Pedieos Watershed / Source: The Cyprus Institute (EEWRC)

Pedieos Watershed / Source: The Cyprus Institute (EEWRC)

The Pedieos River, the longest river on the island of Cyprus (100km), is a temporary stream, which originates in the Macheras Forests in the north-eastern hill-slopes of the Troodos Mountain complex and flows northeast across the Mesaoria plains, through the capital city Nicosia.

The river basin (watershed) has it highest elevation at 1400 m above sea level at the Kionia forested upstream area, and the river covers a population of 192,000 inhabitants. The fractured volcanic formations in the upstream area are mainly covered by conifers, with smaller areas of sclerophyllous and shrub woodlands and few plots of rain-fed cereals, irrigated fruit trees, greenhouses and livestock farms. There are also a few old copper mines.

Pedieos River Basin / Source: The Cyprus Institute (EEWRC)

Pedieos River Basin / Source: The Cyprus Institute (EEWRC)

At the bottom of the foothills, the TAMASSOS DAM, which was completed in 2002, captures and stores the runoff of the 45-km2 upstream river basin in a 2.8-million m3 reservoir. The dam provides flood protection, groundwater recharge through the release of water to the downstream alluvial aquifer, and water supply for nearby communities. Downstream from the dam, the river basin crosses about half a dozen rural communities, which grow rain-fed and groundwater-irrigated crops in the Mesaoria Plain.

The river then flows into the urban agglomeration of the capital Nicosia and its adjacent municipalities, where it receives part of the storm runoff of the city; often exacerbating existing urban flooding incidents, the Water Development Department has identified this as an area of potentially significant flood risk, for the European Flood Directive (2007/60/EC).

The river basin covers approximately 120 km2 at the greenline in Nicosia, at 150 m above sea level, from where it flows into the occupied areas of northern Cyprus, steering east and meeting the sea at Famagusta Bay; formerly emptying into the bay near the ancient Greek city of Salamis, it now drains into irrigation reservoirs near Akhyritou and Kouklia, west of occupied Famagusta.

Along the river in Nicosia, a linear park with cycling path offers a quiet green corridor through urban environment of the city. The river used to flow through the center of the old town of Nicosia, but was diverted northwards by the Venetians in 1576.

The average annual precipitation (1980-2010) ranges between 320 mm downstream to 670 mm at the top. The area is covered by a number of rain gauges and meteorological stations of the Cyprus Meteorological Service; discharge has been measured in the upstream area by the Water Development Department.

Rivers & their watersheds

Connecting water, people & communities

A watershed (basin) describes an area of land that catches rain and snow and contains a common set of streams and rivers that all drain into a larger body of water - such as a larger river, the sea, a reservoir or as groundwater. Rivers, freshwater flowing across the surface of the land begin at their source in higher ground such as mountains, and flow downstream, gaining more water from other streams, rivers, springs, added rainfall, and other water sources. A river a product of the land through which is flows, and the amount of rainfall and type of vegetation in the watershed are some of the factors that determine its shape, size and flow.

The river itself is made up of the riverbed, its banks, the surrounding forests and floodplains, and including its groundwater below. Rivers and their watersheds carry not just water for drinking, but nutrient-rich sediments and dissolved minerals that replenish the land; rivers filter out pollutants, can recharge groundwater supplies, and alleviate floods and droughts and provide many other critical functions.

A river watershed can come in all sizes, and includes all the humans, plants and animals who live and are sustained within it, including man-made structures such as buildings and roads. All people are connected through watersheds, and everyone is either downstream from someone, or upstream from someone else. What occurs in one area of a watershed impacts the quality and quantity of water for the environment and the people downstream. As river basins are an area of intense human activity, people can individually and collectively have a great impact on the health of a watershed – some of which can be beneficial, and some of which can do harm to the useful functions of rivers that protect the environment, and support the communities in its vicinity.

As all water eventually makes its way to a stream or river, anything dumped on the ground in a watershed can end up in its rivers and water supply; likewise, the network of streams and rivers that drain our watersheds can carry water pollution, waste and trash which will ultimately empty into larger bodies of water, such as into reservoirs and seas. It is critical for this water supply to have areas that are clean and open enough for the water to be able to be absorbed into the ground; furthermore, it is essential that the ground that the water is moving through be clean as well.

Protecting the health of our rivers is paramount, as rivers act like lifelines to the planet, to nature and to people, acting as drainage channels for surface water over early 75% of the earth's land surface an enormous and essential role in nature's water cycle process.

The climate of a particular region determines how much water comes to a watershed through the seasonal water cycles of the earth, controlling both stream flow and water production. Due to global warming, some of the worst impacts of climate change on people and ecosystems will be felt through impacts on water - many areas will over time become much drier or wetter, and more extreme weather will bring unprecedented droughts, and dramatically increase flood risks.

Hence, adaptation to a changing climate necessitates new policies and strategies in order to minimize the predicted impacts of climate change - such as adjustments to natural or human systems, improved water management policies, and the reallocation of this natural resource due to the decreasing water supply. As climate change adds to the existing drivers of water stress, new solutions are becoming increasingly necessary in order to protect and improving challenges to water security in the future.

In the dry Mediterranean environment region, climate change is expected to exacerbate the stress on regional water resources, and water management initiatives must find new ways to ensure the sustainable supply and use of high quality water resources for the future. Cyprus, an island in the Eastern Mediterranean, relies on its highly variable precipitation for its natural renewable water resource; its average annual renewable water resources are about 460 m3 per capita, placing Cyprus among the twenty most water-scarce countries of the world.

In the semi-arid countries of this region with limited and highly variable rain and water resources, these anticipated impacts need to be addressed on the river basin level as well; river basins must prepare and adapt to climate change through new methods and practices among river basin communities.

Tamassos Reservoir near Pera Orinis

Tamassos Reservoir near Pera Orinis

ABOUT the BEWATER project

The BeWater Project aims to promote dialogue and collaboration between Science and Society for sustainable water management and adaptation to the impacts of global change in the Mediterranean

Projections of future climate change point to increasing water scarcity and drought in the Mediterranean region. This will cause serious socio-economic loss and have significant environmental impact. In this context, efforts are needed to strengthen public participation and embed a sense of responsibility within society concerning water management and adaptation towards these threats.

BeWater, one of The Cyprus Institute's ongoing transnational projects, highlights the need to develop river basin adaptation plans to deal with climate change, as current water management initiatives give insufficient consideration to climate change at the river basin level. The Project aims to promote dialogue and collaboration between science and society in sustainable water management in the Mediterranean and spur proactive responses to water-related global challenges at the river basin level.

The BeWater Project fosters a dialogue between science and society in four pilot river basins throughout the Mediterranean (Catalonia, Cyprus, Slovenia and Tunisia). In each case study, the challenges of climate change in each particular region are identified and the various water management options available are shared, with the scope of designing joint plans for adaptation to climate change in each region.

The case study of Cyprus is the Pedieos River Basin: the ephemeral Pedieos River that originates in the Troodos Mountains flows only during prolonged wet periods and high rainfall events; at the foothills of the mountains is the Tamassos Dam that protects the downstream areas from excessive floods, as the river is increasingly vulnerable to flooding due to the combined effects of ever-increasing urbanization, and more intense rainfall events resulting from the effects of climate change.

Planning for Climate Change: Society as a key player in river basin adaptation

The BeWater Project aims to find sustainable and inclusive solutions to key challenges facing European society, to incorporate "Science in Society" issues into research and innovation systems , and to improve transnational cooperation. By highlighting the role of local stakeholders to develop successful adaptation strategies, and by supporting stakeholders and society in knowledge co-production and in taking ownership of adaptive water management within their river basins, helps to ensure long-term effectiveness.

Over the past few years the water researchers of The Cyprus Institute and colleagues from the BeWater Project have organized a number of stakeholder meetings and events to identify options with which to adapt the Pedieos River Basin to climate change, while also addressing ways to raise awareness about water-related issues within society in Cyprus.

As the understanding of climate change and its impacts deepens, cooperation and coordination between policy sectors becomes more important. The combination of improved awareness, mutual learning processes and shared responsibility of civil society and stakeholders is key to ensuring a successful move from water management options to river basin adaptation plans.

It is strongly believed that a decisive implementation of successful river basin adaptation strategies will, ultimately, lead to increased resilience of the social-ecological system of each of the river basins across the Mediterranean, and beyond.

The BeWater project is financed through the 7th Framework Programme of the European Commission under the Science in Society initiative, the programme for research, technological development and demonstration.