In the pursuit for ecologically sustainable policies in all sectors, WWF Greece is often faced with profoundly un-sustainable development policy decisions and infrastructure projects. While striving to avert environmentally damaging policies, WWF Greece also develops integrated proposals on a variety of "hot" policy issues.
The most important development issues that WWF Greece works on are the diversion of the Acheloos river, the Burgas - Alexandroupolis oil pipeline and the waste management "crisis".
A. Diversion of the Acheloos River
In Ancient Greek mythology, Acheloos was a god and the father of living rivers. He was defeated by Hercules in a fight for a beautiful woman. In modern Greece, the great river is fighting a final battle. This time, the fight is against unsustainable development.
The Acheloos River springs in W. Greece, on the Pindos mountain range. It traverses W. Greece and forms a variety of habitats of Community importance on its way to the Ionian Sea.
The forest and riparian ecosystems of the Southern Pindos, the Acheloos Valley and the Acheloos Delta have been included in the national NATURA 2000 list. The Acheloos Delta forms the Messolongi Lagoons Complex. The wetlands of Messolongi are one of the Greece’s 10 Ramsar sites. Furthermore, both the Acheloos Valley and the Delta have been listed as Special Protection Areas (protected under the EU Birds Directive 79/409/EEC).
The riverine ecosystem of the Middle and Upper Acheloos has been identified as the most important habitat for the Trout (Salmo trutta) in Greece. The rout, an anadromous freshwater fish species (i.e. a species that travels against the river current to spawn), which is protected under Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive, will suffer a serious negative impact as a result of the construction of large dams along its natural spawning route. The important fish fauna of the Acheloos includes many other species such as Barbus albanicus, Phoxinellus pleurobinctatus, Cobitis trichonica and Silurus aristotelis . All of the above species are protected by the EU Habitats Directive.
The mountainous habitats sustained by the Acheloos River, especially by its middle and upper parts, are also of exceptional ecological significance.
The Acheloos diversion
The pharaonic idea of diverting the Acheloos to irrigate the vast Thessaly Plain dates back in the 1930s. This vast project was expected to boost agricultural production in poverty dominated rural Greece. Due to lack of funds, the project was not implemented for decades. In the meantime, the Public Power Corporation (PPC) proceeded with the completion of a series of large dams for hydroelectric purposes. These dams would later be incorporated into the greater Acheloos diversion project. In 1984 the Government expressed its intention to proceed with the implementation of the diversion scheme.
The new Acheloos diversion project, which was designed in the 1980’s, includes the construction of:
- Mesochora major dam (135 m. high) and Mesochora reservoir (228 m3 volume). The Mesochora dam has already been constructed but remains out of use thanks to the strong opposition by the local community, which will be inundated.
- Mesochora – Glystra tunnel (1 kilometre long)
- Sykia mega dam (150 m. high) and Sykia reservoir (502 m3 volume)
- Sykia diversion channel to Thessaly (17,400 m. long)
- Mouzaki major dam (135 m. high) and Mouzaki reservoir (530 m3)
- Pyli dam (90 m. high) and Pyli reservoir (47 m3 volume)
- Pyli – Mouzaki tunnel (8 kilometres long)
Through this system of dams, reservoirs and tunnels, a total of at least 600 million m3 of water will be diverted from the Acheloos and to the other side of the Pindos mountain range.
Diversion of reason!
The aim of the Acheloos diversion project is to provide irrigation water for 240,000 hectares of agricultural land in the plain of Thessaly, the main agricultural producer in Greece. The vision and the goal was that two of Greece’s most important natural resources -the Acheloos river and the Thessaly plain- which are separated by the southern end of the Pindus mountain range, could and should be brought together for the benefit of the national economy.
Although Thessaly is naturally characterised by a rich hydrographic network, the mismanagement of its water resources for irrigation and the widespread cultivation of cotton, one of the worst water consuming crops, have caused serious water problems in the region. The main problems associated with water use in Thessaly are:
- The sharp fall of the groundwater table, as a result of uncontrolled water drills for irrigation purposes
- Salinisation, resulting from the fall of the groundwater table
- Inappropriate irrigation methods that result in immense quantities of water wasted (e.g. sprinklers)
In 1990, despite changes in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Community’s expressed intention to reduce financial support for agricultural growth, the Government approved the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Environmental Terms for the Sykia and Mesochora dams. On that same year, the Government applied for CSF and Rural Development funding of the project.
The diversion of the Acheloos river is a vast construction project, which will be accompanied by major visible changes, huge irreversible primary alterations to the environment and geography of South Pindos mountains as well as serious secondary effects on the social fabric of this region.
The diversion will cause irreversible damage to ecosystems of exceptional ecological value and will trigger the extinction populations of endangered and internationally protected species. Southern Pindos faces the prospect of destruction of its riverine habitats due to reduced flow. The rich fish fauna of the area will undergo the most serious negative impact, since the flow of its riverine habitat will be obstructed by the dams and will be turned into a lake. Species such as the Otter (Lutra lutra), the Trout (Salmo trutta) and the Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) are faced with extinction. Populations of other species such as the Grey Wolf (Canis lupus), the Wildcat (Felis silvestris) and the Roedeer (Capreolus capreolus) will be seriously disturbed both during and after the construction by the alteration of the landscape. Also, extensive excavations are expected to cause soil erosion and landslides. The wetlands of Messolongi, a site of global ornithological significance, will suffer from critical reduction in freshwater input.
The Sykia dam will cause severe damage to the Southern Pindos environment. Widespread excavation and road building will destroy unique mountain scenery. The extremely lengthy reservoir, subject to dramatic changes in the water level, will flood and reveal in repeated cycles a broad band of bare land. Landslides and soil erosion are expected to become commonplace and extreme. Also, the diversion of large quantities of water from the Acheloos River system will cause a series of critical changes and upset existing natural balances. Among the casualties will be downstream river, coastal and freshwater ecosystems.
The diversion project will also cause a series of socio-economic and cultural impacts, which are mainly related to the destruction of important cultural monuments (such as the 11th c. monastery of St George of Myrophyllo and a number of stone bridges, which will be inundated by the reservoirs) and to the degradation of the already neglected and depopulated are of Southern Pindos.
Campaign to save the Acheloos
In 1992, WWF Greece, the Hellenic Ornithological Society, Elliniki Etairia and the Hellenic Society for the Protection of Nature launched a joint campaign against the project. WWF Germany, WWF European Policy Office and WWF UK along with Greenpeace, Birdlife International, RSPB, the European Environmental Bureau, the Dansk Ornitologisk Forening and other European NGOs, contributed substantially to the effort, making it a pan-European campaign.
After a formal complaint submitted by the NGOs, the Council of State (Greece’s supreme court) ruled that all construction works had to be suspended, until the authorities prepared an integrated and scientifically sound EIA. Furthermore, the CoS issued a restraining order against the project contractors.
In disregard of the CoS rulings of 1994, construction works continued. A new joint ministerial decision once more approving environmental conditions for the project was issued in 1995. The NGOs immediately submitted a new complaint to the CoS. Local organisations from the areas that will be directly affected by the diversion scheme also submitted complaints. Hearing of all complaints was held in November 1999 and the decision was issued in November 2000. The CoS once again upheld the positions of the NGOs and cancelled the joint ministerial decision of the environmental conditions for the project.
After the second ruling of the CoS, the construction project stopped for almost two years. Although the Greek Government never denounced the diversion project, the Thessalian farmers protested and lobbied intensively for a restart of the works. As a result, the ghost of the Acheloos diversion was revived in late 2001. It was then that according to the Ministry of Finance the amount of approx. 207 million euro was earmarked from the national budget for the continuation of the construction project. Since then the old Environmental Impact Assessment has been refreshed and the new administrative approvals have been issued. Construction works started again and the revised environmental specifications of the project were voted by the Parliament, in the form of a law. Although Justice in Greece cannot cancel a parliamentary law, the NGOs submitted a new petition to the Council of State, on the grounds that this law of 2007 violates the Constitution and EU legislation. The case has been referred by the Council of State to the European Court of Justice. In the meantime, in order to avoid further environmental destruction caused by the construction works, the NGOs submitted to the CoS a petition for temporary suspension of the works, until the ECJ and the CoS reach their final decisions.
B. Burgas – Alexandroupolis pipeline
Given the land route of the Burgas Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, through or near ecologically significant areas of Evros, WWF Greece participates in the consultation procedures for its siting, design and construction. At the beginning of 2010, WWF Greece will announce a policy statement on the risks associated by its construction and operation and will propose precautionary rapid response measures.
C. Wasteful management of waste
In collaboration with the Ecological Recycling Society, the Mediterranean SOS network and Greenpeace, WWF Greece developed and presented a strategic plan for the integrated and management of urban waste. The plan (in Greek only) is composed of 10 proposals, focusing on prevention, re-use, home composting, source selection, reduction of waste volume, improvement of the existing alternative management system, establishment of recycling centres in all municipalities, avoidance of waste incineration, establishment of composting units and public information and awareness