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The second harvest of the year is being prepared in potato fields in Xylophagou, a speciality of the region in the south of Cyprus.
But water from the surrounding dams isn’t enough to sustain crops.
To compensate, farmers pump the subsoil via illegal wells.
Farmer Kostas Karagiannis told euronews about the difficulties of growing the crop.
“Potatoes need a lot of water, so we create places to store water from our wells.”
Sometimes the water we draw from the wells is salty. To irrigate our crops with water, we mix it with dam water to reduce the amount of salt.”
Some 50,000 illegal wells have been identified in Cyprus; over the years, they’ve contributed to the depletion of the country’s aquifers – water-bearing layers of underground rock.
Among many other things, it’s a headache for the authorities, for whom water management is a vital issue.
It’s also the subject of the European Action Plan on water, which the Cypriot Presidency of the European Union, whose term ends in late December, wanted to make a priority.
The semi-arid island is subject to recurrent droughts and the reservoirs attached to the many dams built on the island can’t cope sustainably with the water needs of the population.
Other solutions had to be found.
Kyriakos Kyrou is the director of the Cyprus Water Development Department. He explained the situation:
“Allthough we have lots of dams in Cyprus, and we store every drop of water, the system cannot cope. For this reason we decided we had to use water from non-conventional methods like desalination.”
During the 2008 drought, millions of tons of water had to be imported from Greece by tankers.
So as to never again find themselves in such a situation, the authorities staked everything on desalination plants that provide a portion of the water when the dams are dry.
There are five on the island including one under construction.
It’s a controversial solution as it’s costly in energy, and generates CO2.
Plants also transfer large amounts of brine into the sea, which as the environmentalists highlight, affects marine biodiversity.
But the managing director of the Caramondani desalination plants is convinced it’s the lesser of two evils.
“Sure it’s expensive! Sure you have to produce electricity next door and you have some kind of pollution etc. But your next alternative is to buy …Evian…or San Pellegrino water? Or what? Or import it!”
Researchers recommend that we at least use clean energy, such as solar energy, to limit the damage.
And in the face of global warming, which will cause increasingly important water demand in the driest areas, it is imperative to better manage existing resources.
Manfred Lange is the director of the Cyprus Institute. His job is to come up with solutions.
“I would say two things; one, try to find other energy sources for desalination, and secondly – and equally importantly – enhance water use efficiency.
Rainwater harvesting, a much better urban drainage system, and water retention system, are other measures that I would strongly recommend.”
The population is 70% urban. Split between the Republic of Cyprus’s Greek community in the south, and Turkish-Cypriots in the north,
One wastewater plant, north of Nicosia, the capital, is being modernised.
It’s a project financed largely by the European Union and supported by the authorities of both communities to stop the nuisance caused by the old installation.
Odours, poor quality of recycled water and contamination of the subsoil are some of the many evils that the new plant must solve.
It will also store usable water for irrigating fields.
Faik Ozkaynak, the head of Nicosia Turkish Municipality Sewage Department told Euronews:
“The new facility will produce 12 million cubic meters of water that can be used in all areas of agriculture. And alongside that, the most important thing is that we’ll stop polluting the environment; reservoirs and groundwater sources will no longer be contaminated.”
Murat is another farmer and also mayor of the village of Yayla, north of the island.
Two-thirds of the orchards in this region, which is known for its citrus crops were destroyed by the salt, he said.
“There’s no water here, and we’re near the sea. We draw water from dried up wells and groundwater sources. Now all that comes is saltwater. Over 30% of the orchards are farmable, but they’re irrigated by water that must be transported from elsewhere.
All our hopes now rest on the water to be brought in from Turkey. “
Everyone here relies on what is called the project of the century: the construction of a submarine pipeline of more than 100 km long, which will connect Turkey to northern Cyprus.
The pipeline route should allow some 75 million cubic meters of water per year into the Gecitkoy dam, where expansion work has begun.
The project for the north of the island could be developed, and water shared with the south, say the Turkish-Cypriot authorities, who are not recognised by the international community.
But any proposal can not be considered without a political solution between the two sides, say the Greeks.
Beyond any speculation, environmentalists want political leaders to be consistent, above all.
Measures taken to better manage water resources are often contradicted by economic interests unconcerned about the environment, the head of the NGO, Terra Cypria told euronews.
“For example, there was a political decision to develop 14 golf courses. Around the golf courses there will be villas, there will be hotels, condominiums, restaurants, swimming pools. That’s a use of water, we’re sure it’s not a good decision. Desertification I would say is the biggest problem we are going to face in the next few decades. What we can do is start taking steps now to ameliorate the problem, or to make sure that we adapt to it”
Climate change, population increase, urbanisation; all factors of water scarcity, which Europe won’t escape in years to come.
The implementation of new measures to improve the use of water will be vital for millions of Europeans.