Are we using water wisely?

  Mar 31, 2021 9:30 am Ibrar Younas 981
World Water Day has sparked a fresh debate in the TRNC about the country’s water resources. GÜLDEREN ÖZTANSU looks at the issues

Are we using water wisely?

WORLD Water Day has taken place on March 22 every year since 1993, following the adoption of a United Nations resolution by its General Assembly.

Its aim is to celebrate water and raise awareness of related issues such as water waste, the water crisis and of the 2.2 billion people around the world who do not have access to safe water.

In North Cyprus, water management is an issue that should be addressed in the path towards water security. 

Environmental Engineers Chamber head Nilden Bektaş-Erhürman suggested that, according to the data provided by the Met Office, last year was not a dry year. However, there was considerable water stress. 

“This data and the water stress we experienced show us just one conclusion: and that is that we cannot protect our water resources effectively,” she said.

2021, on the other hand, has so far been a drier year than last year with less rainfall, she noted. 

Arguing that water problems have existed in Cyprus for over 50 years, Ms Bektaş-Erhürman assessed the need for an effective national policy. 

“Even though this reality is known, we have not developed any sort of national water policy for the protection of our water resources and for our resources to be managed sustainably,” she said.

Last September saw the temporary return of rationing after repairs to the five-year-old pipeline supplying fresh water from Turkey – which snapped in two in January 2020 – overran, leaving the Geçitköy reservoir it supplies empty.

The water stress experienced last year, despite it not being a dry season, “put us even further behind the days before water was sent from Turkey” Ms Bektaş-Erhürman noted. 

“That was such a water crisis,” she said. “This shows us that we haven’t moved forward by even an inch.”

According to the latest measurements taken by the Waterworks Department, seven of the TRNC’s 17 reservoirs, excluding Geçitköy, are below half their capacity. Eight are more than half full but have failed to reach the “desired” capacity, while the water levels in two reservoirs “could not be measured”. 

Waterworks Department head Tarkan Çeki said that the two reservoirs that could not be measured “just don’t hold enough water” for meaningful measurements to take place.

The 17 reservoirs, which have a total capacity of some 14.7 million m3, contained around 6.8 million m3 of water in January 2021, or 46.35 per cent of capacity. 

That compared to roughly 12.5 million m3 of water (75.7 per cent) in June 2019, the most recent period before this year that figures are available for.

The reservoir holding the most amount of water in January was Arapköy Ayanidere, which was 98.54 per cent full, Mr Çeki said.

The other reservoirs with high amounts of water in them were Hamitköy Baştanlıkdere, Ergazi Sayadere, Gönyeli, Kanlıköy, Gönendere and Akdeniz.

The Geçitkale Eğridere reservoir was just over half full while the Dağyolu Üçparmakdere, Yılmazköy Polatdere, Beşparmak Alagadi Çiftlikdere, Değirmenlik Çataldere, Serdarlı Ağıllıdere, Gemikonağı Madendere and Haspolat reservoirs were below half their capacity. 

The Dağyolu Üçparmakdere reservoir was just 30.75 percent full. The two reservoirs whose water levels could not be measured because they were so low were Arapköy Uzundere and Mersinlik Azganlıdere. 

According to Ms Bektaş-Erhürman, the main reason there is a water problem in North Cyprus is that “far from awareness that we live in an island country, we think of water as an infinite resource” which leads to “not planning the management of water”. 

Ms Bektaş-Erhürman estimated that “70-75 percent of water is used in agriculture, 15-20 percent in homes and 10-15 percent in industry”. 

Agriculture is a sector of “unplanned growth” that triggers water consumption, she noted.

“While it is possible to purify and reuse water that has been used in our homes and industry, this opportunity is unfortunately not used and untreated wastewater continues to pollute the clean groundwater resources while threatening public health.”


Mistakes cause water stress in the TRNC 

Ms Bektaş-Erhürman said that there are several mistakes that further threaten water security in the TRNC. 

For instance, “uncontrolled water extraction from aquifers”, and over-extraction, end up causing the salinisation of underground fresh water resources, she said.

This happens when saline water located below fresh water mixes with the water above. 

“This carries water resources to a place far from sustainability. Although these developments about water are known, no studies have been carried out and no precautions have been taken in real terms”. 

Ms Bektaş-Erhürman said that another problem is “highly related to the water stress experienced last year” concerning the water supply coming from Turkey. 

She noted that while mistakes such as the salinisation of fresh water cause the “exhaustion of water resources”, the water piped from Turkey has created a “complacent” attitude in the governance of the TRNC’s existing water resources. 

Ms Bektaş-Erhürman listed a range of topics and questions that she said need to be addressed.

“Ever since water came to the island [from Turkey], what has been done to sustain . . . our underground water resources?” she asked.

“Have any aquifer regulation projects been brought to life? What have we done to create alternative water resources? How many new sea water desalinisation plants have we opened for our cities? Have we increased the number of water purification plants? Have we developed projects to use purified water in agriculture and industry? 

“Have we regulated wells? How many wells are we metering or shutting down? 

“Since we know that 70 to 75 percent of water is used for agriculture, have we switched to technologies that minimise losses in agricultural irrigation? 

“Have we developed policies to switch from [producing] agricultural products that require a lot of water to those that require less water? 

“Have we been able to build any dams and reservoirs? Have we been able to take care of and clean our existing reservoirs? What awareness campaigns have we run about saving water?

“We were saying before and we will say it again: the water that comes from Turkey is not a resource to last us for generations. Turkey is on its way to become a ‘water poor’ country itself and this resource is not unlimited. 

“We absolutely must develop and diversify our present resources and use them in the right, sustainable way.” 

Ms Bektaş-Erhürman also called for an “inventory” of water basin management plans and the quality and quantity of water resources and bodies, such as streams, reservoirs and coastal waters.

Other action that must be taken “as soon as possible” is the inspection and metering of wells, the sealing of unauthorised and unsuitable wells, as well as aquifer regulation projects, she said.



“The TRNC is a water-poor country”

THE water pipeline project, dubbed the “Project of the Century”, that was “brought to life in order to meet the TRNC’s long-term waters needs” has been bringing 75 million m3 of water from Turkey to the TRNC annually since October 2015, Waterworks Department director Tarkan Çeki said.

It came into being after a previous scheme in the late 1990s that involved floating drinking water across the Mediterranean Sea in special “balloons” had to be abandoned after they kept bursting.

In an interview with the TAK news agency about World Water Day, Mr Çeki suggested that the TRNC is among “poor countries in terms of its water resources”.

“Right now, the TRNC’s annual water consumption is 42 million m3,” he said. “Of this, 31 million m3 is currently met by the water from Turkey while local resources provide the remaining 11 million m3.”

The role of local water resources is set to diminish even further “when a 245-km pipe [network] tender by Turkey’s State Hydraulic Works Directorate is finalised”. 

According to Mr Çeki, before the pipeline was introduced the TRNC’s water needs were largely met by underground resources and the desalinisation of sea water.

He stressed that water coming from Turkey is a “great relief” and that due to the drought and water stress experienced prior to Turkish water aid, a lot of underground water has become “unusable in many areas” in terms of quality and quantity. 

The water used by the agriculture sector is largely supplied by underground water resources and “a little bit” from reservoirs, he said. Reservoirs are also used in feeding the underground water resources, he added. 

Mr Çeki said that areas that receive water from local resources will be given water that comes from Turkey, which he said will help protect the local resources by allowing them to recover from overuse. 

The Waterworks Department is working on a project, named “Stage 2”, the tender for which tender is “expected to be issued this year”. 

However, the TRNC’s long-term reliance on Turkey for water is under question due to the fact that there 10 provinces in Turkey – including İstanbul and Ankara – that have been declared water-scarce by the World Wildlife Fund.


“We can share water with the South”

PRESIDENT Ersin Tatar visited the Geçitköy Dam and purification plant on World Water Day, where he said that he had been dreaming about water coming from Turkey since his childhood. 

“Many couldn’t see it, but we saw it,” he said, referring to the “Project of the Century” pipeline providing water to North Cyprus from Anamur, in Mersin, Turkey.

Three villages had to be submerged for the construction of the Alaköprü Dam in Mersin to supply the TRNC with water. 

“Nobody is offended due to the deep-rooted emotional ties between the two countries,” the President noted while thanking the people of Anamur.

Mr Tatar said that even those who were initially opposed to the pipeline were up in arms when it snapped last year. He noted that six ships worked to fix the fault and eventually succeeded on October 6. 

A water tunnel project for Güzelyurt, which is under construction, will end the “saline water problem in the region” the President added.

“This water [from Turkey] can be shared with South Cyprus in the event of any agreement [on the island], as has been announced before but remains as an unanswered suggestion,” Mr Tatar said. 

Ali Murat Başçeri, Turkey’s ambassador to Lefkoşa, accompanied Mr Tatar on his visit and also made speech. 

Mr Başçeri said that 97.5 percent of the world’s water is saline and only 2.5 percent of it is fresh water. He said that 90 per cent of fresh water is either at the poles or underground. 

“The value of water, which is this year’s theme for World Water Day, is easily seen by looking at the Geçitköy Dam, where it is clear how water changes everything,” he said. 

Everyone on the island has “learned the value of water” due to the experiences of water shortages, Mr Başçeri stated.

“On top of that, you are the ones who suffer . . . with the barriers placed in front of water coming from South Cyprus,” he said.

The value of water “was seen once again with the fault” that occurred in the pipeline, which Mr Başçeri said is the first pipeline of its kind in the world and “successfully brings fresh water from Turkey”. 

He said that the fact that 15 of the TRNC’s 17 reservoirs are holding water is “good data” but that institutions, as well as individuals, all have a responsibility towards cutting water waste.