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Cyprus Internet Directory [ Water plans ‘sheer insanity’ ]

Water plans ‘sheer insanity’

Author: 
Patrick Dewhurst

Economic and environmental experts have slammed a government’s plan to give the cheap reservoir water to farmers and let consumers pay for the more expensive desalinated water.

The experts described the plan, which they say would include year round production at summer-peak levels and allocation of cheaper reservoir water exclusively to farmers, as "sheer insanity" that could cost "hundreds of millions of euros."

Theodore Panayotou, Professor of Environmental Economics and co-author of a damming report on the plan said: "In light of our public finance problems, this policy is sheer lunacy. It pours hundreds of millions of euros, and water down the drain, and it amounts to the largest transfer of wealth since the stock exchange bubble burst."

Under the plan, he says, the surplus from the plants would also go to the farmers. He calculates that with this surplus, farmers’ needs will be exceeded by 26 million cubic metres per year, effectively subsidising unsustainable agriculture for a minority group, to the cost of the taxpayer. Agriculture’s contribution to GDP is less than three per cent compared to tourism, which accounts for just over ten per cent.

"In the past few years only 38 million tons were used by agriculture. Now with 135 million cubic meters we will soon be growing and exporting rice in addition to their very successful banana crop," he said.

Desalinated water costs over twice as much to produce as treated reservoir water, (between 87 cents and €1 per cubic metre, compared to 40 cents for the latter. Panayotou’s comments come just days after the Water Development Department (WDD) predicted a possible trebling of water prices in some areas next year.

Sophocles Aletraris, Head of the WDD, defended the desalination plants, saying: “Of course it would be cheaper to wait for it to rain, but if you want water security, then you have to pay for it. Remember in 2008 when the government was forced to ship water from Greece.”

He denied that there would be a surplus, as only the required amount will be produced in the plants. Should they malfunction, or need to close for maintenance, then reservoir water can be treated, he said.

Former Agriculture Minister, Michalis Polynikis confirmed the plans, saying that the contracts between the government and the plants, signed last August, do provide for periods of reduced production.

The WDD will now hold a series of public stakeholder meetings, starting in Nicosia on Monday, Larnaca on Tuesday and in Limassol and Paphos next month.

Spyros Stephanou, former WDD Head and strong critic of the plan, will represent the Cyprus Federation of Environmental and Ecological Organisations at the meetings. He said: "The policy of giving reservoir water to farmers is a terrible idea. There has been no feasibility study into how much it will cost. It could cost €100 million every year."

Asked about paying off the cost of the plants, Stephanou said: “Plants have to be paid for, but if they are only used as and when needed, the cost will be less.”

The financial costs will not end there, however. In 2012, the Kyoto Protocols will end, and a new climate change bill will come into effect in Europe, removing the carbon emission quota now in place. Even with the carbon emission quota allocated by the EU, Cyprus will pay around €170 million in "fines".

Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou told the Mail: "In 2013 the cost of carbon emissions will be huge with the new bill; we will have to pay for every bit of it."

"Pricing of water is top of the agenda, and by the end of 2010 we will have a price that reflects the cost of production."

Asked about the desalinated water going into the reservoirs, Theopemptou said that under the contracts already signed, the government can stop or reduce desalinated water production, and continue to pay only capital maintenance costs. These account for approximately 40 per cent of the cost of water.

However, Panayotou argues: "It is obvious from past experience that it is not in the intention of the government to stop production unless the dams are spilling. In 2004 dams were full and the plants continued to produce water.”

After the four primary stakeholder meetings, the plan will go the EU for approval. "If they're not drunk, they will not be amused and they will not approve it. What is needed, and the EU may well demand it, is a plan devised to offer proper operation studies on a probabilistic basis." Panayotou said.



(Source: Cyprus Mail)
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2008 Please contact Cyprus Mail for the copyright terms of this article.



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