PROJECT BACKGROUND

The necessity of the project derives from the findings and conclusions of the past Programme Periods and the present situation of the cross border region in the field of environmental resources protection, as diagnosed in the strategy of the present Program, and  also into consideration the EU Water Framework Directive (Dir. 2000/60/EC)

The AQUA-M II Project idea was formulated by the common understanding of all Partners, of the environmental problems that Axios – Vardar River is facing.

Axios/Vardar River represents one of the main aquatic resources of the cross-border area of Greece and the  Republic of North Macedonia. Therefore, safeguarding the quality water resources still remains an issue of great importance within the framework of cross-border cooperation. The river plays a vital role for all human activities taking place in the area, including those of major economic importance, such as agriculture and industry. As a result, the river as a collective water system faces increasing pressures and  the water quality is under threat by agricultural, municipal and industrial pollution sources. At the same time, the effective management of water resources involves increased operational and functional costs for the local authorities, while it is practically impossible to be achieved without joint action among the responsible stakeholders from both sides of the borders.

The pollution of surface water can be linked with the absence of important infrastructure such as wastewater treatment plants.  Other significant pollution  includes organic matter, heavy metals, pesticides, as well as toxic synthetic organic compounds. High concentration in several pollutants can also be found downstream of industries believed to be to untreated point discharges or even non-operational industrial sites.  The existence of all toxic substances is a major risk for the ecosystem and biodiversity of the river, as well as human water consumption and in general ecosystem services provided by the Axios – Vardar ecosystem.

Having that in mind, partners acknowledged the fact that the environmental problems of Axios – Vardar River cannot be tackled on an national level since the river is equally affected by both sides. The formulation of the proposed Project, started as a need to capitalize the experience of the past AQUA-M project. The Partners put significant weight on the Projects’ maturity with the preparation of the appropriate studies, as well as with continuous meetings between environmental specialists and engineers from both sides. In the framework of the existing cross-border cooperation on the topic, the project aims to further strengthen cooperation with the establishment of a permanent network, enhancing the capacities of local stakeholders for the effective, joint management of the river’s water quality, through:

  • The installation of a network of equipment for the continuous (24/7) monitoring of the river’s water quality parameters from authorities across the borders in coordination with scientific experts.
  • The application of an online early warning systems for crises management that will combine data from the on line monitoring and from special chemical analyses and will operate as decision making tool, concerning the water quality of the river for the local authorities
  • Educational activities for local authorities’ personnel and the general public concerning legislation topics and good practices for sustainable water use and pollution avoidance in everyday activities.
  • The Target Group that AQUA-M is expected to affect is very wide. First of all, water quality affects a great amount of the population for both countries. The main activities that take place near the river and are directly affected are irrigation (63%), fish ponds (11%), drinking water (12%), municipal and industrial uses (15%) and agriculture from the IPA side.

There is a common interest of both countries for water pollution control and improvement of its quality in the Vardar/Axios watershed, along with an important commitment for coordinated action towards the protection of the area. On the Greek side, Axios provides crucial ecosystem services for human water consumption, , agriculture and industrial but also supports important wetlandssuch as the Axios Delta characterized as a Special Protection Area according to the Ramsar Convention (registered jointly with Loudias estuary, Aliakmonas Delta and Alyki Kitrous Lagoon- 79/409/EEC) as well as a NATURA 2000 zone .