Friday, 28 July 2017

Macedonia: Nearly 50 Years Later, Lake Ohrid Overflows Again

Text and photographs by Tomislav Georgiev for Southeast European Times*   
As spring arrived and temperatures rose, increasing the water level of Lake Ohrid, many Ohrid residents recalled the dangerous water levels of the lake 50 years ago. In 1963, Ohrid Lake spilled over and flooded the old road between Ohrid and Struga.

Ohrid had a record amount of snow this winter, and during the spring thaw the lake has already seen a 24-centimetre rise above the normal seasonal level. Meanwhile, high groundwater levels have flooded the basements and ground floors of several hundred apartment buildings in Pestani village.

"This has never happened before. We hear statements from officials that the situation is under control but the lake has never been so high," one village resident told SETimes.

Lake Ohrid has 40 tributaries -- mainly creeks and rivers which flow only temporarily during heavy rain -- and has one outlet, the River Crn Drim (Black Drim) which flows to the Adriatic Sea. This outlet of the lake is human-controlled and diverts water from the lake when its levels rise, preventing further flooding.

People in affected areas in Ohrid and Struga told SETimes they can't remember a time in the last 20 years when the waters rose to this extent. Elderly residents are more sanguine, however, saying the current levels are still far from those of a half-century ago.

Warming temperatures are expected to quickly melt snow in the nearby Galicica, Jakupica and Korab mountains. Ohrid Mayor Aleksandar Petreski has warned of the possibility of more flooding and called upon the government in Skopje for assistance.

At the critical junctures of the Struga-Debar Regional Road, authorities are building a 350-metre-long embankment to prevent the further overflows of Crn Drim. The government has said it could undertake more radical measures, including redirecting the Sateska River from flowing into the lake.

"Thirty years ago, the water level was not much lower than today. There was much rain and snow this year, the lake's water level increased around 25 centimetres over the maximally allowed one, but now is receding," Gjorgi Duracoski, who monitors the water levels, told SETimes.

Duracoski explained that the problem of flooded houses "is also due to the increased levels of underground water. Most often those are houses built unsuitably below the lake's level, and some are illegally built very close to the lake's shores."

Petko Kutanovski, director of the town of Struga's communal services, told SETimes that all employees of the Protection and Rescue Agency, as well as Macedonia's Crisis Centre, were on the premises the first moment the flooding danger emerged. "The government engaged maximally all capabilities. Sandbags were placed at all critical spots of the Struga-Radozhda shores. The government and all citizens worked jointly," he said.

*This text and photographs are courtesy of the Southeast European Times (SET), a web site sponsored by the US Department of Defense in support of UN Resolution 1244, designed to provide an international audience with a portal to a broad range of information about Southeastern Europe. It highlights movement toward greater regional stability and steps governments take toward integration into European institutions. SET also focuses on developments that hinder both terrorist activity and support for terrorism in the region.

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