Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cyprus’s Largest Reservoir Drying Up

- A jetty lies on a dry reservoir bed at Kouris dam in Limassol district, Cyprus. The sun-baked earth in the empty pit at Kouris is a sign of the unprecedented water crisis facing the Mediterranean island -

A small pool of water at the bottom of Cyprus’s largest reservoir is shrinking by the day: without rain, the main source of surface water for most of the island will dry up by the end of the year.

The sun-baked earth in the empty pit at Kouris is a sign of the unprecedented water crisis facing the Mediterranean island. As climate change takes effect, authorities face the dilemma of how much to use energy-intensive desalination to beat the shortage.

“It’s bad. Very bad,” says Vlassis Partassides, head of water management at Cyprus’s water development department.
“If the drought continues for a fourth year, the consequences will be very severe,” he told Reuters.
Reservoirs are less than 9% full and residents – accustomed to treating water as a precious commodity – are braced for another dry winter.

Cypriots’ water bills come with graphs showing monthly consumption, and authorities are swift to alert households to abnormal spikes in use.

“I water my garden with water I have used for mopping up, and think twice about putting on the washing machine if I don’t have a full load. It is something that worries us all,” said Eleni Ioannou, 43, a resident of the Cypriot capital Nicosia.

Two desalination plants running at full capacity are not enough. Plans include emergency drilling to tap precious underground water deposits, further cuts to agriculture and a new desalination unit to come on stream next July.

With one of the highest concentrations of reservoirs in the world, Cyprus is no stranger to water shortages. While hydrologists can factor in inevitable periods of drought, the island can do little to arrest climate change.

Partassiades said that since 1972, rainfall had fallen by 20% but the run-off – the inflow into reservoirs – had declined by 40%, because of rising temperatures and the resulting increase in evaporation.

“Climate change is clearly evidenced in Cyprus,” said Costas Papastavros, head of the island’s national climate change unit...

Ultimately, he said, Cyprus would need to get used to life under global warming: “This is what happens when natural cycles are broken by human influence.

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