Subject: Acute environmental problem in Channel 66

29 September 2009

WRITTEN QUESTION by Kriton Arsenis (S-D) to the Commission

SUBJECT: Acute environmental problem in Channel 66    

Pollution of the irrigation channel known as Channel 66 has caused an acute ecological problem which seriously affects the flora and fauna of the wider area and is a threat to quality of life and public health. Channel 66 borders four localities in the Imathia prefecture (Eirinoupoli, Dovras, Anthemia and Apostolos Pavlos) and is one of the most insalubrious effluent pools in northern Greece.

It has been a receptacle for untreated urban, agricultural and industrial effluent for more than 20 years. High concentrations of copper and chrome have been found in its waters, which flow into the river Aliakmonas and from there to the Gulf of Thermaikos. The water from the canal irrigates agricultural crops, herds of animals drink this water, and mass deaths of fish are a frequent occurrence. This situation has aroused the indignation of environmental organisations, local inhabitants and civil society in the region.

1. Is the Commission aware of the environmental problem in this region?

2. Given that the Aliakmonas delta is protected under the Ramsar Convention, is included in the Natura 2000 network and has been designated as a Special Protection Zone under the Birds Directive 79/409/EEC, does the Commission consider that Greece has taken all the measures required to protect it?

3. Does the Commission have any information on funding from EU funds for the construction of waste treatment systems in the region? Has it confirmed that they are operational?

4. What is the Commission’s view of the implementation of Community law on the disposal of industrial effluent in this region?

E-4616/2009 Answer given by Mr Dimas on behalf of the Commission

The Aliakmonas delta forms part of the Special Protection Area (SPA) ‘Delta Axiou-Loudia-Aliakmona-Alyki Kitrous’ GR1220010 classified by Greece pursuant to the Birds Directive 79/409/EEC(1) and is therefore included in the Natura 2000 network. The are is also identified as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar convention. One of the major threats to the site (according to its Standard Data Form) is water pollution from industrial, intensive agricultural and domestic sources. It is the responsibility of the Greek competent authorities to establish an effective protection regime for the area, including measures to restore the ecological water balance and quality. Following an application of the Commission, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled against Greece (Case C‑293/07(2)) concerning the lack of a coherent, specific and complete legal regime ensuring the sustainable management and effective protection of SPAs in the country. Greece is now under an obligation to establish the necessary measures in order to comply with the ECJ ruling, including developing a protection regime for the SPA covering the Aliakmonas delta. The Commission is monitoring closely this process.

The Water Framework Directive (WFD, 2000/60/EC(3)) establishes a comprehensive framework to protect surface and groundwater, with the aim of achieving good status of all waters as a rule by 2015. The main tools to accomplish this objective are the river basin management plans and the programmes of measures. These must be adopted by the Member States in December 2009 and reported to the Commission by March 2010 (Article 13 WFD).

The Commission will closely follow the next steps in the implementation of the WFD, in particular the adoption of the river basin management plans, in order to ensure that the Greek and Bulgarian authorities fulfil their obligations.

Regarding the implementation of Directive 91/271/EEC(4) on urban waste water treatment, the Commission is not in possession of adequate data as Greece has not complied with its reporting obligations. In 2007 the Commission requested information from Member States on compliance with the directive under Article 15(4) of the directive. However, Greece did not report. Consequently, the Commission launched an infringement procedure against Greece in March 2009 (case 2009/2033). In July 2009, the Commission launched the next reporting exercise on compliance with the directive and Member States are required to report within 6 months of receipt of the request (Article 15 (4)).

Compliance with Directive 91/271/EEC implies both the construction of the waste water infrastructure and its proper functioning according to the emission controls set out in the directive. Consequently, if a waste water treatment plant exists but does not function in accordance with the directive, this would constitute an infringement of the directive.

Directive 2008/1/EC(5) concerning integrated pollution prevention and control (IPPC Directive) requires industrial installations falling under its scope to operate in accordance with permits. These include emission limit values based on the best available techniques (BAT), designed to prevent and, where that is not practicable, generally to reduce emissions and the impact to the environment as a whole. The Commission monitors closely the application of the IPPC Directive in Member States. In order to address the lack of progress in IPPC permitting in Greece, the Commission has sent a reasoned opinion to the Greek authorities and will take all necessary measures in order to ensure full implementation of the IPPC Directive.

According to the information received by the National Authorities there are no co-funded projects concerning waste water treatment, in the four localities mentioned in the question.

(1)    OJ L 103, 25.4.1979, p. 1–18
(2)    European Court reports 2008 Page 00000.
(3)    OJ L 327, 22.12.2000
(4)    OJ L 135, 30.5.1991
(5)    OJ L 24, 29.1.2008