The initial conclusion of the Dutch experts who undertook to investigate the causes of the disaster in Thessaly and which is presented today by the newspaper “Kathimerini” results in proposals for a new model of water management. Their findings include environmental crimes such as illegal irrigation dams and arbitrary interventions near riverbeds. In the report they have submitted to the government, the Dutch point to the need for a single management body in place of the current fragmentation of responsibilities and propose the establishment of a flood risk monitoring agency.
Forget big, expensive dams. Give life to rivers instead. This is one of the main messages sent to the government by the group of Dutch experts regarding the flood protection of Thessaly. The group argues that interventions should be made at three levels – prevention, governance, crisis management – and will include in its proposal the relegation of agricultural production in the Thessalian Plain. For its part, the government seems receptive to the proposals of the Dutch, considering that the disaster has provided an opportunity for a wider reconstruction of Thessaly, in an organized, modern and sustainable way. Funding remains an issue and for this reason the Dutch will be asked to prioritize projects and interventions.
A few days ago, the consulting firm HVA International submitted to the government the first of three “deliverables” for Thessaly. The text captures the main findings of the team and outlines the strategy that should be followed for the redevelopment of the Thessalian Plain. The new flood management plan for Thessaly will provide directions for the development of protection infrastructure as well as measures for crisis management, based on pre-agreed levels of safety. “Security levels must be differentiated according to the social, economic and environmental functions of the area where they will be applied. Developing the different levels of security is a technically and politically complex exercise, and will require expertise, economic acumen and political dialogue,” they say.
The Dutch’s first proposals are structured on three levels: prevention projects, tackling governance problems and how to manage crises. “All the anti-flood infrastructures must be reviewed in order to develop a program to upgrade them. The infrastructure for flood protection will be a combination of creating water retention facilities, facilities to increase water drainage and improving the embankment network.’
The experts raise in their report the problem of anthropogenic interventions in the rivers of Thessaly, which resulted in the limitation of their bed and flood zones. “Rivers and streams are often confined to narrow passages, wedged between embankments to maximize adjacent cultivated land. Numerous industries and residential areas have been built on the flood zones of streams and rivers, exacerbating the problem. Bridges, roads and railway lines were affected, as their design had not taken into account modern requirements for water management. As a result they turned into obstacles, causing even more destruction. There is also no coordinated maintenance of the hydraulic infrastructure,” says the first Dutch report.
The second recommendation of the Dutch is to increase the flood zones of the rivers again (“Give room to the river”, it is characteristically stated). Experts point out that based on international experience, the prospect of containing flood flows by reservoirs and large dams is limited. “Large dams are expensive, require special conditions, and often serve other purposes (eg, power generation, irrigation) that are likely to conflict with flood management,” they report. This point is particularly interesting, since at a local level in Thessaly, the implementation of dams that have been designed in previous years without proceeding with their construction (usually due to cost or an unconsidered environmental footprint) is still being presented as a solution to floods.
The second area in which the Dutch feel that intervention is needed is governance. As their first report states, the recent floods have shown that the management of water resources and floods is fragmented among a number of organizations with responsibilities in administrative units, the boundaries of which do not coincide with those of the hydrological basins. At the same time, there is insufficient coordination and supervision of these organizations, “which operate only on the basis of the interests of those who make them up”, as it is typically stated. For example, there are no official, centrally approved protocols for the operation of pumps and gates (eg at dams).
As experts point out, water management should be based on hydrological data (eg river basins) and for this reason it is necessary to establish a Basin Management Authority, with executive powers. The structure and governance model of these Authorities will be specified in the masterplan delivered by the experts.
Finally, the Dutch believe that changes must be made to the crisis management model. “There is an immediate need to install an early warning system that will operate on a 24-hour basis, which will receive, analyze and process information on flood flows in real time. The early warning system should have the expertise and tools to make accurate flood forecasts and effectively inform local agencies,” the report says. As the Dutch point out, although many messages were sent by 112, many farmers reported that they could have saved their herds if they had been alerted in time to move them or if they had realized the seriousness of the situation.
Preparedness for future floods can be further enhanced by the establishment of stations where equipment and machinery for emergency repairs and removal of haulable materials will be kept, boats for rescue operations and sandbags to be distributed to citizens and agencies to protect sensitive points on embankments , but also homes and vital infrastructure.
The government has invested heavily in this holistic approach. According to top government sources, the aim is for the disaster in Thessaly to be treated as an opportunity for a more comprehensive restructuring of both flood protection and the agricultural economy in the Thessalian Plain, with a shift to more organized, modern and sustainable options.
The first exhibition of the Dutch will be presented next week in Thessaly. A period of consultation with agencies and the local community will follow, in order to shape the final text of the masterplan. The conclusion has been asked to include different scenarios and to prioritize the projects, as their funding remains a very important issue.
“Numerous industries and residential areas have been built on the flood zones of streams and rivers, exacerbating the problem,” the expert group finds.
What did the Dutch see and what do they recommend?
Industries and settlements have been built on floodplains of streams and rivers, experts say, and suggest giving way to rivers.
It is recommended to avoid large dams which are expensive and sometimes aggravate the risk of flooding, since they have been built for a different purpose (irrigation, energy production).
It is recommended to avoid water-bearing crops, which leads farmers to either over-pump groundwater or even build illegal dams.
There is a fragmentation of responsibilities in a number of organizations, without even matching the boundaries of the hydrological basins. A relevant masterplan will be drawn up for the unified management of water resources.
There is an urgent need to install an early warning system that will operate on a 24-hour basis and process information on flood flows in real time.
THE COMMENT OF DIMITRIS KOURETA
The newly elected Regional Governor of Thessaly Dimitris Kouretas commented on mega on Sunday morning.
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