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Only a prayer can save the lakes now

A catastrophe is happening in Macedonia which is partly caused by improper management with the energy system and with water reservoirs used for generation of electricity, where the effects of climate change on the hydrological situation in the country were not taken into consideration. The country is now in a position to hope for a winter with heavy rains and snowfall so the waters do not disappear completely. No one has claimed responsibility so far for this situation with the lakes, which could have unforeseeable consequences for the wildlife and cause extinction of certain species of animals and plants. Easiest to blame is the unexpected drought.

Long time after alarm was raised that the water in the Prespa Lake is disappearing, the Government adopted an Action plan for Saving the Lake on 25 December.

An expert group consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning, the National Hydrometeorological Services, the academy and the NGO sector provided initial findings in which they pointed out to climate change, tectonic phenomena and the human activity as main causes of this situation with the Prespa Lake.

The research so far showed that the water from the Prespa Lake sink through the Galichica mountain and flows into the Ohrid Lake.

The measurements done by the National Hydrometeorological Services show that the water level in one of our most important natural monuments, Ohrid Lake, has been around the bare minimum for an entire month.

The decrease of the water level of the Ohrid Lake is evident with the appearance of “new beaches” on the coast.

It is well known that the Crn Drim river near Struga overflows from the lake, which, although it is natural lake, is used as a water reservoir for generation of electricity. Namely, the controlled discharge of water from the Ohrid Lake fills the artificial lake of Globochica, which was built along the flow of Crn Drim river in Western Macedonia.

These days, some sections of the lake resemble a water stream

A hydro power plant with the same name “Globochica” is located on this lake. It is managed by the state company “Power Plants of N Macedonia (ESM). This company also manages the Mavrovo lake which is the largest artificial lake in Macedonia.

What we found there was a disastrous situation.

There are areas that are already overgrown with plants, which indicates that the water has been withdrawn for a long time, as well as the “resurfacing” of the church that was submerged during the creation of this water reservoir.

The situation is similar with the other water reservoirs –Debar lake, Kozjak…

Recently the Government identified this situation and requested information from ESM on this. At the beginning of November 2020 a meeting was held on this issue, from which findings and conclusions were presented.

The announcement from this meeting included the following information: “Given that all indicators and comparative averages in the past 15 years show that 2020 is extremely bad in terms of hydrological situation, and given the more intensive operation of the hydropower plants during a specific period in the last several months due to the disasters in the mines of REK Bitola, the water in the lakes has been significantly used and any further discharge of water will endanger the ecological minimum of the water level, necessary for the wildlife.

In view of the above and in order to protect the environment and the biodiversity in accordance with the obligations in the water management permits, the conclusion from the meeting was to temporarily stop the generation of electricity using the hydro potential.

According to the Annual Work Plan of AD ESM, the plan was to connect to the system the REK Oslomej at the beginning of the heating season when the demand for electricity is increased. The REK Oslomej power plant has the proper technical readiness as a thermal plant. However, this plant is not possible to be put into production because of the unfavorable hydrological situation of the Studenchica system, which provides water for the cooling tower.

Two out of three blocks of REK Bitola are operational (the third is undergoing major overhaul). Unfortunately, no major overhauls have been carried out in the last 10 years which brought into questions the reliability and security of the blocks.

It was therefore concluded at the meeting that AD ESM shall procure electricity for its needs through its company “ELEM Trade” until normalization of the natural conditions that will enable optimal generation capacity for the facilities that directly or indirectly use water as a resource for generation”.

The disaster happening with the natural and artificial lakes in Macedonia clearly shows that the climate changes are not considered a serious threat, although they are happening right before our eyes, that the energy system and fragile and that time has come to be cautious when considering hydro energy.

Text: Vlado Nikolovski
Photojournalist: Tomislav Georgiev