The first drop of water through an 80 kilometre trans-Mediterranean pipeline from southern Turkey to the north will arrive by the end of 2015, according to Birol Çınar of Turkey’s State Waterworks.
Despite delays, the ambitious water transfer project to supply the occupied north with 75 million cubic metres of drinking and irrigation water annually until 2040, is close to completion said Çınar. But he was careful to add that he does not want to set a strict deadline.
“This project is first of its kind in the world. In that, construction is sensitive and complex, and is highly dependent on weather conditions. So I have always been careful in not giving exact dates. An optimistic estimate would be July-August 2015. Even if there are some delays, I don’t expect them to last months,” said Çınar.
The project, expected to cost some 1.2 billion Turkish liras (some €430 million) uses an experimental technology, where the under-water section of the pipeline will not be laid on the seabed as is the customary practice, but will be suspended 280 metres below the surface of the sea.
“The deepest point in the Mediterranean between Turkey and Cyprus is 1,450 metres,” said Çınar. “It would not have been economically viable to produce pipes that withstand the pressure at such depths and to install them. The reason we chose 280 metres is because this is the safest depth. The most sophisticated submarine does not go below 200 metres.”
The total length of the trans-sea pipeline is 80 kilometres, 66.4 kilometres of which constitutes the much-anticipated suspended section. Some 11 kilometers out of the 66.4 have already been installed, said Çınar. Work was suspended for three months leading to April due to unfavourable weather conditions.
Asked whether they were faced with unforeseen problems in the installation of the suspended section, Çınar was honest in saying that it has been difficult to use high-density polyethylene pipes for the project.
“Of course, we have been faced with difficulties arising from the fact that this is a unique project. High-density polyethylene pipes are not heavy as steel pipes for example, and it is difficult to hold them in place when the sea is wavy or when the wind is blowing strong.”
Each 500-metre section of the suspended pipeline will be tethered to a total of 140 220-tonne cement anchorage blocks on the seabed with steel ropes. Floats will be used to help keep the pipeline in place. Half of the 75 million cubic metres of water will be treated and distributed to Nicosia, Kyrenia, Famagusta-Trikomo and Rizokarpaso regions respectively through an internal distribution network of a total of 475 kilometres.
The Nicosia distribution network has already been constructed. The Kyrenia, Famagusta-Trikomo and Rizokarpaso networks are expected to be completed at the end of this year, said Çınar. The other half of the annual 75 million cubic metres will be used for irrigating 6,400 hectares of land in Morphou and 7,400 hectares in Mesaoria.
Similar water transfer projects in the world have all been carried out by laying the pipeline on the seabed. Therefore, some observers question how realistic the project is and even wonder if it will be completed. Çınar dismissed all doubts. “This project is the result of almost decade of studies,” he said. “All the necessary tests and experiments have been conducted both on land and under water. We are 100% certain that the project will be successful.”
Although the water is expected soon, the Turkish Cypriot authorities are still to decide how it will be managed. The municipalities in the north strongly oppose the privatisation of the distribution of water. “We propose the transfer of operating rights,” said Çınar.
“But we understand this is a difficult decision. You are trying to change an established system. Of course there will be many objections.”
Since it depends on the model of operation, the price people will have to pay for the water is also still unknown. Nonetheless, Çınar assured that it will not be more expensive than the average price Turkish Cypriots currently pay for water, which means that there will be no full cost recovery. The price of water currently varies from town to town in the north.
Çınar also dismissed rumours that natural gas or electricity will be transferred using the same pipeline. “Electricity and natural gas both require completely different structures. It is impossible to transfer either through our system,” he said.
The project has drawn harsh criticism from certain circles in the north in that it will further increase dependence on Turkey, increase demand for water rather than satiate it, and cause an environmental catastrophe.
On the environmental impact concerns, Çınar said: “I would be lying if I told you that we have not damaged the environment. But we are doing our best to minimise the damage.
“We are carrying out a huge project to meet one of the most basic needs of the people. It is inevitable to cut trees. It is inevitable to change the environment a bit. You need rocks, so it is inevitable to operate a quarry. I find all these criticisms a little too harsh.”
It is soon to be seen how this controversial project will affect the Turkish Cypriots’ dependence on Turkey, whether it will satiate the water needs and whether its benefits will be able to overshadow the environmental and ecological damage caused so far.