Why should we care about this issue
Cyprus has a semi-arid Mediterranean climate with mild winters and long, hot and dry summers. The long-term average annual rainfall is about 500 millimetres, whereas this amount decreased since approximately 1970 and the average 1970-2008 is about 461 mm. Rainfall variation is not only regional but also annual and often two and even three-year consecutive droughts are observed and evapotranspiration is high, which, on an annual basis, corresponds to about 86% of the rainfall. The above conditions render water a very limited though exceptionally precious resource and its sustainable exploitation, the prevention of deterioration of water quality and the safeguarding of the functioning of the freshwater ecosystems are imperative.
The state and impacts
Water scarcity is a very serious problem for Cyprus. The island constitutes, together with Malta, the group of "water poor" countries of the European Union with the lowest water availability per capita. The most recent drought lasted from 2004-2008 with the worst water year being 2007/08; it was the second driest year since 1901 with an annual rainfall of only 54% of the normal precipitation. This led to reduced inflows to the reservoirs which reached only 31% (2005/06), 51% (2006/07) and 25% (2007/08) of the average inflow. As a consequence, reservoirs became virtually empty and water rationing had to be introduced which was still in place in summer 2009 in the major cities of the island. Fortunately the winter and spring of 2009 was characterized by about average rainfall which relieved the situation to a certain extent.
Cyprus is progressing towards full implementation of the Water Framework Directive and is committed to the efficient implementation of its principles and provisions. Within this context, ecological quality assessment started in 2005 for the implementation of the WFD. Since 2007, phytoplankton in reservoirs and macroinvertebrates in rivers are routinely assessed. In rivers, monitoring of phytobenthos of macrophytes are going on in parallel with the development of suitable assessment methods.
Nutrients in rivers and streams are also closely monitored for implementation of the WFD. Trends in Nitrogen concentrations are stable. Light degradation occurs in several rivers while a small number of rivers like the Kargotis, the Kouris, the Limnatis and the Vasilikos show a higher degree of degradation. The elevated concentrations are due to organic pollution from villages which are situated close to the streams and also because of intensive agriculture in some of the catchments. Total Phosphorus and Phosphate concentrations are generally low and stable and do not pose problems. Only the Kargotis and Limnatis Rivers show phosphorus concentrations which indicate light degradation. The Garyllis River is the only critically polluted river due to a waste site in its catchment.
Cyprus reservoirs are by and large oligo/mesotrophic but show a high inter-annual variation. During the prolonged drought 2005-2008 the inflow to the reservoirs was very little and water quality in the reservoirs deteriorated towards eutrophic conditions. However, the rainfall and subsequent inflows in winter and spring 2009 seem to have reversed this trend. The exception to the generally good status of Cyprus reservoirs is Polemidia reservoir which can be characterized as hyper-eutrophic due to inflows from the abovementioned Garyllis River.
Acidification is not a problem in Cyprus freshwaters as the pH is naturally elevated with average pH values in rivers and lakes being around or above 8. This is due to the ophiolithic geology of the Troodos mountains, which is the source of all significant rivers on the island.
Concerning hazardous substances in surface waters, the majority of them are usually below the limit of quantification and increasing trends are generally not observed. Only heavy metals are sometimes detected above the maximum permissible concentrations as set by the Directive 2008/105/EC. Other substances are sporadically detected above the permissible limit.
The exception to the above is Garyllis river, where Nickel and Trifluralin occur frequently in concentrations greater than the permissible limit.
As far as groundwater is concerned, the situation can be characterized by the following main issues:
- Decreasing groundwater levels caused by overexploitation affects almost all the groundwater bodies.
- Seawater intrusion caused by extensive overextraction is the most common groundwater quality problem in Cyprus. The coastal zones of the major aquifers in Cyprus e.g. Kokkinochoria, Kiti-Perivolia, Akrotiri, Morfou etc. have been abandoned because of this phenomenon.
- Increased nitrate concentrations have led to the designation of five major aquifers, namely Kokkinokhoria, Akrotiri, Chrysochou valley, western Paphos aquifer and Kiti-Perivolia, as Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) under the Agricultural Nitrates Directive.
- Hazardous substances are below the maximum permissible concentrations and increasing trends are generally not observed.
The key drivers and pressures
Cyprus has a population of approximately 870.000 (2006) with the highest growth rate in the European Union. About 60% of the total population lives in the major agglomerations while the rest of the population is distributed among smaller agglomerations spread over the rest of the country. Most households have 2 members (27%) but there are also many households with three (17%) and four (22%) members.
Tourism is an important source of income and presents in general a positive picture. There are about 2.4 million tourist arrivals per year and the majority of tourism activities takes place in coastal areas.
The wider industry sector shows a steady increase, both in revenue and also in the number of persons employed. The areas of Strovolos and Latsia near Lefkosia and Ayios Athanasios and Ypsonas near Lemesos, as well as the area of Vasilikos are the main industrial areas. However, there are also many industries located outside of these organized estates. The industries can be classified in a wide range of industrial sectors like food processing, chemical industries and metal industries.
Based on the Corine Land Cover 2000, the agricultural area and forests incl. semi-natural areas correspond to 48% and 44% of the total land area of the island respectively. Other land use categories cover much smaller areas, e.g. artificial surfaces cover about 7.5%, wetlands 0.2% and water surfaces 0.15%.
The decreasing importance of the agricultural sector follows the general trend that is observed in most of the E.U. member states and the contribution to the GDP was 3.2% in 2007. The number of persons working in the sector is also steadily decreasing.
The cultivated land in the eastern part of Cyprus corresponds to about 70% of the total cultivated land of the island. On the opposite, the central and western part of the country consists mainly of forest, accounting for 73% of the total forest area. Animal breeding is widely practiced in agricultural areas of Cyprus. Farms for the breeding of pigs, cows and poultry are located in various parts of Cyprus, while the presence of free-breeding of sheep and goats is also very frequent.
Statistical analysis of the rainfall records available over the period of the hydrological years 1916/1917-1999/2000 showed a step change around 1970. Depending on the region, this decrease ranges between 15% and 25% of the mean annual precipitation of the older period. This fact had as a consequence the significant reduction in the water available on the island. The decrease in the mean annual inflow to dams is estimated, on average, around 40%.
The total annual water consumption during the period 2005-2007 was estimated to be about 230 million m3. The two major water use sectors are agriculture and the domestic sector, with a consumption of 65% and 35% respectively. The tourism and industrial sectors are included in the domestic sector because the system of water distribution in urban areas is common for all uses. The consumption of water for tourism purposes is about 6% of the total water consumption. About 6% of the water used by agriculture is recycled water.
Based on data for 2004-2007, the domestic water demand in areas supplied by Government Water Works is covered from surface water (about 41%), groundwater (about 20%) and desalination (about 39%).
The key pressure on groundwater is overexploitation. It affects almost all the groundwater bodies: Of the 19 groundwater bodies in Cyprus, 17 have significant abstractions which are considered to be ‘over-pumping’.
The pressure due to the urban population is mainly in the form of sewage production, which is mostly discharged to the groundwater, but can also be indirectly discharged to some extent to the surface waters, as a result of surface runoff. According to the criteria of the Urban Wastewater Directive, 57 agglomerations with a population equivalent (p.e.) of 870.000 have to be provided with treatment facilities:
- 7 Urban Agglomerations:
- The four cities Lefkosia, Lemesos, Larnaka and Paphos and the Ayia Phyla area
- The two tourism centers of Paralimni and Agia Napa
- 50 rural agglomerations:
- 6 municipalities (Athienou, Aradippou, Derynia, Dhali, Peyia, Polis Chrysochous)
- 44 communities
The main pressure related to industrial activities takes the form of industrial wastewater, which may contain several priority and other substances.
An analysis of pressures related to agricultural activities, either in the form of cultivation of land or livestock breeding, shows that the main pressures are in the form of pollution due to nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), oxygen demanding compounds, salinity and pesticides. Due to the distribution of cultivated land, increased loads of nitrogen and phosphorous are encountered in the eastern part of Cyprus while the central and western parts are characterized by significantly lower nutrient loads.
Important potential point source pollutions are from solid wastes and from mines. Five major landfills, with a yearly load that corresponds to 80% of the total solid waste load, serve the main regions of the country (i.e. Lefkosia, Lemesos, Larnaka, Paphos, and Paralimni). In addition there are a significant number of other waste sites spread over the country. With respect to mining, there are one active mine and several abandoned mines in Cyprus, which primarily affect surface water, but may contribute to contamination of groundwater too.
The 2020 outlook
The severe water scarcity and droughts conditions in Cyprus have forced the Government to turn to sea water desalination for augmenting potable water supply and to eliminate the dependency of the potable water on rainfall so that every person has continuous sustainable access to safe water.
Experience has shown that, despite the environmental and financial costs from the operation of a desalination plant, it remains the only means of achieving water security and independence of the domestic water supply from the climatic behavior.
Waste Water re-use water is another alternative resource for irrigation and recharge purposes. Its use in Cyprus has been steadily growing in recent years and is now widely used..
As regards to water quality, the implementation of the River Basin Management Plans and of the Programme of Measures as well as the implementation of the Urban Wastewater Directive, are expected to lead to the eventual achievement of good water status.
Existing and planned responses
Water demand management has always been an integral part of the policy on water. Demand management measures such as
- metering of water consumption
- water charges on a volumetric basis
- programs to reduce distribution losses
- improved on farm irrigation systems
- measures to promote a water-saving culture and efficiency of water use
- water rationing during periods of drought
- subsidies for saving potable water
- law banning the use of hosepipes for the washing of cars or pavements
- abstraction controls
and many more have been a tradition of the water authorities in Cyprus.
It is worth noting that in Cyprus most of the water demand management measures presented in the European Commission’s Communication on water scarcity and droughts have been applied, or they are being applied. However, the problem of water scarcity remains despite the many successful demand management and costly supply enhancement measures that are implemented.
As regards the planned independence of the domestic water supply from the climatic behavior is concerned, currently one mobile and two permanent desalination plants are in operation and additional desalination plants are planned to be constructed in the next couple of years.
In addition the following measures, among others, are currently in progress or being planned:
- Replacement and improvement of domestic water supply networks in rural areas. (The available amount in the national budget for 2009 amounts to approximately €26 million and involves 150 projects).
- Study for exploring the possibility of rainwater utilization.
- Implementation of Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive 91/271/EEC and use of recycled water for irrigation.
- Other environmental protection measures.
With respect to the implementation of the Urban Wastewater Directive, considerable progress was made regarding the construction of the waste water treatment plants in the urban agglomerations areas, i.e. the four cities Lefkosia, Lemesos, Larnaka, Paphos, Ayia Phyla area and the two tourism centers of Paralimni and Agia Napa. In these urban areas 63% of the population equivalent was served by 2008. The planning and construction of the works to cover the remaining p.e. are at present ongoing. As regards the 50 rural agglomerations, seven are currently served by sewerage systems and treatment plants. For the rest of the rural agglomerations the planning phase is completed and the gradual implementation of the works started early 2009.
In the case of recycled water, several reuse schemes using treated sewage effluent are now operational and many more are under study or construction. Currently more than 50% of the recycled water is used for irrigation of agricultural crops, either directly or through recharge of aquifers. The rest is used for recharge and for irrigation of recreational areas (landscaping, hotel gardens etc).
For references, please go to www.eea.europa.eu/soer or scan the QR code.
This briefing is part of the EEA's report The European Environment - State and Outlook 2015. The EEA is an official agency of the EU, tasked with providing information on Europe’s environment.
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