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Dr. Andreas Panagopoulos

Hellenic Agricultural Organisation, Thessaloniki, Greece

“Quality assessment of water resources in Greece - challenges for the implementation of the Water Framework Directive“

© Dr. Andreas PanagopoulosDr. Andreas Panagopoulos
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Quality assessment is one of the key elements in effective protection and management of water resources, which along with quantity assessment provides the picture and help to focus on the appropriate measures to be taken towards the ultimate scope: to protect and restore our water systems for the future. Nitrogen pollution is generally corelated to agricultural activity, hence the provision of food to sustain the ever increasing population of our planet. Food and water sufficiency are amongst two strategic choices that enable independent development and safeguard sustainability of high living standards. Therefore, a wise balance need to be established between sufficient and safe water on the one hand and adequate agricultural production on the other hand. Realistically, human civilisation development is strongly interrelated to environmental disturbance. The bet is how to effectively minimise this disturbance and maintain the strong assets of agricultural production. What is at stake if the balance is not achieved; either serious environmental degradation and/or loss of food sufficiency, both leading to potentially devastating results. With regards to nitrogen pollution, the Nitrates (NiD) and the Water Framework (WFD) Directives are amongst the comprehensive and very demanding legislative frames in the EC toolbox. Even though these Directives have a different starting and focal point, they both share the same ultimate target to which their implementation is essentially converging to; protecting precious resources and leading to hopefully a comprehensive address of problems identified even at Water Body (WB) level.

Being a country with a traditionally strong agricultural sector, Greece has focused on monitoring the impacts of agricultural activities in groundwater as early as 1970’s, in the form of systematic monitoring of nitrates concentrations at dedicated monitoring points. However, the extent, frequency and density of monitoring have not been uniform across the country until recently. Sufficient data do occur for large plains where irrigation demands are covered by groundwater abstractions, whilst less representative or even sparse data occur in the cases of smaller sized basins and/or plains where irrigation demands are covered by surface waters. Following the establishment of the national monitoring network in the framework of the WFD, selected nitrates pollution monitoring points have been incorporated into it, however, some regional authorities do proceed to the establishment of regional scale networks, or continue to support their operation, that offer them a more detailed overview of the evolution of groundwater quality. Nitrates Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) have been delineated on the basis of the assessment of nitrates concentrations, the pressure analysis conducted, the total nitrogen applied per basin and agricultural area unit, the developed eutrophication conditions, whilst the overall intrinsic vulnerability of potentially impacted WBs is to be also taken into account. Codes of Good Agricultural Practices have been issued and tailored to local needs. Action plans have been compiled and legally established. Incentives were offered to farmers in the past in an attempt to support/reimburse potential loss in crop yields due to the implementation of the proposed measures, however the actual monitoring scheme for the assessment of the efficacy of the implementation of these action plans does not seem to have been effectively implemented. Therefore, short-term evaluation of the implementation is neither full nor systematic.

It is clearly established that farmers are highly responsive following systematic training-information-sensitisation to greening agriculture when they are walked through specific ways to gain either added value and/or other financial support to their crops. Irrigation programming, installation of cover crops, use of increased efficiency irrigation systems, establishment of increased SOM conditions etc, are probably amongst the safest ways to succeed the scope of cutting down on nitrogen inputs from agriculture. Moreover, it has been clearly seen that agricultural inputs are decreased through either reduction of the applied fertilisers due to their price increase and/or the application methodology employed. Likewise, imposing high rates to over-consumption of irrigation water or failure to honor cross-compliance standards, i.e. indirect negative incentives, also appear to act favorable to environmental protection of water resources and the income of farmers! Compared to the previous period water resources management plans at river basin scale, GWBs assessment carried out in the current period, showed that an overall improvement has been succeeded nationwide, either in the form of less poor chemical status GWBs assessments due to nitrates concentrations and/or favorable changes in the documented trends. This is mainly attributed to the reduction of the irrigation water applied and the used fertilisers due to the costs incurred and/or the lack of sufficient water resources to irrigate at ease.