They also said on the topic in 2016
Interview Dr Simos MALAMIS
Assistant Professor, National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), Greece
Water Think Tank: What is the situation with respect to water resources in Greece?
Dr Simos MALAMIS : Greece is an atypical case within the Mediterranean region due to the fact that part of the country is made up of islands. Taking the country as a whole, Greece’s water resources may appear to be sufficient, but in reality there are enormous disparities. Resources are very unequally distributed between the North and the South. The islands, particularly the Aegean Islands, suffer from water stress. This phenomenon is particularly acute during the summer season when there is a mass influx of tourists.
Groundwater is the only source of supply for these islands. But pumping is causing a lowering of groundwater levels and encouraging saltwater intrusion, making the water unfit for consumption. The main solution for these islands involves installing desalination plants, as on the island of Tinos, but this technology is still expensive. Production costs for conventional resources are around 10 centimes per cubic metre. These costs rise to one euro per cubic metre for seawater desalination, which is still more profitable than supply via container from the continent, at seven or eight euros per cubic metre. The situation in Greece is distinguished by the diversity of local situations due to the specific nature of each island.
W.T.T. : Your work focuses particularly on the circular economy of water. Can you break down this concept for us?
Dr S. M.: First of all, we should revisit the conventional water treatment process. Water is collected, treated and then used. Subsequently, waste water is treated and discharged into the natural environment. By comparison, the circular economy of water seeks to recover and recycle waste water and its components. This recycling includes three aspects:
- Re-use of the water itself :
Following appropriate treatment, water can be recycled for several purposes: agriculture, watering urban green spaces, industry, etc. Each of these uses requires different levels and types of treatment and these need to be regulated. One of the impediments to the development of such uses in Greece is the absence of a European directive on waste water. Each European country has its own legislation on the subject. The countries of Northern Europe, with an abundance of drinking water, have little interest in recycling waste water. This partly explains the legislative delay at the European Union level.
- Recycling materials contained in waste water:
Waste water also contains potential deposits of raw materials. Numerous molecules and materials discarded by agriculture and industry can be recovered and recycled during the water treatment process. This is the case with nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus, PHAs, cellulose, etc. From these elements, it is possible, for example, to produce compost or composites for construction by combining cellulose with recovered biopolymers. In short, there are numerous potential applications for the chemical industry. Moreover, the sale of these products is a way of partially offsetting water treatment costs. However, this depends on the quality and value added of the end product. Biopolymers, for example, carry an average price of five euros per kilogram and represent a more interesting prospect than compost. The role of legislation is once again decisive in developing these recycling streams. In a number of European countries, these materials are considered to be waste, which means that there are a lot of constraints on recycling them.
- The energy aspect:
The circular economy of water is based on the development of energy-saving procedures for water treatment. In addition, waste water contains huge chemical energy potential which is not exploited. It is possible to produce biogas from organic substances contained in sewage sludge.
Transforming existing water treatment plants into links in the circular economy is the aim of the European Horizon 2020 SMART-Plant programme. Several pilot sites are testing the possibility of setting up closed loops for water and techniques to recover materials. In Greece, the site of Psytallia was chosen for the SMART-Plant testing. The Psytallia water treatment plant covers the entire Greater Athens region and receives around 730,000 cubic metres of water per day. Its sewage sludge contains a high concentration of nitrogen. This is treated separately and turned into secondary fuels for industry and electric power stations.
W.T.T. : Could you set out for us the objectives and challenges of another Horizon 2020 project that you are working on, Intcatch 2020?
Dr S.M. : Under the Water Framework Directive, member states are obliged to introduce a programme to monitor bodies of water in order to establish a picture of each catchment area. The Intcatch 2020 project seeks to prompt a paradigm shift in the way this monitoring is carried out by proposing a simple and replicable business model. Traditionally, water monitoring involves taking samples and analysing them in the laboratory. This is a long and costly process.
To remedy this, Intcatch is developing a technique which uses robotic boats with integrated sensors capable of measuring several parameters in real time. The data collected will be stored and shared in the cloud for quick interpretation appropriate to the requirements of environmental monitoring measures. A smartphone app and user-friendly interfaces are in development. This will allow monitoring activity of this kind to be entrusted to non-expert organisations such as NGOs.
The technology will not fully replace laboratory analysis, because not all parameters can be measured in this way. It will, however, be a powerful tool to assist decision-making. For example, it makes it possible to detect unusual polluting discharges in lakes and rivers, and to react very quickly to contain the pollution. In the event of heavy precipitation, it also helps to anticipate any risk that the capacity of waste water treatment plants will be exceeded. The Intcatch technology will be tested in the UK, Italy and Spain, and on Lake Yliki in Greece.
Interview Dr Martina SARTORI
Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice / Research Fellow at IEFE – Bocconi University, Italy
Water Think Thank : What areas do you focus on in your research and recent publications?
Dr Martina SARTORI : I am a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and a research fellow at Luigi Bocconi University’s Centre for Research on Energy and Environmental Economics and Policy (IEFE). Founded in 1868, Ca’ Foscari was the first Italian university to offer degrees in economics and commerce. IEFE at Luigi Bocconi University in Milan is a more recent creation.
The main issues which I tackle in my research are the impact of water scarcity caused by climate change on agriculture, the concept of virtual water and the associated primary trade flows between Mediterranean countries, Italy’s ‘water footprint’, and analysis of global food security using a network approach.
W.T.T.: Could you give us an overview of the water situation in Italy?
Dr M. S. : Italy is one of the most water-rich nations in the Northern Mediterranean region. However, due to its geographical position, the length of the country and its varied climate, water resources differ significantly from one region to another. Despite growing demand, the North has an abundant supply of water. Due to low precipitation and high temperatures, resources in the South, on the other hand, only meet half of actual need. For example, in Apulia, Sicily and Sardinia, precipitation levels cover only 10–20% of water needs.
Agriculture continues to be the highest consumer of water in Italy, unlike in the majority of European countries where industrial and domestic use predominates. Throughout Italy as a whole, the breakdown of water resource use is as follows: agriculture – 44–60%, industry – 25–36%, and domestic consumption – 15–20%. Only four European countries use most of their water resources for agriculture: Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece.
An Italian consumes 92 cubic metres of water per year, 7.6% higher than the average for the 27 countries of the European Union in the period from 1996 to 2007. The country is thus particularly vulnerable to water-related problems, all the more so since the Italian climate is gradually becoming drier, in line with global warming trends.
W.T.T. : And what are the main trends that you are observing in the Mediterranean region?
Dr M. S. : The imbalances between water supply and demand in the Mediterranean are becoming more pronounced. On the one hand, the region is experiencing rapid economic and demographic growth, particularly in Southern Mediterranean countries such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, and this is strongly stimulating demand for water. This trend is, of course, slightly offset by countries such as France and Spain which are witnessing very weak levels of growth and a decline in industrial activity, combined with new and more effective technological solutions. Agriculture remains far and away the biggest consumer of water in the Mediterranean, notably due to the inefficiency of irrigation systems which leads to average losses of 55%.
On the other hand, water resources are facing ever increasing pressure from climate change, pollution urban development, and so on. And yet these reserves must not only meet growing demand but also provide environmental functions which are essential to preserving natural habitats and ecosystems.
Integrated water management, with the help of appropriate technological resources and economic incentives, is key to guaranteeing efficient use of these limited resources and curbing the possible consequences for food security, a major concern of Mediterranean countries.
This necessarily entails increased cooperation in order to avoid the trap of competition for resources (particularly in countries which share cross-border water reservoirs), to share best practices and to put in place effective policies. At the European Union level, the Horizon 2020 project SIM4NEXUS, of which Bocconi is a partner, aims to model the impact of policies to support the Water-Energy-Food-Climate nexus. Among other things, SIM4NEXUS will develop a ‘Serious Game’ to help policymakers test scenarios and evaluate policy choices.
W.T.T. : What are the real-world applications of the ‘virtual water’ concept in the Mediterranean?
Dr M. S. : The virtual water concept refers to the volume of water used to produce a good or service. The concept was developed by a geographer, Tony Allan, in the early 1990s, to draw attention to economic mechanisms which can help to mitigate water scarcity at the local level, particularly in Middle Eastern and North African countries.
Virtual water is used as an indicator to measure the amount of water needed to manufacture industrial products, and also to analyse trade flows from the point of view of water resources. The exchange of water virtually ‘contained’ in imported or exported goods gives rise to what is known as ‘virtual trade in water’. If a country trades products requiring large quantities of water, it is also ‘trading’ the volumes of water virtually ‘contained’ in these products. Virtual trade in water is thus calculated using international trade data, by multiplying the virtual water content of different types of production (unique to a given country) by the volume traded. This virtual water method is primarily applied to flows of agriculture and livestock, both highly water-intensive sectors.
The concept of virtual water is not a political tool per se, so it has not been designed to support strategy development. These estimates have simply highlighted the role of international trade in improving the use of water resources at the local and global levels. ‘Virtual water importers’ are not, strictly speaking, making ‘water savings’, but they can consume more water than they have available locally and thereby ensure food security. Every year Jordan, for example, imports a volume of virtual water five times higher than its renewable water resources.
W.T.T. : Which products or services consume the most water? Do businesses provide information about the ‘water footprint’ of their products?
Dr M. S. : The products consuming the greatest volume of water are those derived from livestock farming: meat and dairy products (milk, cheese, etc.). In an industrial beef production system, an animal is slaughtered after three years and produces 200 kilograms of boneless beef. Over the three years, a cow consumes nearly 1,300 kilograms of grains such as wheat, oats or barley, and 7,200 kilograms of fodder (pasture, dry hay, silage). It takes 3.6 million litres of water to produce the grains and fodder. To this, we also need to add the 24,000 litres of water that a cow drinks throughout its life, and the 7,000 litres required to operate the farm. If we do the calculation, we see that it takes 15,400 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef.
To my knowledge, the "water footprint" has been calculated for many products but it is not the subject of a communication strategy or display, on the packaging for example.
I am, however, reminded of the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN), a private, non-political and non-profit institution established by the company Barilla. As a multidisciplinary and independent think tank, the BCFN is open to all and analyses the cause and effect relationship at play between economic, social and environmental factors, and food. One of the many projects developed at the BCFN is the Double Pyramid. It combines the nutritional pyramid (recommendations on the content of foods and how often they should be eaten) and the environmental pyramid (calculated on the basis of the carbon, water and environmental footprints of products). Overall, the Double Pyramid shows that what is good for our health is also good for the planet.
W.T.T. : You have also done some work on tourism and water in the Mediterranean. What are the potential consequences of growth in tourism in Italy and the Mediterranean?
Dr M. S. : An increase in the number of tourists would generate income and activity, but such a phenomenon would also lead to a change in the structure of production, with a decline in agriculture and industry, partly to the benefit of an expansion of the tertiary sector. In our research, we found that a decline – even a modest decline – in the agricultural sector, which currently accounts for two thirds of total water consumption in the Mediterranean, would lead to a significant drop in the demand for water. This reduction would offset the additional demand resulting from tourism, leading to a net decline in total consumption.
However, all of the water savings thus made in the agricultural sector could not be systematically redirected towards supplying drinking water for tourists. A large part of the water used in agriculture is ‘green water’, derived from moisture in the soil, typically linked to rain-fed agriculture. Water used for irrigation that could be diverted for other uses such as tourism is known as ‘blue water’.
Moreover, in our research work we used a national-scale economic model and annual data. Consequently, the results reflect large geographical areas and relatively long periods of time. However, we are aware that the peak tourist season often coincides with the period when agricultural irrigation is most intense. We are not therefore able to conclude that there is no risk of conflict with respect to water resources, even in countries where we observed a net gain in water at the national level.
Policies for developing tourism must seek to stagger tourist flows throughout the year and reduce seasonal peaks which exacerbate the effects of climate change. They must also limit the development of tourism in areas already overexploited. An effective way of improving access to water is to promote trade in water where this is technically feasible. For example, farmers who irrigate their land would have an opportunity to sell water to the tourism sector.
All of these measures must be adopted as a supplement to more comprehensive policies aiming at a more sustainable tourism industry and at a reduction of its impact on natural resources, particularly water.
Interview Irma POPOVIC DUJMOVIC
Project Officer at WWF Adria – Sustainable Management of Fresh Water Resources, Croatia
Water Think Thank : Could you talk about the actions undertaken by WWF Adria, particularly those relating to fresh water?
Irma POPOVIC DUJMOVIC: WWF Adria’s area of operation covers the Dinaric Alps in the Balkans, a region crossed by numerous rivers and water courses. We are working together with local initiatives to promote efforts to protect the biodiversity of hot springs and other wetland areas under threat in the region. Our objective is to put in place measures to mitigate the negative impacts caused by anthropogenic pressure on the environment. WWF Adria was established in 2015, although WWF had already been active in the region for a number of years. The organisation has a presence in eight countries: Croatia (where its head office is located), Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Slovenia and Serbia.
W.T.T. : What is the link between water resource management, the environment and biodiversity?
I. P. D. : Water is at the centre of economic, social and political challenges, as well as environmental ones. Everything is connected. Take the example of the programme to promote sustainable hydropower in the Dinaric Alps, launched by WWF in 2011. This initiative was established to address the damage caused by the building of new hydroelectric power stations in the region. Although hydropower is considered to be a renewable energy source, the development of which is encouraged by the European Union, dam construction can have a grave impact on the lives of local populations and ecosystems, particularly where projects have been designed with solely economic considerations in mind.
The geographical characteristics of the Dinaric mountains attract investors, who see an opportunity to erect highly profitable hydroelectric power stations. Those making these decisions must be made aware of the threats to water resources and biodiversity in these sensitive areas. The size of the hydroelectric power project is not the most important factor, since small rivers are the most susceptible to change and damage. By contrast, the project’s configuration and measures taken to mitigate its impact on the environment can play a crucial role.
W.T.T.: That all sounds very complicated. What can be done to raise awareness of and explain water resource issues?
I. PD: In effect, we have a lot to do in terms of education, training and awareness raising in order to address this challenge of sustainably managing fresh water resources. Within WWF Adria, we have identified three ways in which we can take action:
- By lobbying :
WWF Adria brings to bear its international expertise and network to assist local populations and organisations in making sure their demands are heard by policymakers. Let’s turn again to the example of hydroelectricity. WWF Adria facilitates dialogue between all stakeholders with the aim of identifying common solutions which are acceptable in environmental and social terms. The organisation also brings together experts to add scientific arguments to the debate and support proposals. Another aspect of WWF Adria’s mission involves checking that hydroelectric power projects meet European standards and are in line with Europe’s commitment on protecting nature and biodiversity.
- By conducting communications campaigns:
Thanks to its great strength in communications, WWF Adria is able to provide visibility for these issues and raise awareness among the citizens of the countries concerned. The organisation’s role is to explain and simplify problems related to water, which are by their nature complex and interdependent, in order to mobilise civil society through impactful campaigns.
- By promoting international cooperation:
WWF Adria encourages multilateral cooperation among the various countries in the region since rivers, of course, do not recognise borders. Water challenges therefore require a comprehensive approach of the kind that a transnational organisation like WWF can offer.
Water Think Thank : Do you have any other projects to protect fresh water resources in the Dinaric Alps region?
- The ‘Amazon of Europe’
The ‘Amazon of Europe’ project aims to repair and prevent environmental damage in a cross-border region where the Mura, Drava and Danube rivers intersect. This area is spread across five different countries: Austria, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia and Serbia. Excavation and sediment extraction have led to significant alternations in the water courses, threatening flora and fauna and creating conditions which make flooding more likely. The region is eligible for UNESCO protection, but only two countries have obtained it so far: Hungary and Croatia. The other countries, with the exception of Austria, have submitted their requests or plan to do so soon.
- The DRAVA LIFE project
The DRAVA LIFE project promotes integrated management of the Drava in Croatia. Traditional water management systems made use of artificial slopes and dykes to prevent flooding. This outdated infrastructure does not help to protect the environment. On the other hand, work to restore and rehabilitate the banks and river bed help to preserve ecosystems and protect against the risk of flooding at the same time.
- Project under way in SpaÄva Forest
Natural barriers such as forests act as good water regulation systems. However, these natural systems are adversely affected by deforestation or poor management. WWF Adria is currently developing a project to study the interaction between water and the SpaÄva Forest in Croatia, close to the border with Serbia.
Interview Marijan Babic
Professor in the Department of Water and Hydraulic Structures at Ain Shams University, Cairo, EGYPT
Water Think Thank : What is the role of Croatian Waters?
Marijan BABIC : Croatian Waters is a public organisation which was set up by the Water Act of 1995. It is the key actor in the field of water management in Croatia and reports to the Ministry of Environment and Energy. Croatian Waters is responsible for flood prevention and management throughout the country. It developed an initial and then a second Catchment Area Management Plan, which was adopted in July 2016. At the heart of this strategy, a Flood Risk Management Plan (FRMP) was created.
There are two catchment areas in Croatia:
- The Black Sea catchment area, which accounts for almost 62% of Croatia’s hydrographical network, including the Sava and the Drava, which flow into the Danube;
- The Adriatic Sea catchment area, which covers the remaining 38% of the country.
One of the primary tasks of Croatian Waters is to protect the population and the environment from water-related risks, particularly flooding. The Danube catchment area carries more risks because it experiences higher levels of torrential rain.
W.T.T. : What have been the initial results of this new approach?
M. B.: Water management in Croatia has gradually been adapted to comply with European directives: the Water Framework Directive of 2000 and the EU Floods Directive of 2007. European regulations attach huge importance to flood prevention and planning. They require that member countries map flood risks, identify people located in at-risk areas, and take appropriate measures.
Putting in place a policy which conforms to European directives is an effective strategy for the long term but represents a substantial financial burden for Croatia. However, the European Union is financing several flood protection projects.
It is worth recalling that the countries which are crossed by the same rivers as Croatia are not all within the European Union: Serbia, for example.
The International Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) brings together Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia and Montenegro. The commission refers to European directives and is developing a shared methodology for mapping risks throughout the Sava basin. Similarly, an international commission has been created to protect the Danube. Cross-border solidarity and cooperation are essential for ensuring a fair division of responsibilities and actions to be taken. This is all the more important since measures taken by one country can increase the risks of flooding in countries located upstream or downstream. Coordination of efforts is thus crucial.
W.T.T. : What is Croatia’s strategy for flood management?
M. B: Croatia has adopted a series of structural and specific measures, with implementation accelerated following the major flooding seen in May 2014.
Initially, immediate planning and prevention measures:
- Improving flood forecasting (collection and processing of hydrological data, mathematical modelling, simulations, warning systems, risk mapping, etc.);
- Tightening monitoring of flood protection infrastructure;
- Strengthening Flood Defence Centres (FDCs) at the national and regional level with more resources, equipment and staff.
Then, over the longer term:
- Carrying out in-depth catchment studies as a prelude to developing flood prevention projects;
- Adopting natural, environmentally friendly water retention measures (rehabilitation of water courses, restoration of rivers, flood zones, etc.) where technically and economically feasible;
- Building and rebuilding flood protection infrastructure (dykes, dams, pumping stations, etc.).
Planning is being gradually decentralised and moved from the national to the local level, focused on the different basins. In the event that a flood occurs, a whole series of measures will be set in motion at the local and national levels. There are three risk levels:
Level 1 – Ordinary flooding;
Level 2 – Extraordinary flooding;
Level 3 – Catastrophic flooding.
Croatian Waters handles Level 1 and Level 2 flooding, but delegates crisis management to local authorities and regional protection centres in the event of a catastrophe.
Today, floods are extremely well managed in Croatia, however despite all of the precautions, it is not possible to reduce risk to zero. Moreover, flooding represents a greater threat than fires or earthquakes.