Macedonia, Albania ecologists call for boost in Lake Ohrid cleanup


Macedonian and Albanian environmentalists sound the alarm to save Lake Ohrid's aquatic life.

By Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Ohrid -- 14/12/12


A recent phosphorus spill in Lake Ohrid threatens aquatic species. [Miki Trajkovski/SETimes]

A recent ecological incident on the Albanian side of UNESCO-protected Lake Ohrid, where large amounts of soapy phosphorus contaminated the waters, sparked environmentalists from both Albania and Macedonia to call on their governments to jointly contribute to the protection of the lake.

Ohrid-based Grasnica Environmental Association ecologists said that phosphorus is a dangerous substance that can speed up the aging of the lake's water life and turn it to a swamp.

Phosphorus causes a lack of oxygen to aquatic life and threatens the fish species, including the Ohrid trout, which already faces extinction, according to experts.

"Advanced treatment to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wastewaters should be introduced. But the effective solution would be to discharge refined wastewater from the lake basin to nearby rivers," Gjoko Zoroski, president of the Grasnica Association, told SETimes.

In order to prevent future incidents, officials said that they two countries need to work together.

"The current co-operation is not sufficient. Permanent actions are needed from both sides to protect the lake … including [the involvement of] more institutions from both countries," former Macedonian Minister of Environment Zoran Shapurich told SETimes.

The Podgradec purification station, built in 2008, does not include all phases of wastewater purification, so some wastewater flows into the lake, according to ecologists.

Arijan Meroli, Albanian government representative in the bilateral committee for the protection of Lake Ohrid, told SETimes that, for now, only mechanical and biological water treatment can be done.

"What happened here was not an ecological incident. Accumulated phosphorus had nowhere to go, so it spilled over. The third water treatment phase will prevent the spillage of phosphorus and metals in the lake from happening," Meroli said.

Albanian authorities said that the chemical treatment phase will be installed at the station next year.

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"Macedonia should invest in new equipment for its own water collection that was built more than 30 years ago. Often because high rain amounts collect in three places on the Macedonian side of Lake Ohrid and due to the old equipment, wastewaters directly pour into the lake," Vanco Stojanovski, an ecologist from Ohrid, told SETimes.

However, Jetnor Shkulaku, president of NGO Association for Industrial Ecology in Albania, said Podgradec wastewater is purified in line with EU standards.

"The plant does mechanical and biological treatment of wastewater after which the water is purified according to EU norms, so it can be used for irrigation, or released into Lake Ohrid."

Albanian law mandates significant fines for water pollution, from 700 to 15,000 euros, while the fine in Macedonia is 6,000 euros for discharge of wastewater into water ecosystems, or for construction of objects along the shore without proper permission.

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