Raindrops On Rooftops

Dear Mum,

Cyprus has an acute water shortage. Nothing new about that. It’s been a way of life here for centuries. Not surprising perhaps for an island that has over 300 days of sunshine every year and relies on whatever little rain falls during the short winter months for its annual supply. But I read the word ‘unprecedented’ in an article about it recently.

And I saw some images on the news the other night of an empty reservoir. As my command of the Greek language still hasn”t progressed much past saying ‘Can you lend me a fiver?’, I don’t have a clue if it was a new one about to be filled, or an old one run dry. I suspect the latter.

So I thought I’d better don the deerstalker yet again and find out just how bad the situation is, and see if I can find a solution for them. After all, I’m part of the problem, so it’s the least I can do.

Speaking of which I’ve always thought that a very strange expression – ‘the least I can do’. Imagine what I could do if I really tried!

Anyway, a lot has been done over the years to address the problem. There are now two desalination plants on the island running at full capacity, and the authorities are prepared to build more if that’s what it takes, in spite of the hefty fines they’d have pay to the European Union.

But desalination plants are not the answer in the long term. They use electricity and are therefore responsible for putting a lot of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere (hence the EU fines). And the waste products are put back into the sea which would eventually have a devastating effect on the marine environment.

Capturing and storing what little rainfall occurs is the obvious solution, and to this end Cyprus now has a total of 117 reservoirs, with another one on the way. An astonishing number for a tiny island.

This is the Lefkara Dam. For some reason they seem to call the reservoirs dams. I’ve no idea what they call dams. Dam-dams maybe?

So why is there a water shortage?

Simple. Demand is exceeding supply, and has been for quite a while; three years of exceptionally low rainfall, which is being blamed on climate change, and higher demand due to an increase in the population and tourism.

I’ve only been here just over a year, but I can attest to the fact that there wasn’t much rain last winter. Consequently, there was an acute water shortage during the summer, with bans on hose-pipes, car-washing etc, and fines of up to £300 or 3 months in prison, or both, for offenders. It was actually a criminal offence.

It didn’t seem to deter many people though. Every day I’d see people using hose pipes to wash their cars, balconies, verandahs, pavements etc and to water their gardens and plants. The wastage was extraordinary.

I was very aware of hardly ever seeing a dirty car. I couldn’t understand the mentality of it. You’d think that on an island used to water shortages that conservation would be a naturally instilled trait.

This is the Kouris Dam, the most recently built in Cyprus, shown in this stunning photo at near full capacity. The following photos of the same reservoir, taken in November last year, show just a tiny amount of water left in it. There’s been little rain to speak of since then, and it is now dry. Completely empty.

From an article published by Reuters last November:

It’s bad. Very bad.” says Vlassis Partassides, head of water management at Cyprus’s water development department. “If the drought continues for a fourth year, the consequences will be very severe.

Well for one thing, we’ll all be very dirty. I’ve already been doing my bit by inviting as many Cypriot Goddesses as possible to come and share a shower with me, but so far none of them seem to have realised quite how acute the water shortage really is!

The article goes on to say that ‘Reservoirs are less than 9 percent full and residents  –  accustomed to treating water as a precious commodity  –  are braced for another dry winter.

Hmmm! I’d take issue with the bit about residents treating water as a precious commodity, some of them anyway, but it sums up the situation. They’ve even been saying prayers for rain in church.

Here are a couple more photos, this time of the Mavrokolymbos Dam, firstly at full capacity, and then as it was in February last year, with all the fish dying. That was nearly a year ago. It won’t have improved since then!

So what’s the answer?

Short-term, I have absolutely no idea. Even if everyone on the island was incredibly conscientious about water conservation, it’s not going to solve the problem if Cyprus has another very dry winter. Maybe my share-a-shower scheme could catch on after all!

But there’s a lot that could be done in the long-term. In spite of the island’s 117 reservoirs and 2 desalination plants, millions of gallons/litres of water go to waste every time it rains.

For example, just about every house in Larnaca has a flat roof with a water tank and solar heating panels. When it rains, the water simply runs off the roof down the drainpipe into a drain and is lost forever. What a waste! I’ve never once seen a water butt anywhere to collect this water. I’m sure there must be a few, but it ought to be a way of life.

Maybe there’s a business opportunity there for me. I could start a company called ‘Butts “Я” Us, Innit’ with the slogan ‘Kiss My Butt’ and corner the market in water butts all over the island. They’d call me the Butt King of Cyprus.

Being more realistic, maybe every building should be trapping raindrops on rooftops and storing it in giant overhead tanks. The only sensible thing I’ve ever seen is a pipe from someone’s balcony going down the side of the building and across the pavement to water a small tree.

Kitchen sink and bath waste is another area where water could be used for watering gardens and plants, or washing pavements and cars. But it all just goes down the drain. More wastage.

It seems to me that if dwellings were designed with toilet cisterns at a lower level than baths/showers and sinks, then waste water could also be used for flushing lavatories.

I know it’s possible. The technology for greywater systems, as they’re called, has been around for a while. Some of them rely on pumps to re-use the water for flushing toilets, which is a bit counter-productive in that it uses electricity. Hence my idea of using gravity for the job.

A tinkle in the ocean, you might think. “Wouldn’t make any difference“, I hear you cry.

You’d be wrong! Amazingly, toilets account for a staggering 40% of household water usage.

And that’s where the solution to the Cyprus water problem lies. In the khazi! That’s where the biggest saving needs to be made.

One obvious answer is to eat less and drink less, then people won’t need to go as often, leading to a reduction in flushes. However, the effect on the economy could potentially be disastrous as food and drink sales fall and workers are laid off. In fact, water consumption might even increase as more and more people become scared of losing their jobs.

So constraining the demand upon toilet facilities at its source isn’t the answer. Everyone simply needs to save that 40% by re-using waste water from roofs, sinks and showers to flush the toilet. Problem solved!

If everyone did this, the Kouris Dam, and all the others, would currently be 40% full instead of empty.

And water shortages in Cyprus would be a thing of the past.

And my usual fee applies for saving the island…


©MPB 07/January/2008

Cyprus Mail
Aerial Arts
Fishing In Cyprus


2 Responses to Raindrops On Rooftops

  1. […] list is too long to reproduce here, but I wrote a couple of months ago in my Letter entitled Raindrops On Rooftops about how grey water systems could help with a long-term solution to the island’s water […]

  2. I do not believe my eyes! That looks horribly! I do not understand what they are thinking about!!! Water problem exists for a long time! And they still are solving it! Why? Why they allow to loose fish quantity and water??

    Answer about fish.. because they do not have profit!

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