The current drought means farmers will have extremely little water this year, but water from desalination plants mean households will be spared cuts, it was announced this week.
The desalination plants produce 68 million cubic metres of water per year, but even that, according to the water development department, does not cover the growing water needs for domestic use.
“People need 83 million this year, so this is not enough and the rest has to come from reservoirs,” water development department official Phedros Rousis told the Sunday Mail. “Last year it was 81 million, but the needs are growing, mainly because of tourism.”
To compare, the inflow into the reservoirs in 2008, the year when the water shortages were so bad that the island brought water from abroad, was just 18.74 million cubic metres, and levels in the reservoirs 14.8 million. At that time no desalination units operated on the island.
At the moment, there are 66.2 million cubic metres stored in the reservoirs, or 22.8 per cent of capacity. Last year at the same time the situation was slightly better, with 29.7 per cent filled.
This means the situation for the farmers this year, the third year of the current drought, will be worse than in 2017, when they were given 33 per cent of their requirements from this stored water.
This year, according to Rousis, it will be just 25 per cent.
As Agriculture Minister Costas Kadis announced this week, the distribution has to be carefully planned.
The water development official said that a priority is to save trees such as orange and olive trees and to supply water to greenhouses.
Water for seasonal crops such as potatoes and other vegetables will only be available until the end of May, after which no water from the reservoirs can be used for those crops.
Some water which can be utilised for these crops does exist. A few million cubic metres of treated water which each region produces cover some of the needs, but this is not much. Limassol, for example, has around eight million at present.
The water development department, the agriculture ministry and the farmers are discussing in more detail how to proceed and will review the situation at the end of May and again at the end of June, the official told the Sunday Mail.
In the meantime, the department keeps issuing announcements to the public, telling people not to hose down the streets or their cars.
“It is common practice to use drinking water for gardening in all towns, though some residents apply for boreholes,” Rousis said. “Though it is supposed to be illegal and people should pay a fine when they use a hose, this is not reinforced by the waterboard and few people pay.”
General secretary of farmers union Panagrotikos Tasos Yiapanis agrees that the situation needs to be monitored at the end of each month, and says the aim is to water what has already been planted in the ground.
Apart from that, he stressed, it is important to compensate professional farmers, who have no other income, with money from the government.
The state should pay them their social insurance for the next two years as a priority, he believes. The union has taken up the matter with the agriculture and finance ministry.
Another important proposal, to which the water development department has already agreed, is to support the young farmers who are already enlisted in a European funding programme as part of a common agricultural policy (CAP) project.
These young people have committed themselves to farm for five years and to show certain results for their labour, for which they get money from the European Commission. If they do not produce what they have pledged to, they need to return the money they have received and are subject to a fine.
“It is not their fault that it hasn’t rained,” said Yiapanis.