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Sound and independent information
on the environment

Greece

Freshwater (Greece)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

In Greece, freshwater issues are related to quantity rather than quality. Greece has an uneven spatial mean annual and seasonal rainfall distribution, resulting in rather small catchment areas, small lakes and relatively small rivers distributed throughout the country. One‑quarter of the surface water resources of Greece originates from neighbouring countries.

Until the middle of the last century, surface freshwater in Greece mainly followed the slow rhythm of natural changes, with little or no influence from human activities. However after the 1960s, a number of water bodies situated either in the vicinity of urban areas or in regions with increased agricultural and industrial activity presented signs of pollution. The phenomena have gradually grown and have recently started to influence smaller and previously unattained water bodies.

At the same time, the growing demand for drinking water supply and irrigation resulted in an intense and frequently unreasonable exploitation of water resources. The metropolitan areas of Athens, Thessaloniki and Patra, which assembles most of the population and economic activities, are geographically distant from important water resources. On the other hand, peak demands from agriculture, the greatest water consumer, occur mainly in the summer period. During the same period, drinking water consumption is significantly increased due to tourist activity, especially in the islands where there are no water bodies of significant size. Consequently, available water quantities are presently declining and large areas have or soon will become deficient in water. Water demands in many cases are met by transporting water over long distances, thus resulting in increased both capital, operational and maintenance costs.

Despite the above quantity problems, the ecological status is still quite good in the majority of the country’s freshwater sites.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

The state of freshwater may be described by adequate structural (e.g. river morphology), physical (e.g., temperature), chemical (e.g., phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations) and biological (e.g. phytoplankton or fish abundance) indicators. Following any possible changes in the state, society may suffer positive or negative consequences.

The catchments in Greece are marked by high spatial differences in morphologic, climatic, hydrographic, petrographic and vegetative features and variability in pollution impact. As a result, river and stream habitat, hydrochemical regime and biocommunity structure, vary considerably along their courses. In addition, research on ecological quality assessment is limited and geographically restricted and classification systems are absent. Hence, the assessment of the ecological quality of Greek rivers is a complex task and needs a special approach, since an optimal ‘ecological quality assessment’ can only be achieved through regional adaptations.

The nitrate concentrations in groundwater bodies generally reflect the relative importance and intensity of agricultural activities above them. Mean nitrate concentrations in groundwaters are above the background levels (10 mg/l NO3), but well below the parametric value of 50 mg/l NO3 (Drinking Water Directive). Data for 2005 is more representative than those for 1996, due to a greater number of samples (Figure 1; GR – EEA CSI 020). Between 2000 and 2007, the annual average nitrate concentrations in Greek rivers decreased by approximately -43.5 % (from 2.67 to 1.51 mg N/l), reflecting the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate. Nitrate levels in lakes are generally much lower than in rivers and vary between 0.27 mg N/l and 0.44 mg N/l over the period 2000-2007. The number of monitoring stations in lakes increased from 13 stations in 2000 to 26 stations in 2007 (Figure 2; GR – EEA CSI 020). Phosphorus concentrations in Greek rivers and lakes have generally low levels over the period 2000-2007 (Figure 3; GR – EEA CSI 020).

Greece accounts for about 9.8 % of the reported bathing waters of the European Union (2094 bathing waters). Since the start of reporting in 1990, under the Directive 76/160/EEC, the number of coastal bathing waters has remarkably increased from 683 in 1990 to 2088 in 2008. There were 39 more coastal bathing waters in 2008 than in the previous year. In 2008, 99.5 % of the coastal bathing waters (2078) met the mandatory values, the same as in the previous year. The rate of compliance with the guide values increased by 2.1 %, reaching 97.7 % (2039 bathing waters) (Figure 4; GR – EEA CSI 022).

The number of freshwater bathing waters increased from four since 1992 to six in 2006, and remained the same afterwards. In 2008, all six reported freshwater bathing waters were in compliance with the mandatory and more stringent guide values, compared to the previous year, when four bathing waters met the mandatory values and three bathing waters met the guide values. The compliance rate fluctuates widely from year to year due to the low number of reported freshwater bathing waters (Figure 5; GR – EEA CSI 022).

The complicated geological structure of Greece, in addition to the fact that tectonic movements have occurred many times, had as a consequence the formation of an enormous number of river basins compared to the total surface area of the country. The hydro-geological conditions differ significantly with the geographical latitude and longitude. The main aquifers have been formed either from depositions in layers of sand, gravel and shingle or from chalky rocks that become karst due to the flow of water through cracks that were shaped by tectonic movements. It should be emphasised that groundwater that flows in aquifers of the first category can be utilised more easily and therefore has already been exploited intensively. On the other hand, karst groundwater was not abstracted until 1968 and hence, there is still the possibility of further utilisation. The over-abstraction/exploitation of groundwater resources has in many instances led to the decline of the water table as well as to the deterioration of water quality, primarily through saltwater intrusion in coastal areas.


Figure 1.

 

Figure 1. Nitrate (NO3) concentrations in groundwater bodies in Greece, 2004-2005

(GR – EEA CSI 020)

 

Figure 2

 

Figure 2. Nitrate (NO3) concentrations in Greek freshwater bodies, 2000-2007

(GR – EEA CSI 020)


Figure 3

 

Figure 3. Phosphorous concentrations (OP or TP) in Greek freshwater bodies,

2000-2007(GR – EEA CSI 020)

 

Figure 4

 

Figure 4. Percentage of Greek coastal bathing waters complying with mandatory standards

and meeting guide levels of the Bathing Waters Directive (GR – EEA CSI 022)


Figure 5

 

Figure 5. Percentage of Greek freshwater bathing waters complying with mandatory standards

and meeting guide levels of the Bathing Waters Directive (GR – EEA CSI 022)

 

 


The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

In Greece, the driving forces represent major social, demographic and economic developments, the corresponding changes in lifestyle, and overall consumption and production patterns. Demographic development may be regarded as a primary driving force, whose effects are translated through related land use changes, urbanisation, and industrial and agriculture developments. Environmental pressures on surface freshwater ecosystems are almost entirely anthropogenic. They are related, directly or indirectly, to human activity in the proximity or the greater catchment area of the water body. The major sources of pollution of surface and groundwater are as follows (Tsouni et al., 2002):

  • Urban wastewater discharge;
  • Industrial wastewater discharge;
  • Pollution from agricultural activities (use of fertilizers);
  • Use of pesticides and insecticides;
  • Excessive water withdrawal for water supply, irrigation or other uses;
  • Drainage for agricultural purposes;
  • Eutrophication;
  • Dam construction;
  • River-flow diversions;
  • Sand and clay abstraction;
  • Excessive fishing;
  • Pollution from aquaculture;
  • Nuisance from building activities;
  • Nuisance from mining activities.

 

The majority of the River Basin Districts (RBD, in which Greece is divided for an effective management of the water resources) use the largest percentages of abstracted water for agriculture (in 2007, 85.1 % of country total; Table 1, GR – EEA WQ2). Irrigation is the most significant use of water in agriculture, representing approximately 83 % of total water use. Only in the River Basin District of Attica is water supply the largest percentage of abstracted water in 2007, since the Metropolitan area of Athens is the country’s largest urban centre, representing almost half of the country’s population.

 

Table 1: Water Demand per Consumptive Use in Greece (hm3) (2007) (GR – EEA WQ2)

 

RBD

Irrigation

Stock Farming

Agriculture

Water supply

Industry

Other

Total

West Peloponnese

201.0

5.0

206.0

23.0

3.0

20.0

252.0

North Peloponnese

401.5

6.6

408.1

41.7

3.0

 

452.8

East Peloponnese

324.9

4.7

329.6

22.1

 

 

351.7

West Sterea Ellada

366.5

9.0

375.5

22.4

 

 

397.9

Epirus

153.5

10.3

163.8

33.9

4.3

 

202.0

Attica

99.0

2.5

101.5

420.0

17.5

 

539.0

East Sterea Ellada

773.7

9.9

783.6

41.6

12.6

 

837.8

Thessaly

1550.0

13.0

1563.0

69.0

 

 

1632.0

West Macedonia

609.4

7.9

617.3

43.7

30.0

80.0

771.0

Central Macedonia

527.6

8.0

535.6

99.8

80.0

 

715.4

East Macedonia

627.0

5.8

632.8

32.0

 

 

664.8

Thrace

825.2

7.1

832.3

27.9

11.0

 

871.2

Crete

320.0

10.2

330.2

42.3

 

 

372.5

Aegean Islands

80.2

6.8

87.0

37.2

 

 

124.2

Country Total

6859.5

106.8

6966.3

956.6

161.4

100.0

8184.3

Shares (%)

83.8

1.3

85.1

11.7

2.0

1.2

100.0

 

In Greece, the existing policies are effective in reducing loading discharges of nutrients and organics. Much progress was made during the period 1980-2008 in equipping Greece with sewerage and wastewater treatment systems, thus satisfying the objectives of the EU Urban Waste Water Directive 91/271/EC.

The percentage of national population (Census 2001) connected to a Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) has risen from 10.0 % in 1985 to 54.7 % in 1995 and 70.0 % in 2008 (Figure 6; GR – EEA CSI 024). The percentage of national population (Census 2001) connected to tertiary treatment (removal of nutrients) has risen from 6.3 % in 1995 to 64.4 % in 2008 (Figure 7; GR – EEA CSI 024). At the end of 2008, 100 % of the population of ‘big cities’ (p.e. >150 000) is served by a WWTP, according to the Directive 91/271/EC. Though the Directive's final 2005 deadline has not yet been met, this is expected to happen by the end of 2013.

 

Figure 6

Figure 6.  Progress in % of national population (census 2001) connected to a WWTP in Greece
                   (GR – EEA CSI 024)

(Note: the % percentages refer to the national population of the country)

 

Figure 7

 

Figure 7. Progress in % of national population (census 2001) connected to primary, secondary and              tertiary treatment in Greece (GR – EEA CSI 024)

(Note: the % percentages refer to the national population of the country)

 


The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Water quality and safe sanitation is considered to be of a high priority and measures have been taken for many years to fulfil it. Considerable investments have been made, including EC co-funding (e.g. by Cohesion Fund). There is a particular challenge of fully covering the water supply needs of the small islands and remote mountainous villages.

In order to comply with the EU UWWTD Directive, at the end of 2008, 91 % of the population is expected to have wastewater treatment plants meeting the requirements of the EU UWWTD, and 88 % of this population will be served by sewerage systems.

The number of municipal wastewater treatment plants under the priorities of the EU UWWT Directive is 242 and, taking into account the smaller plants, the total number is 290 treatment plants. The responsible authorities for the operation of most treatment plants are the Municipal Services for Water Supply, whereas in cases of Psytalia (Athens) and Thessaloniki treatment plants, the responsible authorities are EYDAP and DEYATH respectively.

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Α National Strategy for Water Resources (NSWR) has been developed in Greece, aiming at the sustainable use of water resources, the efficient protection of water ecosystems and the attainment of high‑quality standards for all surface water and groundwater bodies by the year 2015.

The basic sectors of action of the NSWR are:

  • Integrated approach for water management: Development of management plans on river basin level including transboundary water courses, based on water quality and quantity considerations and the interaction between surface water and groundwater;
  • Decentralisation of water management authorities: With the establishment of the Regional Water Directorates, a transposition of competencies on water resources management has been transferred to regional level;
  • Upgrading and expansion of infrastructure: This includes the promotion of specific measures and actions for meeting the demand for water supply through the expansion of existing networks as well as through the decrease of losses, the construction of new and the upgrading of existing wastewater treatment plants with emphasis on recycling, and finally, the establishment of more effective mechanisms for monitoring water quality and quantity with focus on creating an updated Data Bank;
  • Incorporation of socio-economic considerations in water management: This includes measures to reinforce public participation in water management efforts as well as the adaptation of pricing policies to include ‘the social cost’ in water services’ provision (see GR – EEA WQ 05 and Economic instruments – cost recovery).

 

References

Tsouni, A., Zervos, N., Hadjibiros, K., Andreadakis, A., 2002. An environmental database for the status of freshwater in Greece. Global Nest: the Int. J. Vol 4, No 1, pp 1-14, 2002

 

 

Links to the freshwater Indicators calculated for Greece – To be appeared to NCESD website

 

State: CSI020: Nutrients in freshwater

State: CSI 022: Bathing water quality

Pressure: WQ2: Water use by sector

Pressure: CSI024: Urban waste water treatment

Response: WQ05: Water prices

Response: Economic instruments – cost recovery

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer

The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

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