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Experts Call for Massive Overhaul of Greece’s Thessaly Plane to Prevent Floods

Thessaly floods
The Greek Army rescued residents at the village of Palamas in Thessaly, Greece in September 2023. Credit: Hellenic Army

Dutch experts have proposed massive infrastructure works, including the relocation of entire villages, in Greece’s Thessaly Plain to prevent future floods.

After the deadly floods of last September in Thessaly Greece asked the assistance of the Dutch experts of HVA, an agricultural development & asset management company with experience of mega projects around the globe.

The Netherlands has developed know-how during its constant battle with the sea and the management of the waters of the River Rhine.

The plan was presented to the Greek government recently and will be available for public consultation.

Proposals to deal with the Thessaly floods

It proposes, among other things a series of measures such as controlled flooding, relocation of villages and agricultural land, building dams, opening tributaries and changing agricultural production.

HVA’s scientists who spent weeks examining the Thessaly Basin say that work should be completed within six years.

They warn that the region is facing the risk of completely exhausting its water reserves. They also say that inhabitants should get used to phenomena such as the Mediterranean cyclones that hit twice in the last three years.

People being saved by rescuers in the recent catastrophic floods in Greece
Army units help residents escape the flood. Credit: AMNA

“The inhabitants of Thessaly also have to accept”, say the Dutch scientists, “as the inhabitants of other European countries have been forced to do after severe floods, that some areas will have to be ceded to give space to the rivers.”

They propose that more space must be given to the three main rivers in Thessaly: Acheloos, Pinios, and also Litheos, which cross the city of Trikala.

A typical example is what the Dutch scientists propose for Trikala. There they propose to create a bypass channel, in which a part of the waters of the Litheos River will be directed so that it does not overflow and flood the city. This tributary will have to cross through cultivated land and small villages that will have to be relocated elsewhere.

For Larissa, the scientists propose the immediate demolition of buildings that have been built on the banks of Pineos River, reducing its capacity by half, and the creation of anti-flood zones, possibly with the withdrawal of agricultural lands.

Regarding Lake Carla they say its capacity is “not sufficient to store excess water from future extreme weather events,” and they recommend works to increase its capacity.

Check dams and big dams required

HVA recommends the creation of up to 250 check dams that should be built in the smaller valleys, ravines and streams surrounding the Thessaly Plain. With these, they report, “the large flow of water from the mountainous areas will be reduced. Dissipating the energy from rushing water will significantly reduce soil erosion.”

Another proposal is the creation of three large dams in the towns of Mouzaki, Pyli and Skopia. They also state that the completion of the Sykia Dam, a project included in the Acheloos diversion projects, is necessary to divert 200 million cubic meters of water from the river to eastern Thessaly.

Change in agriculture cultivation to prevent floods in Thessaly

Dutch scientists characterize the visible – and immediate – risk of desertification of the region as a “matter of survival” for the agricultural sector of Thessaly.

They estimate that the annual water deficit of around 500 million cubic meters that Thessaly faces will increase in the coming years due to climate change, which is predicted to increase temperatures and decrease rainfall.

What they propose as a solution, to protect the water resources of the region, is to implement a gradual, multi-year and coordinated transition to the crops, from low value and high demand on water (e.g. cotton and corn) to horticultural and fruit crops that require (most of the time) less water and space, while also being higher value, generating more income for farmers.

The question is whether the Greek government has the political will and the resources to implement at least part of the radical overhaul proposed by the Dutch experts.

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