Abundance Water As A Public Good And Water Management As A Social Project

The year 1985 became a landmark in the history of water supply of modern Athens. During that year, the city's main reservoir (the Mornos Reservoir) overflowed. For the first time since it was declared the capital of the modern Greek state (1834), Athens appeared to have more water available than it actually needed to sustain its life and metabolism. The event generated great civic pride and political enthusiasm and was hailed as the turning point in Athens' century old battle against water scarcity (Gerontas and Skouzes 1963; Kalantzopoulos 1964; Kaika 2005). This optimistic period coincided with the restructuring of the legal and institutional framework for water resource management in Greece, that began in earnest in 1980. Law 1068/80 (1980) merged the Hellenic Water Company (EEY) and the Athens Sewerage Organization (OAn) to form a unified water supply and sewerage authority, the Water Supply and Sewerage Company of Athens (EYAAn) (Hellenic Republic 1980). EYAAn's sole stockholder was the Greek state and the company operated as a public utility company (EYAAn 1995). An even greater breakthrough in the institutional reorganization of water resources management in Greece came in 1987, when the socialist government voted in Law 1739/87 (1987). This new legislation replaced circa 300 laws and decrees that used to form the main institutional framework for water resources management, some of which dated back to the 1900s. It was a bold effort to restructure this fragmented institutional framework by centralizing decision-making and planning. The new law nationalized the management of water resources, declared water a "natural gift", and secured every citizen's access to potable water as his/her "undeniable right". It also recognized the priority of domestic water supply over any other use of water, and annulled all previously existing water rights linked to land property. Moreover, it sanctioned the right of the state to expropriate land, edifices and settlements, as well as to restrain the use of water by individuals or companies (after compensation) if such measures were deemed necessary for the utilization of water resources for the benefit of the general public. Finally, the law created a new administrative framework for the management of water resources, by dividing the country into 14 hydrological departments (Hellenic Republic 1987). This legislation that centralized decision-making and power over water resource planning and allocation, de facto nationalized water resources and was part of a broader shift in the philosophy of planning and resource management introduced by the socialist party after it came in power in 1981. This new philosophy aspired to move away from a mechanical and technocratic approach to planning, and to introduce a socially sensitive approach to planning and resource management. Planning activities became imbued with sociopolitical meaning and rhetoric, which often exaggerated what planning was actually capable of achieving. Karydis notes that:

Never before [1981] had the political and the urban been so organically connected; never before had urban issues been popularized to that extent; never before had the social consensus been granted so generously...never before had it been claimed in such an explicit way [through a deterministic environmental scheme], that the application of a new urban regulation would have the capacity to change a whole way of life.

(Karydis 1990:343)

It was within this broader context, that the management of water resources became the subject of new legislation and state regulation. The general optimism over the positive social effects that a national water resources management plan could deliver was reflected in the five-year project plan (1988-1993) for Athens' water supply that was issued by the Ministry of Environment, Physical Planning and Public Works (YnEXQAE) in 1988. The document confidently stated that:

The Mornos reservoir [the city's main reservoir] will continue to cover the city's needs for water.while there is also scope for using the existing water supply system and available resources to cover the needs of areas which are not yet connected to the network.

(YnEXQAE 1988:69)1

According to the 1998 report, despite the continuous rise in consumption levels, which, by 1989, reached 376 million m3 per year, Athens, with a population of 3.5 million and growing, was marching towards the 1990s with full confidence in the adequacy of its water resources.

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