Plans for an extra three water desalination plants by 2013 will solve the island’s drinking water problem, the Water Development Department said yesterday.
Senior Water Engineer Vlassis Partassides told the Mail: “We are planning the immediate construction of one unit in Limassol, which we hope will be ready by the beginning of 2010. This will produce 40,000 cubic metres of water every day.”
A second unit, in Paphos, is expected to be in place by 2012, with a third, in Famagusta, no later than the following year.
In the meantime, the Agriculture Ministry has announced that a temporary, floating plant, should be ready to commence operations by May next year, as a temporary measure. This is expected to produce 20,000 cubic metres daily.
“We are ready to invite tenders by the end of the month,” Minister Fotiou explained.
He also called on members of the public to report people who are unnecessarily wasting water.
Earlier this week, he said that reservoirs are only at 18 per cent capacity, currently holding 49.2 million cubic metres, compared to 98.8 at the same time last year.
If no significant rainfall occurrs in the next few months, Fotiou said that remaining water reserves would only last until April next year at the very latest.
Green Party Leader George Perdikis said it was, “unnaceptable” for the government to be talking about building new desalination plants while on the other hand, “wasting vast quantities of water on watering golf courses.”
The last three years have seen a successive decline in rainfall, with the dams taking in 24 million cubic litres last year, 50 million in 2005, and 150 million in 2004, when the dams overflowed.
At present, there are eight sewage treatment centres in operation in Cyprus that supply treated water for crop irrigation, although not for vegetables, which are consumed fresh. They churn out some 14.5 million litres of water annually.
There are currently two desalination plants operating on the island, in Larnaca and Dhekelia, which are expected to produce 30 million cubic metres this year. They supply the Nicosia, Larnaca and Famagusta districts.
Opposition DISY MP Georgios Tasou earlier this year blamed the government for failing to move forward on plans for the construction of desalination plants set in motion under former president Glafcos Clerides.
“The policy of Glafcos Clerides properly moved forward on a specific plan to build desalination units in all of Cyprus to solve this serious problem,” Tasou said.
“This policy unfortunately did not continue under the government of Tassos Papadopoulos.”
Costas Themistocleous, former Agriculture Minister under the Clerides government and presidential candidate, described the water issue as, “the most important internal issue of the island after the Cyprus problem.”
He told the Cyprus Mail that, “during my time as Minister, we had a programme comprehensively to solve the water problem. Unfortunately, the present government abandoned this programme and we are now faced with the real danger of water cuts again.”
He added that when the Papadopoulos administration took over, “they filed the programme away and have not done anything for four years. They are starting again now, but we have lost a lot of important time. If they had continued as planned, our water problem would have been solved by now.”
Partassides acknowledged that there had been delays, saying the main obstacle has been opposition from local communities.
He also pointed out the fact that the plants require a great deal of electricity, “which means the burning of large quantities of mazout.”
He concluded by saying that if and when the three new plants get up and running, “they will not entirely solve the problem of water shortages, but will help greatly with supplying water to the public. A lot also depends on rainfall.”
Michalis Loizides, who is a member on the general council of the Cyprus Scientific and Technical Chamber said that the government had ignored major environmental disadvantages, and stood to lose millions of pounds through serious lack of planning.
“Desalination is so energy consuming, that for each ton of water purified, three litres of petrol are used. We have committed to limiting our CO2 emissions to the EU. With the planned creation of the two desalination plants in Limassol and Paphos, as well as the desalination facilities for future golf courses, we will be hit with a fine of around 100 million euros,” he said at the beginning of the year.
The environmental engineer insisted we should not be so eager to embrace desalination, despite its obvious advantages.
“There are many other environmental problems which are directly attributed to desalination. Living organisms cannot live within 100-200 metres from the area where a desalination plant is functioning. The bottom of the sea there is completely dead due to the salt plume,” Loizides said.
The Fisheries Department has examined the effects of desalination on the ecosystem of the sea. They list the main danger of desalination as the difference in the density of the water in areas where the salt is released back into the sea.
“This causes stress conditions which live at the bottom of the sea especially. This has a serious effect on the structure and composition of the water and a decrease in the biodiversity of the affected area,” a report by the Fisheries Department on the effects of desalination stated.
What is desalination?
It refers to any of several processes that remove excess salt and other minerals from water in order to obtain fresh water suitable for animal consumption or irrigation, or, if almost all of the salt is removed, for human consumption. Sometimes the process produces table salt as a by-product. Desalination of ocean water is practiced in many regions that have scarce natural freshwater supplies; it is widespread in the Middle East and the Caribbean, and is increasingly used in parts of the United States, North Africa, Singapore, Spain, Australia and China. It is also used on many ships and submarines.
Desalination typically requires large amounts of energy as well as specialised, expensive infrastructure, making it very costly compared to the use of fresh water from rivers or wells. The large energy reserves of many Middle Eastern countries have allowed for desalination to be employed relatively cheaply.