Souflias, who has rebuffed calls by opposition parties and environmentalists for the creation of a separate Environment Ministry, yesterday announced a series of measures to curb pollution in the river. These include inspections on local manufacturers, many of which are believed to be dumping untreated waste into the river, followed by the imposition of fines, or revocation of licenses, in cases of those found to have acted illegally.

Meanwhile, state environment officials are overseeing an initiative to clear rubbish from the riverbed and detect secret pipes allegedly being used by some firms to dispose of their toxic waste. Already 10 manufacturers have been found to be illegally disposing of toxic refuse. This number is expected to rise once officials determine which firms have illegally installed the pipes.

Souflias, who described the initiative as an «important national project,» launched the action after tests on underground water reserves in Viotia and Attica revealed high levels of carcinogenic depleted chromium.

Earlier this month, the Municipality of Oropos, north of Athens, which draws its drinking water from the Asopos, instructed some of its residents to stop consuming tap water after tests found it to be toxic. Residents in nearby Oinofyta have also been advised to avoid drinking tap water for the same reason.

Last month, Souflias’s Ministry agreed to cooperate with the Athens water board and local authorities on the construction of a new pipeline that will draw water from a local reservoir rather than the Asopos.

In addition to the Asopos drive, the Ministry is planning initiatives to clean up the Kifissos River and Lake Koroneia, sources said. Last week a Thessaloniki prosecutor launched a preliminary investigation into conditions at Lake Koroneia after more than 200 birds were found dead nearby. The prosecutor wants to determine why a project to protect the lake has been delayed, even though 24 million in funding has been made available.

The geography of surface water pollution in Greece September 24, 2007

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Non-coastal Epirus has cleanest lakes and rivers in Europe > The waters of the Pindus ranges are as clear as they look. Water quality in Epirus, excepting its coastal areas, is exceptionally good.

  Pictured is the Aspropotamos (White) River.

The quality of lake and river water in Greece varies widely. Typically, bodies of water that have been subject to human activity, chiefly in the form of industry and agriculture, but also in the form of urban waste, have poor quality water. By contrast, surface waters in the Pindus region and throughout Epirus, apart from its coast, are considered to be the cleanest in Europe.

The basic cause of pollution of surface water “is not the lack of legislation so much as the lack of monitoring compliance with it,” George Zalidis, director of the Applied Soil Science laboratory at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, said. Moreover, local government, which is responsible for inspections, is vulnerable to pressure from local communities.

Hence there are cases such as that of Lake Koroneia, where once again scores of dead birds were found in the past few days. That lake receives unprocessed urban effluent from the Municipality of Langada, around 10,000 inhabitants, because the waste processing plant installed 10 years ago is not in operation.

Applying the European Union directive on water quality (2000/60), Aristotle University studied five physical and chemical parameters to measure water quality in rivers and lakes, using data collected by the Agriculture Ministry.

The first parameter they examined was the electrical conductivity of the water, which depends on the degree of salinity. As Zalidis explained, salinity comes from sea water entering bodies of fresh water (in estuaries, for example), but also from human activity. In Koroneia, large amounts of salt used by dyeing firms enter the lake. A more serious problem affects water in eastern and central Macedonia, due to pollutants from both Greece and neighboring countries.

The second parameter examined was the increase in the water’s pH, which is a common phenomenon in Koroneia. The rise in pH stems from substances that enter the lake as a result of industrial activity. “Fish and other organisms cannot tolerate these sudden changes and they die,” said Zalidis. The same applies to the third parameter, the concentration of dissolved oxygen. When the oxygen in water falls below a certain level, life cannot survive in the water and mass deaths ensue.

The levels of nitrates and phosphorus in the water rise as a result of farming and the use of fertilizers, as well as due to industrial outflow which overloads lakes and rivers with organic substances. In terms of geography, the highest levels of nitrates appear in rivers such as the Nestos, Evros and Axios that also cross other states.

High concentrations also occur in areas with intensive farming, such as the plain of Thessaly with the Pineios river, the Serres plain (Strymonas) and Appollonia (Axios). High levels of phosphorus appear in the Evros and Axios rivers, and the lakes of Petres, Heimaitidia, Zazari, Koronia and Ioannina.