Government looking at alternative desalination sites

By Martin Hellicar

PROTESTS from local residents have pushed the government to look at alternative sites for mobile desalination plants.

The House Environment Committee heard yesterday that Vasiliko was being touted as an alternative to Ayios Theodoros village, in Larnaca, and Episkopi as an alternative to the Zakaki suburb of Limassol.

Both Ayios Theodoros and Zakaki residents don’t want desalination plants in their back yards, claiming they would create noise, air and sea pollution.

Committee chairman Demetris Iliades said a recent visit to the Ayios Theodoros site had convinced committee members of the strength of the villagers’ arguments. “A plant would affect both homes and tourism development in what is a beautiful coastal area,” he said.

Iliades said the Vasiliko site was already heavily industrialised and would thus be ideal.

The committee has not visited the Zakaki site but Akel deputy Christos Mavrokordatos spoke for the whole committee when he insisted the “least environmentally damaging” site for both mobile plants should be found.

Nicos Tsiourtis, senior engineer at the Water Development Department, told deputies that it might be feasible to relocate a plant destined for Ayios Theodoros next to the new Vasiliko power station, about 10km to the West on the same coastline.

The director of the government environment service, Nicos Georgiades, said his service would assess the environmental impact of putting plants at Vasiliko and at Episkopi.

“There’s no need to site the plant in an area where there will be an impact, ” Tsiourtis told deputies.

The expert added that the Electricity Authority (EAC) saw no problem with putting the desalination plant next to the new power station but space might be a problem.

But Tsiourtis also noted that re-siting the plant would take time, as new tenders would have to be sought.

“We must consider the time factor, as, in terms of water reserves, we are in about the same situation as this time last year,” he warned.

The government sees desalination as the way out of the island’s drought crisis. One plant is already operating at Dhekelia and tenders have been approved for another at Larnaca and mobile plants at Ayios Theodoros and Zakaki, in Limassol.

But February rains prompted President Clerides to say earlier this month that construction of the new plants would be put on hold till the end of March – to give spring rains a chance to solve the problem without costly technological fixes.

Iliades adopted the Clerides approach rather than agreeing with Tsiourtis’ cautious attitude yesterday.

“We have, as a committee, after out visit to Ayios Theodoros, decided that moving the plant site is a priority as with water in the dams we now have a few months to play with,” he said.

Dams are currently about 22 per cent full, just fractionally more that at this time last year.

Tsiourtis insisted that time was a “very important” factor.

Georgiades said impact assessments for plants at Vasiliko and Episkopi could be ready soon after Easter.

The debate is set to continue.