The BeWater project aims to promote dialogue and collaboration between science and society for water management adaptation plans that address the impacts of global climate change in the Mediterranean. The Pedieos River Basin in Cyprus is one of four Mediterranean Case Study River Basins of the project. Read more about the first two articles in this four-part series on Vipana River Basin, Slovenia and Rmel River Basin, Tunisia.
The Pedieos River is the longest river in Cyprus with a total length of approximately 100 km. Similar to most rivers in Cyprus; it is a non-perennial river and of ephemeral nature. This means that it only flows during the winter months or after heavy rainfall events. Originating in the northeastern hillslopes of the Troodos mountain complex, the river basin attains its highest elevation at 1,400 m above sea level and hosts a population of 192,000 inhabitants.
In environmental terms, the forested upstream area is home to beautiful picnic sites and nature trails that form an important Natura 2000 site (Department of Forestry, 2012). The fractured volcanic formations scattered throughout the landscape also play host to a variety of plant life including conifers, small areas of sclerophyllous and shrub woodlands. Furthermore, the region is dotted with plots of rainfed cereals, irrigated fruit trees, greenhouses and livestock farms.
At the bottom of the foothills lies the Tamassos dam, completed in 2002, which captures and stores the runoff of the 45-km2 upstream river basin in a 2.8-million m3 reservoir. The dam also provides flood protection, groundwater recharge through the release of water to a downstream aquifer, and a stable water supply for nearby communities.
Streamflow data collected by the Cyprus Water Development Department demonstrated that the largest single event in the past 40 years produced 3.1 million m3 of water in one day. This event occurred on the 9th of January 1989 and resulted from 57 mm rainfall over the upstream catchment on the preceding day and 108 mm precipitation on the day itself. As a result, an enormous volume of water flowed through the spillway of the dam in addition to the water contained in the natural reservoir during winter. Thus, it is important to manage the body of water located behind the dam in a manner that provides sufficient storage and shields nearby communities against future floods.
Downstream from the dam, the river basin crosses about half a dozen rural communities. These settlements grow rainfed and groundwater-irrigated crops, with Barley, fresh vegetables and olives being the most common products. Irrigation represents the largest user of water in the rural areas of Pedieos and consume an average of 4.5 Mm3/year (82%).
The river then proceeds to flow into the Cypriot capital of Nicosia and its adjacent municipalities. Most portions of the Pedieos River that course in these urban areas are dry throughout year. However, heavy rainfall events imply a runoff from the surrounding paved streets that eventually fill into the river. Consequently, Nicosia experienced a total of 38 floods in urban areas between 1960 and 2012, three of which were caused by flooding from the river (I.A.CO Ltd., 2011).
Natural vegetation that grows in the dry riverbed during the summer impedes the flow of water. Garbage and branches that are dragged along by the flood get trapped at the low road crossings over the river, causing water to spill over the road. The Water Development Department has identified the urban area along the Pedieos as an area of potentially significant flood risk and submitted a report for the European Flood Directive (2007/60/EC).
When traversing along the riverfront in Nicosia, a linear park containing a cycling path offers a quiet green corridor amid the hectic urban environment. With temperatures averaging 37 degrees in the Cypriot capital during July and August, the park forms the site of increased human activity. A survey of park visitors, conducted by intern students of the Cyprus Institute, showed that most residents came for exercise purposes or simply to enjoy nature during the summer months (Poulou, 2014). Public approval for the park’s services remains high, with green spaces in Nicosia being designed to foster increased environmental awareness and to contribute to an understanding of the functioning of ephemeral streams.
Regarding scope, the river basin covers approximately 120-km2 at the green line in Nicosia, where it continues to flow into the occupied areas of northern Cyprus. Between 1980 and 2010, the Pedieos basin receives an average annual precipitation ranging between 320 mm downstream to 670 mm upstream. However, regional climate models indicate that a drier and warmer climate is expected to hit Pedieos by 2050 (Camera et al., in review).
The Pedieos River Basin has also been an important foundation for growth in Nicosia. Previously, the river used to replenish the groundwater reserves that served the historical town and its nearby agricultural communities. Contrarily, Pedieos also proved to be the cause of death for around 3000 people during the flooding event of 1330. In response to this disaster the river was diverted northwards around the town at around 1570. The reasons for this diversion remain debated by various authors. Nevertheless, most explanations advocated by historians refer to the protection of the city against future floods or the supply of water to the defensive moat (Charalambous et al., in review).
Developing an adaptation plan
The first BeWater stakeholder workshop took place in Nicosia on July 2014. The Cyprus Institute research team engaged a diverse group of key local stakeholders in order to identify the potential impact of global climate change for the Pedieos River Basin. Participants from local society including community leaders, government officials, educators, farmers and consultants expressed their opinions on the current challenges, visions and solutions for the Pedieos River Basin.
Stakeholders participating at the workshop labeled water availability, agricultural pollution, urban pollution and flooding as key regional issues. An additional concern highlighted by attendees was the lack of a preventative and integrated management scheme pertaining to existing water resources. Despite such challenges, long-term planning for the basin foresees greater environmental protection and increased water sufficiency for drinking and irrigation purposes. However, the success of any plan hinges on the ability to address the growing conflict between farmers and community officials on water use amid a surging demand.
In order to address the issues prevalent in the Pedieos basin, local stakeholders stress the importance of “raising societal environmental awareness” and introducing more effective “enforcement of existing environmental legislation”. The “construction of anti-flooding works” has been identified as an additional option for Pedieos’s management.
From September 2014 onwards, focused interviews with experts and authorities are taking place to enrich this innovative process further. Amongst the options proposed by government officials are “the use of treated sewage water for irrigation or groundwater recharge” and “the implementation of a flood risk management plan”. Government officials also stressed the importance of active participation by all relevant stakeholders in the design and the formulation of water management and climate change adaptation policies.
The Cyprus Institute research team is currently analysing the proposed water management options for the Pedieos River Basin. Economic and environmental cost and benefits will be evaluated together with key stakeholders during a second workshop in 2015. The water management options will provide the basis for the formulation of a climate change adaptation plan for the basin.
Adriana Bruggeman, Associate Professor – Pedieos Case Study leader – The Cyprus Institute (CyI); Energy, Environment and Water Research Center (EEWRC)
Elias Giannakis, Post-Doctoral Fellow, The Cyprus Institute (CyI); Energy, Environment and Water Research Center (EEWRC)
Christos Zoumides, Post-Doctoral Fellow, The Cyprus Institute (CyI); Energy, Environment and Water Research Center (EEWRC)
Katerina Charalambous, PhD candidate, The Cyprus Institute (CyI); Energy, Environment and Water Research Center (EEWRC)
Charalambous, K. et al. (in review). Historical flooding of the Pedieos River in Nicosia.
Camera, C., A. Bruggeman, P. Hadjinicolaou, S. Michaelides, M.A. Lange (in review). How can weather generators be used for the creation of high resolution meteorological datasets for climate change adaption? Atmospheric Research
Department of Forestry (2012). Management Plan of Machairas Forest Park. Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, Nicosia (in Greek). http://www.moa.gov.cy/moa/fd/fd.nsf/all/4B08A7C6B1335C6BC22579F0002EC2FF/$file/δσχ%20εθνικου%20δασικου%20παρκου%20μαχαιρα.pdf
European Commission (2000). Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000. Establishing a framework for community action in the field of water policy. Official Journal of the European Communities L 327/1, Brussels.
I.A.CO Ltd. (2011) Identification of potentially serious flooding risk areas. Water Development Department, Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment, Nicosia (in Greek).
Poulou, D. (2014). Users’ perceptions on the environmental services of the Pedieos River Park in Cyprus and climate change implications. Master Thesis, National Technical University of Athens, MSc. Programme ‘Science and Technology of Water Resources’.