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Several aspects of water resources and their links with food and energy supply, as well as with natural hazards, have been obscured due to political aims and ideological influences. At the same time, the involvement of politics and ideology testifies to the high importance of water-related issues internationally, and reflects the intensifying unresolved problems related to water, food and energy adequacy, as well as protection from floods and droughts. In an attempt to separate, as much as possible, the essence of problems from the political and ideological influences, several facts and fallacies about water and interrelated issues are discussed, based on data (numbers) rather than on dominant ideological views. The domain of the discussion is generally the entire globe, but, as a particular case, Greece, whose water resources are only partly developed, is discussed in more detail. From a pragmatic point of view, the water infrastructure in developed countries appears to be irreplaceable, although its management is adaptable toward more environmentally-friendly operation. For developing countries, no alternative to large-scale water resources development by engineering means appears plausible. The recent pursuit of renewable energy makes imperative the utilization of the existing and, where possible, the building of new, large hydropower plants, as only these can provide efficient energy storage, which is necessary for the renewable energy provided by nature in highly varying patterns.Citation Koutsoyiannis, D. (2011) Scale of water resources development and sustainability: small is beautiful, large is great. Hydrol. Sci. J.56(4), 553–575.
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Hydrological Sciences Journal Journal des Sciences Hydrologiques, 56(4) 2011
Special issue: Water Crisis: From Conflict to Cooperation
Scale of water resources development and sustainability: small
is beautiful, large is great
Demetris Koutsoyiannis
Department of Water Resources and Environmental Engineering, Faculty of Civil Engineering, National Technical University of Athens,
Received 18 November 2010; accepted 14 March 2011; open for discussion until 1 December 2011
Citation Koutsoyiannis, D. (2011) Scale of water resources development and sustainability: small is beautiful, large is great. Hydrol.
Sci. J. 56(4), 553–575.
Abstract Several aspects of water resources and their links with food and energy supply, as well as with natural
hazards, have been obscured due to political aims and ideological influences. At the same time, the involvement of
politics and ideology testifies to the high importance of water-related issues internationally, and reflects the inten-
sifying unresolved problems related to water, food and energy adequacy, as well as protection from floods and
droughts. In an attempt to separate, as much as possible, the essence of problems from the political and ideological
influences, several facts and fallacies about water and interrelated issues are discussed, based on data (numbers)
rather than on dominant ideological views. The domain of the discussion is generally the entire globe, but, as
a particular case, Greece, whose water resources are only partly developed, is discussed in more detail. From a
pragmatic point of view, the water infrastructure in developed countries appears to be irreplaceable, although its
management is adaptable toward more environmentally-friendly operation. For developing countries, no alterna-
tive to large-scale water resources development by engineering means appears plausible. The recent pursuit of
renewable energy makes imperative the utilization of the existing and, where possible, the building of new, large
hydropower plants, as only these can provide efficient energy storage, which is necessary for the renewable energy
provided by nature in highly varying patterns.
Key words water resources; water needs; scale of development; dams; reservoirs; hydropower; renewable energy; energy
Echelle du veloppement des ressources en eau et durabilité: petit est beau, grand est bien
Résumé Plusieurs aspects concernant les ressources en eau et leurs liens avec les productions alimentaire et
énergétique, ainsi qu’avec les risques naturels, ont été occultés à cause de stratégies politiques et d’influences
idéologiques. Parallèlement, l’intégration de la politique et de l’idéologie confirme l’importance majeure des
enjeux de l’eau au niveau international, et reflète les problèmes croissants et irrésolus de l’adéquation entre eau,
alimentation et énergie d’une part, de protection contre les inondations et les sécheresses d’autre part. En ten-
tant autant que possible de faire la part des choses entre le fond des problèmes et les influences politiques et
idéologiques, nous discutons plusieurs faits et erreurs relatifs à l’eau et aux corollaires sur la base de données
(chiffres) plutôt que selon les points de vue idéologiques dominants. La discussion a une portée globale, mais
le cas particulier de la Gréce, dont les ressources en eau ne sont que partiellement développées, est discuté en
détail. D’un point de vue pratique, les infrastructures hydrauliques apparaissent être irremplaçables dans les pays
veloppés, même si leur gestion peut être adaptée et être plus respectueuse de l’environnement. Pour les pays en
veloppement, aucune alternative au veloppement à grande échelle par l’ingénierie des ressources en eau n’est
plausible. La priorité récente aux énergies renouvelables rend impérative l’utilisation, lorsqu’elles existent, et la
construction, lorsque c’est possible, de centrales hydro’lectriques puissantes, dans la mesure elles constituent
le seul stockage efficace d’énergie, nécessaire pour une énergie renouvelable fournie par la nature.
Mots clefs ressources en eau; besoins en eau; échelle du développement; barrages; réservoirs; énergie hydroélectrique; énergie
renouvelable; stockage de l’énergie
ISSN 0262-6667 print/ISSN 2150-3435 online
© 2011 IAHS Press
doi: 10.1080/02626667.2011.579076
554 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
Nothing can be green without water—except ‘green’
politics (Vít Klemeš 2007)
Impressive proof of the importance of water-related
issues in the international political agenda is pro-
vided by a recent report by US and EU Intelligence
Agencies (NIC & EUISS, 2010) about the so-called
global governance. They state: At the beginning of
the century, threats such as ethnic conflicts, infectious
diseases, and terrorism as well as a new genera-
tion of global challenges including climate change,
energy security, food and water scarcity, international
migration flows, and new technologies—are increas-
ingly taking center stage”. At least half of these
threats and challenges are directly related to water.
The report provides more detailed data about water
and its interrelationship with other issues of global
political importance, i.e.:
The water situation is a major driver behind
food scarcity. Water use is closely intertwined
with food production. Today, 40 percent of the
world’s food supply comes from land that is irri-
gated, but most irrigation is highly inefficient in
water use. As population and average per capita
water use have grown, the amount of fresh water
withdrawn globally each year has grown too—
from 579 cubic kilometers in 1900 to 3973 cubic
kilometers in 2000. Demand is projected to rise
further to 5235 cubic kilometers by 2025. Over
one billion people live in areas where human use
of available water supplies has exceeded sus-
tainable limits; by 2025 this figure will rise to
1.8 billion, with up to two-thirds of the world’s
population living in water-stressed conditions,
mostly in non-OECD countries. Climate change
will compound the scarcity problem in many
regions as precipitation patterns change and
many populous areas become drier.
Evidently, politics are closely related to ide-
ologies. Environmentalism, the now-dominant ide-
ological current and social movement, focusing on
environmental conservation and improvement, and
emphasizing a duty to save the planet from diverse
threats, has also determined the social views of water-
related problems and solutions. Most of them are
regarded “politically correct”, but sometimes this
“correctness” may be a euphemism, if not a synonym
for irrationality. A neat criticism of such views has
been recently provided by the late Vít Klemeš (2007):
[A] new infectious disease has sprung up—
one hand, we are daily inundated by the media
with reports about water-caused disasters, from
destructive droughts to even more destructive
floods, and with complaints that ‘not enough is
done’ to mitigate them and, on the other hand,
attempts to do so by any engineering means—
and so far no other similarly effective means
are usually available—are invariably denounced
as ‘rape of nature’ (often by people with only
the foggiest ideas about their functioning), and
are opposed, prevented, or at least delayed by
never ending ‘environmental assessments and
reassessments’. In the present ‘green’ propa-
ganda, all dams are evil by definition, ranking
alongside Chernobyls, Exxon Valdezes, ‘rape of
the environment’, AIDS, cancer and genocide.
History teaches that, within political agendas and
their supporting ideologies, it is difficult to distin-
guish stated aims from means. For example, with
reference to the report of NIC & EUISS (2010) men-
tioned above, it is difficult to interpret the statements:
Another cluster of problems—the management of
energy, food, and water resources—appears particu-
larly unlikely to be effectively tackled without major
governance innovations ”and“no overall framework
exists to manage the interrelated problems of food,
water and energy”. Is the solution of water and
interrelated problems an aim dictating global gover-
nance innovations as means, or are aims and means
reversed? Whatever the answer to this question is,
whenever political aims and ideological views are
involved in scientific and technological issues, the lat-
ter become difficult to study as such. Klemeš (2008),
examining the relationship of political pressures in
scientific issues and in water resources management
stated: “[P]olitical pressures often set the agenda for
what is to be (or not to be) predicted, and some-
times even try to impose the prediction result thus
transforming prediction into prescription.
With such difficulties clarified, I will attempt
in the next sections to approach, in a manner as
rational as I can, some (eight) facts related to
water resources and their development, as well as
some (eight) fallacies, which I think have become
widespread mainly because of ideological influences.
Apparently, what I present is not free of personal
opinions and I am not free of ideological influences.
I endorse the importance of environmental conserva-
tion and improvement, as well as sustainability, which
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 555
includes investing in renewable energy, sufficiency of,
and equity in, food and water supply, and quality of
life. I do not dispute the fact that small-scale construc-
tions have smaller adverse environmental impacts
(i.e. “small is beautiful”) when viewed as isolated
projects. However, viewing isolated items of a com-
posite landscape is misleading, and, thus, the appro-
priate scale of development should be approached in
a holistic manner, in view of the local and global con-
ditions. Naturally, the dilemmas on water resources
development and the questions about the appropri-
ate scale of development concern mainly areas of the
world not already developed. Certainly, the negative
(and positive) experiences from the already developed
areas should be taken into account in exploring the
opportunities and directions in less-developed areas.
However, just applying currently dominant ideologi-
cal views, developed by people who live in the luxury
of advanced (and, in effect, unquestioned) infrastruc-
ture, brings to mind a land owner who, after building
his villa, prevents the neighbours from building in
their own lands, which he regards as an extension of
his garden.
To avoid biased opinions, as much as possible,
the discussion of facts and fallacies that follows is
based on data (numbers) rather than on dominant
ideological views, although the latter may be men-
tioned when contradicted by the data. The domain
of the discussion is generally the entire globe, b ut,
as a particular case, Greece is discussed in more
detail for three reasons: first, because it is a place
where water resources have been partly developed
and there is much potential for further development;
second, because the stagnancy in water resources
development in the last decades reflects a more gen-
eral stagnancy of the country’s economy, which has
recently made it a frequent headline in international
news; and third, because my knowledge of the local
conditions is naturally better than that of any other
part of the world.
Fact 1: The world population is large and keeps
As shown in Fig. 1 (upper), the world population,
from 1.6 billion in 1900, now approaches 7 billion
and is expected to be 9 billion by 2050. As depicted
in Fig. 2, the rate of population growth varies.
A very high rate is seen for 10 countries, mostly
African and South Asian (Burundi, Laos, Liberia,
Afghanistan, Eritrea and others), while for 27 coun-
tries, mostly East European (Moldova, Monteneg ro,
Ukraine, Slovenia, Georgia, Russia and others) the
rate is negative. From Fig. 2 (lower), it can be seen
that there is at least one quantifiable determinant of
the population growth: the rate of population g rowth
is negatively correlated to the income (gross domes-
tic product—GDP). Evidently, other factors (cultural,
birth control) influence the growth rate, but these are
more difficult to quantify.
Fact 2: People prefer to live in large cities
From Fig. 1 (upper), we can observe that the rural
population in the most developed areas of the world
(Europe, Australia, North America and Japan) has
been slightly but systematically declining, and that
even in the entire world the rural population tends
to stagnancy. Therefore, all of the future population
growth is expected to be concentrated in the urban
areas of the world.
Megacities and megalopolitan conurbations with
10 million or more residents are becoming more
numerous, predominantly, but not exclusively, in
developing countries. Currently, there are 26 megaci-
ties with populations of over 10 million, as shown in
Fig. 3, along with some of the smaller cities. There are
63 cities with populations of over 5 million, 476 cities
with populations of over 1 million and about 1000
cities with populations of over 500 000.
The trend of the population to move to large
cities is more characteristically depicted in Fig. 1
(lower). As shown in Fig. 1 (lower), for any spec-
ified population, the number of cities that exceed
it has increased by more than two orders of mag-
nitude in the last two centuries (notice that in
1800 only one city had population over 1 million,
London). The improved urban infrastructure, pre-
dominantly urban water infrastructure, has played
a major role in the urbanization trend. The trend
testifies to the fact that life in large cities has
advantages (to which I can add my personal testi-
mony, as I have lived most of my life in Athens,
with a population of 4.5 million, but I have also
lived for 12 years in a small village with less than
a thousand people). This fact is reflected even in
language where several positive qualities are ety-
mologized from the Greek πóλις”(polis) = city
and the Latin civis = townsman, i.e. πoλíτης
(polites) = citizen; πoλιτεíα (politeia) = state,
republic; πoλιτικ
η (politike) = policy, politics;
πoλιτισμóς (politismos) = civilization.
556 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
1800 1825 1850 1875 1900 1925 1950 1975 2000 2025 2050
World population, billion
2010 midyear estimate: 6.85
US Census Bureau estimates
Rural, EU-AU-NA-J
Rural, Total
2003 (UN)
Population (million)
Number of urban areas with population equal to
indicated or higher
2010 (
Approx. peak discharge of water supply (m
Fig. 1 (Upper) Historical evolution and future estimation of world population (EU, AU, NA and J stand for Europe, Australia,
North America and Japan; data sources:;; www. (Lower) Statistical distribution and historical evolution of the number of large
cities (data sources:;; geog-; the order of magnitude of cities’ water supply peak discharge is also
plotted (assuming peak consumption of 300 L/d per capita).
Fact 3: People need water to drink and support
quality of life
While human water needs are a self-evident truth, it
is also true that disparities in water supply among
different parts of the globe are marked: in devel-
oped countries, any person may have a water supply
through household connections, and consumes typi-
cally 150–200 L/d, and in some cases up to 1000 L/d.
However, in developing countries, it constitutes only a
target to provide “reasonable access” to water, which
is meant to be 20 L/d per capita at a distance of
less than 1 km. (Interestingly, comparison with stan-
dards in the Athens of the 7th century BC, which, as
implied by Solon’s legislation, are 2 × 20 L/data
distance of less than 740 m—Koutsoyiannis et al.,
2008b—indicates a stagnancy, or even regression,
over 27 centuries.) Unfortunately, 18% of the world
population (>1 billion) do not have this “standard”
(Howard & Bartram, 2003).
The real reasons of such disparities are aston-
ishingly misunderstood by the wider public and
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 557
500 1000 2000 5000 10 000 20 000 50 000 100 000
Income per person (GDP/capita, inflation-adjusted $)
Annual population growth (%)
Highest: 6.8%
Average: 2.0%
Fig. 2 (Upper) Estimated population growth for the period 2005–2010 (source:
PopulationGrowthRates.html). (Lower) Percentage of annual population growth for each country vs country’s GPD
per capita; the size of each circle indicates the population of the country (see key at the left-bottom corner; data source:
World Bank; data availability and visualization from Gapminder World, powered by Trendalyzer from
decision makers, as is exemplified by the following
Introduction to the so-called European Declaration
for a New Water Culture (
We live in times of crisis in which the inter-
national community must pause to reflect and
decide which model of global governance we
must take on board for the 21st century. We
must face up to the ever worsening crisis of
social and environmental unsustainability in the
world. With reference to water resources, the
systematic destruction and degradation of water
ecosystems and aquifers has already led to
dramatic social repercussions. 1100 million peo-
ple with no guaranteed access to drinking water,
and the breakdown of the hydraulic cycle [sic]
and health of rivers, lakes and wetlands are two
consequences of this crisis.
The fact that there is no breakdown of the hydro-
logical cycle(assuming that this is meantby “hydraulic
cycle”)is readily recognized by anyone whohas abasic
hydrological knowledge. Also, it may not need much
depth of knowledge to understand that the destruc-
tion and degradation of water ecosystems is not the
558 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
Between 2.4 and 5 million (not all)
Between 5 and 10 million (not all)
> 10 million
Fig. 3 The principal urban agglomerations of the world (adapted from Brinkhoff, T., The Principal Agglomerations of the
Wo rl d ,
% population with access to an improved water source
Income per person (GDP/capita, inflation-adjusted $)
500 1000 2000 5000 10 000 20 000 50 000 100 000
Fig. 4 Percentage of population with access to an improved water source for each country vs country’s GPD per capita;
the size of each circle indicates the population of the country (see key at the bottom-left corner). Improved water source
includes household connection, public standpipe, borehole, protected well or spring, and rainwater collection (data source:
World Development Indicators; data availability and visualization from Gapminder World,
reason for the poor (or lack of) water supply of more
than 1 billion people. Some data may help explain the
real reasons. As shown in Fig. 4, the percentage of
population with access to an improved water source
is correlated to the GDP. People in developed coun-
tries have proper water supply, mostly by household
connections. With very few exceptions, in countries
with GDP of US$10 000 per capita, 100% of the pop-
ulation achieves this high living standard, regardless
of the specific value of GDP. In poorer countries, this
percentage depends on the income (GDP), and is very
low in the poorest African countries.
This suggests that water scarcity is economy-
driven, i.e. it is caused by lack of investment in water,
or else lack of technological infrastructure for water.
This is clearly seen in the classification of Fig. 5,
where, except for (not densely populated) arid areas
where water scarcity is physically driven, the water
scarcity is due to economic reasons. The same story
is depicted in Fig. 6, taken from a recent study by
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 559
Physical water scarcity Approaching physical water scarcity
Economic water scarcity
Little or no water scarcity
Not estimated
Fig. 5 World distribution of water scarcity (adapted from FAO Water Development and Management Unit Graphs &
Maps,;; original source: Comp-
rehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture, 2007).
Vörösmarty et al. (2010). Comparing Europe and
Africa in this figure, it is observed that, considering
natural factors (upper panel of Fig. 6), Europe is more
water deficient (shows a higher threat index) than
Africa, but when technological infrastructure for stor-
ing and distributing water is considered (lower panel
of Fig. 6), the picture is fully reversed and agrees with
that of Fig. 5. Interestingly, Vörösmarty et al. (2010)
advocate, for developing countries, integrated water
resource management that expressly balances the
needs of humans and nature”. However, they do not
seem to suggest technological means different from
those already used in developed countries. Earlier,
in the same tune, Takeuchi & Simonovic (1998) had
assessed that the development of surface water reser-
voirs in developing countries (similar to those already
built in developed countries) will be indispensable,
regardless of environmental concerns.
Fact 4: People need water for health
It is widely recognized that modern sanitation
(with proper sewer systems and wastewater treat-
ment plants) has greatly contributed to the improve-
ment of public health and increased life expectancy.
However, again for economic reasons, the percent-
age of world population using improved sanitation
is very low in the poorest countries (Fig. 7). As a
result, half of the urban population in Africa, Asia
and Latin America suffers from diseases associated
with inadequate water and sanitation (Vörösmarty
et al., 2005).
Recognizing the poor economic situation and the
lack of technological infrastructure as the real rea-
sons for water scarcity and health problems, we can
expect that economic progress, wherever and when-
ever it is made possible, will lead to improved water
availability and sanitation in developing countries.
Here, Athens can serve as an encouraging example.
Due to its dr y climate (annual precipitation 400 mm,
no rivers with permanent flow), the water supply
in Athens depends on a large-scale engineered sys-
tem (four reservoirs) bringing water from distances
>200 km (see Fig. 11, lower). Investments for the
construction of this system have always been given
the highest priority. Up to the 1970s, the city did
not have a proper sewer system; even big apar tment
blocks were served by sewage tanks that were emp-
tied by sewage trucks. A master plan, elaborated
in 1979 by the English engineering firm J. D. &
D. M. Watson, suggested that the entire replacement
of sewage tanks with a sewer network system would
be prohibitively expensive and that the tanks should
remain in the less densely-populated areas. However,
10 years later, the sewage tanks were entirely replaced
by a modern sewer network system. Today, the city
has both a proper sewer network and wastewater
560 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
Fig. 6 World distribution of human water security (HWS) threat: (upper) as appears naturally and (lower) after accounting
for water technology benefits (source: Vörösmarty et al., 2010, as available for download in
Fact 5: People need water to eat (to produce food)
While municipal water supply has the highest qual-
ity requirements, in terms of quantity it constitutes a
small percentage of total water withdrawals (Fig. 8).
Most of the water consumed worldwide goes to irri-
gation. As illustrated in Fig. 8 (lower), the portion
of agricultural water use depends on climate—not
on income. In countries with high population and
intensive irrigated agriculture, such as India, Pakistan
and, to a lesser degree, China, water resources are
insufficient to cover irrigation needs, and this problem
is expected to worsen due to increased population in
the future.
Water demand management is an option that
helps mitigate water deficiency (Saleth, 2011; this
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 561
Fig. 7 World distribution of the percentage of population using improved sanitation (data from 2003; source: UNICEF &
WHO, 2004).
issue), but it cannot tackle the problem alone, with-
out further water resources development. Certainly,
demand management is environmentally friendlier
than the construction of new projects, but it is also
costly. The most effective tools of demand manage-
ment, such as water saving by replacing traditional
irrigation methods with micro-irrigation, and by
implementation of metered water pricing, need appro-
priate infrastructure.
Fact 6: People need to be protected from floods
When urbanization is not combined with urban water
infrastructure, the results are tragic, not only in terms
of economic damages due to floods, but also in
terms of flood fatalities. This has been demonstrated
recently by Di Baldassare et al. (2010) for Africa,
where flood fatalities have increased by an order of
magnitude in the last 60 years, an increase equal
to that of the urban population. Urban engineering
infrastructure should, thus, include flood protection
works and urban planning.
Fact 7: People need to be protected from droughts
and famines
Long-lasting droughts of large extent are intrin-
sic to climate (cf. Hurst-Kolmogorov dynamics;
Koutsoyiannis et al., 2009b). Such droughts may
have dramatic consequences, even to human lives,
as shown in Table 1, which refers to drought-related
historical episodes of “food availability decline”
(famines). Large-scale water infrastructure, which
enables multi-year regulation of flows, is a weapon
against droughts and f amines. As shown in Table 1,
famines and their consequences have been alleviated
through the years owing to improved water infrastruc-
ture and international collaboration.
Fact 8: People need water for energy
Electricity has been a foundation of current civi-
lization, and hydroelectricity, which represents about
16% of total electricity, has been a cornerstone for
reasons that will be explained in the following sec-
tions. As shown in Fig. 9, both total electricity and
hydroelectricity have been increasing exponentially
with rates 3% (meaning doubling every 25 years)
and 2.6% per year, respectively. In Europe and the
USA, hydroelectricity has been stagnant, but in sev-
eral countries in Asia and South America its increase
has been spectacular (> 6% per year; Fig. 9).
The question arises, then, why Europe’s hydro-
electric production has been stagnant. Is it related
to the dominant ideological views disfavouring the
building of new dams and large hydro-projects, or
even favouring the demolition of existing dams?
Some data to study these questions are provided in
Table 2. The most developed countries (Germany,
France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden) have
already developed almost all their economically-
feasible hydro-potential (80–100%) and, thus, there
can hardly be further increase. Norway has exploited
a smaller percentage (67%), which, however, already
represents about 99% of its total electricity (data
6929&contentId=7044622). In terms of the second
question, indeed it may be necessary to demolish
old dams, as any man-made construction, after some
time for safety and economic reasons (although there
is an ancient dam that, not having collapsed, still
562 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
Income per person (GDP/capita, inflation-adjusted $)
500 1000 2000 5000 10 000 20 000 50 000 100 000
Municipal water withdrawal (% of total)
Greece, 2002
Income per person (GDP/capita, inflation-adjusted $)
500 1000 2000 5000 10 000 20 000 50 000 100 000
Agricultural water withdrawal (% of total)
Fig. 8 Percentage of water withdrawals for municipal and agricultural use (upper and lower panels, respectively) for each
country vs country’s GPD per capita; the size of each circle indicates the population of the country (see key at the top-right
corner; data source: FAO aquastat database; data availability and visualization from Gapminder World,
stands after about 2.5 thousand years; Koutsoyiannis
et al., 2008b). In addition, there are intensify-
ing discussions that dam removal has significant
environmental benefits for the restoration of aquatic
ecosystems and native fisheries. An Internet search
will gather information from multiple sources that
hundreds of dams have already been dismantled
in an attempt to restore the health and vitality
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 563
1 000
10 000
100 000
1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
Energy (TWh)
Total electricity: World
Hydroelectricity: EU
Hydroelectricity: Brazil-Colombia-Venezuela
Hydroelectricity: World
Fig. 9 Evolution of total electricity and hydroelectricity
in the world and in particular groups of countries in the
last 45 years (data source:
of rivers. However, a more careful examination
of specific data or photos of “dams removed”
(e.g.; www. will reveal
that these are small and rather old constructions
that could be rather called barrages or embank-
ments (with heights from less than a metre to a few
metres). To my knowledge, no large hydro-project
has ever been demolished for environmental restora-
tion. However, magnifying stories of embankment
Table 1 Most devastating famines in the last 150 years
(sources: Devereux, 2000; de Marsily, 2008; Center for
Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, www.emdat.
Period Area Fatalities
Fatalities (% of
world population)
1876–1879 India 10
China 20
Brazil 1
Africa ?
Total >31 >2.2%
1896–1902 India 20
China 10
Brazil ?
Total >30 >1.9%
1921–1922 Soviet Union 9 0.5%
1929 China 2 0.1%
1942 India 1.5 0.06%
1943 Bangladesh 1.9 0.07%
1965 India 1.5 0.04%
1973 Ethiopia 0.1 0.003%
1981 Mozambique 0.1 0.002%
1983 Ethiopia 0.3 0.006%
1983 Sudan 0.15 0.003%
demolition may provide a fictitious element of real-
ism of the environmentalist ideology, which may be
necessary for its conservation.
The last row of Table 2, that refers to Greece,
deserves more detailed discussion. Greece’s low
exploitation percentage of hydropower potential
(31%) would allow for spectacular development of
hydroelectricity, as, for example, in South American
countries. In addition, the multi-pur pose character
of hydropower projects would also help resolve
water scarcity problems. This raises the question:
Why has Greece’s hydroelectric production been
stagnant? The answer to this question should be
sought in the mimetism—at the ideological rather
than the pragmatic level—of Greek society and
politics for European stereotypes, that did not enable
water resources development in recent decades.
This mimetism is very strong in the Greek “green”
groups, which fanatically oppose water infrastructure
projects. (Recently, private energy companies may
have been added to the opponents of hydropower
projects, whose operation pushes energy prices
down during water-rich periods; www.energypress.
8-47ea-9472-eb64388ae09f.) The most impressive
example, with the dimensions of a Greek tragedy,
is the Mesochora project (170 MW, 340 GWh/year,
investment 500 M
C; shown in Fig. 11) in the Upper
Acheloos River (Koutsoyiannis, 1996; Stefanakos,
2008). The dam and the hydropower plant have been
constructed and have been, in effect, ready for use
since 2001. However, they have not been put into
operation, thus causing a loss of 25 M
C/year to
the national economy (assuming the lowest price of
renewable energy, i.e. 73
C/MWh imposed by decree
in Greece—see below).
Table 2 Data of economically feasible and exploited hydro-
potential in European countries (data from Leckscheidt
& Tjaroko, 2003, in general, and Stefanakos, 2008, for
Country Economically
feasible hydro-
Production from
Germany 25 25 100
France 72 70 97
Switzerland 36 34 94
Sweden 85 68 80
Norway 180 120 67
Greece 15 4.7 31
564 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
Table 3 Data of economically feasible and exploited hydro-
potential in the world (data from Leckscheidt & Tjaroko,
Continent Economically
feasible hydro-
potential (% of
Europe 10 75
North & Central America 13 75
South America 20 30
Asia 45 25
Africa 12 8
There is unexploited hydro-potential, simi-
lar to Greece’s or greater, in many countries in
South America, Asia and Africa, as shown in Table 3.
Therefore, the principal dilemma, as to whether or not
this potential should be exploited by large-scale
projects, has to be resolved—although countries
recently becoming increasingly powerful, such as
China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Colombia and
Venezuela, seem to have already resolved it, as shown
in Fig. 9.
Fallacy 1: Groundwater constitutes the vast
majority of freshwater
Reports from the media, and information provided
to the wider public and decision makers, may not
have been able to distinguish the feature of water
to be a renewable resource from that of other natural
resources (e.g. fossil fuels) which are subject to deple-
tion. This misrepresentation has typically originated
from graphs like that in Fig. 10, which shows where
water is stored on Earth. Groundwater appears then
as the vast majority of liquid freshwater, and surface
water appears to be a negligible fraction—particularly
water in rivers. Similar information appears in tabu-
lated form (see e.g. the table at the bottom of the USGS
information sheet at the URL shown in the caption of
Fig. 10—notice the difference in the Greek translation
in The
correctness of the information given in such graphs
and tables is not questioned. However, in the case of
renewable resources, as is freshwater, fluxes matter
much more than storage. Surface water flux to the
oceans is estimated at 44 700 km
/year, whereas
an estimate of groundwater flux to the oceans is
2200 km
/year (Shiklomanov & Sokolov, 1985), that
is, about 20 times less.
Fig. 10 A depiction of water distribution on Earth (from
an information sheet of US Geological Survey—USGS; typical of the
consideration of freshwater as a non-renewable reserve.
While the ratio 1:20 does not necessarily consti-
tute an exact characterization of the relative quantities
of groundwater and surface water in land, where mov-
ing water may switch from surf ace to ground and vice
versa, it becomes clear that surface water, and par-
ticularly that of rivers, constitutes the vast majority
of water that can potentially meet the human needs
described above. However, there are huge technolog-
ical differences in the exploitation of groundwater
and surface water. In groundwater, the storage is pro-
vided by nature (aquifers) and the withdrawal can
be done by a large number of small-scale technical
works (wells) without the need of pipelines, unless
the aquifer is far from the location of water use. In
contrast, with the exception of endorheic basins that
form lakes, storing streamflow requires a large-scale
artificial system (dam reservoir) and the withdrawal
and distribution also requires large-scale pipe works.
As a result, surface water projects need substantial
financial investment. Also, they may have substantial
impacts on the environment. However, this does not
mean that groundwater exploitation is environmen-
tally safer. In contrast, experience shows that some
of the most adverse—and in effect irreversible—
environmental impacts have been created by ground-
water overexploitation, where sustainability is not
spontaneous. For example, Vörösmarty et al. (2005)
note: For most parts of the planet, [the non-
sustainable water use] will refer to the ‘mining’ of
groundwaters, especially in arid and semiarid areas,
where recharge rates to the underground aquifer are
limited (see Fig. 11 for a world map of unsus-
tainable uses). As a characteristic example, Tiwari
et al. (2009), using Gravity Recovery and Climate
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 565
Fig. 11 World distribution of potentially unsustainable agricultural water use (source: Vörösmarty et al., 2005; Fig. 7.3,
available on line and downloaded from High and low overdrafts roughly
correspond to >0.4 and <0.04 m/year, respectively.
Experiment (GRACE) satellite data, concluded that
in northern India there is large-scale overexploitation
of groundwater at a loss rate of 54 ± 9km
probably the largest loss rate in any comparable-sized
region on Earth. Groundwater overexploitation has
sometimes been initiated by overestimation of basic
hydrological quantities, such as aquifer recharge (see
e.g. Fadlelmawla et al., 2008, who report a case
of a small aquifer in Kuwait which was initially
exploited at a rate one order of magnitude higher than
the sustainable yield). Even if a correct estimation
is later obtained, it is difficult to stop groundwa-
ter overexploitation due to the so-called “tragedy of
the commons” (Llamas, 2004) associated with self-
ish individualism. The apparent temporary winners in
such situations are the wealthier who dig the deepest
boreholes (Panda & Kumar, 2011). In the long term,
though, there may be no winner.
Fallacy 2: Water transfer is non-sustainable
Problems related to overexploitation can hardly
appear in surface water withdrawal: even in the most
extreme (but not advisable) case, when a river or
a reservoir dries, water withdrawal will necessarily
stop (until water appears again). However, schol-
ars and water managers, perhaps for the sake of
symmetry, have devised a case of non-sustainable
surface water use, which is the “interbasin transport”.
Thus, Vörösmarty et al. (2005, p. 169) state: “[non-
sustainable water use] can also embody the interbasin
transport of fresh water from water rich to water
poor areas”, although elsewhere in the same text
(p. 184) they state: Interbasin water transfers rep-
resent yet another form of securing water supplies
that can greatly alleviate water scarcity”. From a
scientific point of view, the notion of “interbasin
transport” seems not well defined and, rather, con-
stitutes a stereotype. Several questions can therefore
be raised:
(a) What does this stereotype represent? Do not
scale, size and quantity matter? Is it “inter-
basin transport” when water quantity of 1 L/s
is transferred between two neighbouring catch-
ments of different streams, each having an area
of, say, 1 km
Is it not “interbasin transport” when 10 m
are transferred between two neighbouring sub-
catchments of the same river, each having an area
, at a length of, say, 100 km?
(b) What is the essential difference, in scientific
terms, of “interbasin transport” from “intrabasin
(c) Can water be used by humans (as opposed to
fish) without having been transported?
(d) Is it non-sustainable to alleviate water scarcity?
(e) Is it non-sustainable to substitute transferred sur-
face water for water from overexploited ground-
water sources?
In Europe, a usual argument against the imple-
mentation of interbasin water transfer plans is that
566 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
the Water Framework Directive (WFD; European
Parliament and Council of the European Union,
2000), by demanding river basin management plans,
essentially adopts the river basin as the management
unit. However, this argument is very weak. In fact,
WFD designates as the main unit for management of
a river basin the so-called “river basin district”, which
may be composed of more than one neighbouring
river basins (Article 2(14)), whose definition depends
on non-objective criteria. We may also observe that
even the definition of the “river basin” in the WFD
(“the area of land from which all surface run-off flows
through a sequence of streams, rivers and, possibly,
lakes into the sea at a single river mouth, estuary or
delta”; Article 2(13)) is hydrologically insufficient, as
it does not include endorheic river basins that have
no outlet to the sea. However, the principal counter-
argument is that, whatever the management unit is,
it should not necessarily be considered as a closed
system. It is difficult to imagine that, in an era of
open skies, free trade, and globalization, we might
convert river basins into entrenchments, disallowing
water transfer into or out of the basins.
Fallacy 3: Virtual water trade is more sustainable
than real water transfer
Virtual water is the water “embodied” in a product,
i.e. the water needed for the production of the product;
it is also known as “embedded water” or “exogenous
water”, the latter referring to the fact that import of
virtual water into a country means using water that
is exogenous to the importing country (to be added
to a country’s “indigenous water”; Hoekstra, 2003).
Worldwide, international virtual water trade in crops
has been estimated at 500–900 km
/year, while cur-
rent rates of water consumption for irrigation total
1200 km
/year (Vörösmarty et al., 2005). It is gen-
erally regarded that virtual water trade is a realistic,
sustainable and more environmentally friendly alter-
native to real water transfer schemes (Hoekstra,
2003). There is no doubt that virtual water trade can
be a realistic and sustainable option. However, the
statement comparing it, in general terms, with real
water transfer may not have the proper depth of anal-
ysis and penetration of a scientific statement. Some
questions may aid understanding of this:
(a) Assuming that virtual water transfer is realistic
and sustainable, why is real water transfer not?
(b) Can the two transfer options, virtual water and
real water, be compared in general and stereo-
typical terms (i.e. without referring to specifics,
such as quantity, distance, energy, etc.)?
(c) Is it really more sustainable and more envi-
ronmentally friendly to transpor t agricultural
products at distances of thousands of kilometres,
consuming fossil fuel energy, than to transfer
real water (albeit, evidently, a much larger quan-
tity thereof) at distances of a few kilometres,
producing energy?
(d) Is international trade more sustainable than
boosting local agricultural production and
improving local economies?
(e) Is sustainability achievable, irrespective of
resilience in crisis situations (economic crises,
international conflicts, embargos, etc.)?
The current global economic crisis—and Greece’s cri-
sis in particular—may emphasize the importance of
the last question. Again using Greece as an example,
older people still relate stories about massive numbers
of deaths from famine in Athens during the two world
wars, whereas people living close to agricultural areas
did not face food adequacy problems.
A more contemporary interesting case, illustrat-
ing the situation in Greece, is offered by the history
of the Acheloos interbasin transfer plan. Acheloos
is the largest river in Greece in terms of discharge
(4370 hm
/year; Koutsoyiannis et al., 2001). The
river has been segmented and its flows regulated
since the 1960s by the construction of the large
dams, shown in Fig. 12 (upper). A plan for further
development includes the transfer (by a 17.4-km-long
tunnel toward the east starting from the Sykia Dam,
marked by an arrow in Fig. 12, upper) of about 15%
(600 hm
/year) of the Acheloos flows to Thessaly,
the biggest and most water-deficient plain of Greece.
The plan also includes four hydropower plants; two
can be reversible, boosting production by up to 1000
GWh/year (conver ted to equivalent primary energy;
Koutsoyiannis, 1996). The project has been under
construction for more than two decades (since 1988),
but it cannot be completed. Greek and European
“greens” have fanatically fought the project. A web
search for Acheloos crime would reveal that the
project is regarded as a crime against the environment.
Even a vir tual “trial of Acheloos” was organized in
1996 by Greenpeace, WWF and three other “green”
NGOs. Actual trials in the Supreme Court thwarted
the government’s plans several times, and the gov-
ernment had to repeatedly change the project design
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 567
0 10 20 30 km
Asopos R.
Evinos R.
Β. Kephisos R.
Mor nos R.
Perissos WTP
Hylike lake
Mor nos
Menidi WTP
Aspropyrgos WTP
Kiourka WTP
(not operating)
(part of plan)
(part of plan)
(part of plan)
0 10 20 30 km
Fig. 12 The two largest hydrosystems of Greece: (Upper) The Acheloos system with existing and planned projects anno-
tated; violet arrows indicate the planned water transfer. (Lower) The Athens water supply system with the four reservoirs
and the four water treatment plants (WTP) annotated; grey shaded areas indicate aquifers whose water is also transferred to
Athens; violet lines represent the water transfer paths.
studies to comply with the court directives. It may be
didactic for Greeks to compare this story with that
of a much bigger plan in India, the National River
Linking Project (see Saleth, 2011; this issue). When
completed, this will be the largest water infrastructure
project ever undertaken in the world. It will con-
nect 37 Himalayan and Peninsular rivers through 30
links, involving 3000 storage dams and 12 500 km
of water conveyance networks, and handling 178 km
of inter-basin water transfers. Lacking governmental
initiative to start implementing the project, the
Supreme Court of India, acting on public inter-
est litigation, directed the central government
in 2002 to constitute a task force and com-
plete the project by 2012. That is, the pressures
from the public and the Supreme Court in India
are in exactly the opposite direction from those
in Greece—and, evidently, the results in terms
of economic development are also in opposite
568 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
Interestingly, in Greece, no opposition was
encountered for the transfers for the water supply of
Athens, shown in Fig. 12 (lower). The total quan-
tity of transferred water approaches 500 hm
(not counting virtual water, whose quantity is tremen-
dous), about the same order of magnitude as in the
Acheloos case. However, the overall scale of inter-
basin transfer is much larger in Athens: it involves
four river basins and distances of more than 200 km
(an order of magnitude higher than in Acheloos). In
addition, while the Acheloos plan contributes with
substantial energy production, in the Athens case we
have substantial energy consumption due to pump-
ing. An explanation for the lack of opposition to
this project, part of which was completed in the
2000s, should not be sought in more prudent handling
by the government or in more effective public con-
sciousness, participation and consultation. Perhaps
the Athens-based pressure groups see no “environ-
mental crime” when their own water supply is put
into question.
In addition, no opposition has ever been raised
for virtual water trade. The cur rent conditions of
virtual water trade in Greece are illustrated in
Table 4. The total transfer of virtual irrigation water
(exports + imports) is 6750 hm
/year, roughly equal
to the total real irrigation water used in Greece
(6860 hm
/year; Koutsoyiannis et al., 2008a). The
Acheloos planned interbasin transfer of real water is
one order of magnitude less (600 hm
/year) and, if
materialized, would contribute to a better balance of
Greece’s virtual water trade. The currently strongly
negative balance of virtual water (–1971 hm
as shown in Table 4) reflects the fact that Greece,
traditionally an agricultural country, has become
counterproductive. Some of the entries in Table 4 are
Table 4 Virtual water trade balance of Greece (hm
Source: Roson & Sartori, 2010).
Trading country Exports Imports Balance
Albania 83.4 4.7 +78.7
Croatia 16.7 3.0 +13.7
Cyprus 52.0 5.3 +46.7
Egypt 5.4 91.4 86.0
France 45.0 541.9 496.9
Italy 242.3 171.3 +71.0
Morocco 0.9 4.9 4.0
Spain 36.1 121.6 85.5
Tunisia 1.1 4.2 3.1
Turkey 30.9 143.1 112.2
Rest Europe 1662.3 890.5 +771.8
Rest MENA 49.5 42.7 +6.8
Rest World 165.3 2337.5 2172.2
Total 2390.9 4362.0 1971.1
shocking, for instance the strongly negative balance
(about –500 hm
/year) of Greece with France—a
country with substantial industrial production, part of
which is also imported to Greece.
Fallacy 4: Seawater may become a future
freshwater resource by desalination
In an attempt to provide alternatives to substitute
large-scale surface water projects, “green” groups
sometimes promote desalination as a future freshwa-
ter resource. However, as seen in Fig. 13, currently,
only rich countries, mostly oil producing, have large-
scale desalination plants. Desalination is costly and
requires vast amounts of energy. In the future,
depletion of oil will make desalination even more
costly. Therefore, it is not a sustainable technology.
Sometimes, an argument is offered that, if renewable
(e.g. solar) energy is used, then desalination becomes
sustainable. This, however, can be disputed on the
basis that there is no excess of available energy and
that, if additional renewable energy is to be produced,
then it should be directed to cover existing needs,
rather than creating additional energy consumption by
desalination plants. Admittedly, though, desalination
is a useful pragmatic alternative for some small-
scale applications, e.g. small islands. In such cases,
desalting brackish groundwater, which requires far
less energy than seawater, or re-using non-traditional
sources of water (e.g. treated wastewater) are other
useful options, especially in water-stressed conditions
(Koussis et al., 2010).
Fallacy 5: Hydroelectric energy is not renewable
and not sustainable
Since the water that produces hydroelectric energy
is replenished, thanks to the perpetual hydrolog-
ical cycle, and is not subject to depletion in the
future, hydroelectric energy is clearly renewable
and sustainable. However, business lobbying and
“green” ideological influences have resulted in laws
or regulations that define “small hydro” as renewable
and sustainable, whereas “large hydro” is labelled
as not renewable or not sustainable (Frey & Linke,
2002). Similar assertions have also been made in law
scholarly articles, e.g. ...large hydroelectric dams
have been excluded because of their expense, their
unreliability ... , and the environmental damage
that results from flooding large areas of productive
and often populated lands and from the carbon
dioxide released from decaying vegetation in the
dam reservoir (Ottinger & Williams, 2002). This
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 569
Income per person (GDP/capita, inflation-adjusted $)
500 1000 2000 5000 10 000 20 000 50 000 100 000
Desalinated water produced (km
Fig. 13 Desalination water production for each country vs country’s GPD per capita; the size of each circle indicates the pop-
ulation of the country (see key at the top-right corner; data source: FAO aquastat database; data availability and visualization
from Gapminder World,
fallacy is further exaggerated in “grey” literature,
e.g. in internet sources of “green” origin: Hydro
electricity is NOT renewable. Hydro dams irreversibly
destroy wild river environments—while the water is
renewable, wild rivers are not. Dams have a finite
lifetime, but the wild river cannot be replaced
renewable); Hydro power is not renewable. Hydro-
electric power depends on dams, and dams have a
limited life—not because the concrete crumbles, but
because the reservoir fills with silt. (
Evidently, economic interests, business lob-
bying and “green” ideology have been much
more powerful than adherence to scientific rea-
son in influencing political decisions and legisla-
tion. For example, according to the Greek legisla-
tion, The hydraulic power generated by hydroelec-
tric plants, which have a total installed capacity
more than 15 MW, is excluded from the provisions
of this Act (Act 3468/2006 on the Production of
Electricity from Renewable Energy Sources, Art.
27, par. 4,
06)_3468.pdf; originally this limit defining what is
renewable energy was 20 MW and a later law changed
it to 15 MW). This law also determines prices
for different renewable energies ranging between 73
and 500
C/MWh, which indicate a generous sub-
sidy, given that even the retail price for household
connections is lower (currently 53
C/MWh at night).
Similar are the legislations in other European Union
countries, only a few of which do not exclude
large hydropower from their subsidy programmes
(Reiche & Bechberger, 2004). The limit defining
the small (“renewable”) and large (“non-renewable”)
hydropower plants varies among countries (e.g.
10 MW in the UK, 5 MW in Germany, while The
Netherlands has taken small hydro-plants off the list
of renewables; Reiche & Bechberger, 2004). In the
USA, the situation is similar, but the limit varies fur-
ther (30 MW in California and Maine; 80 MW in
Vermont; 100 MW Rhode Island and New Jersey;
Égré et al., 1999; Ég & Milewski, 2002).
Some simple questions may help show that the
arguments advocating the non-renewable character of
large-scale hydroelectric energy are pointless:
(a) What is the agent that makes the produced
energy non-renewable when the installed capac-
ity exceeds the limit imposed by legislation?
570 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
(b) Does reliability increase or decrease with the
scale of the power plant?
(c) Were the dam and reservoir not constructed,
would the carbon dioxide from naturally decom-
posing vegetation not be released to the atmo-
sphere? (Are the trees not part of the natural
carbon cycle and, thus, once grown, naturally
subject to decay?)
(d) Even assuming that dams have destroyed river
environments, does this make the energy they
produce non-renewable?
(e) Does any human construction (including wind
turbines and solar panels) have unlimited life?
(f) Will energy production stop if a reser voir is
silted? (Will the hydraulic head disappear?)
(g) Is it non-sustainable to leave to future genera-
tions major assets and infrastructure for renew-
able energy production?
A more difficult question is: Why does legislation
(in Europe and USA) exclude large-scale hydropower
stations? This question becomes even more compli-
cated because in some situations, e.g. in reporting
the progress in achieving renewable energy targets,
the contribution of large hydropower plants is not
excluded. But to study this question would require a
more thorough political analysis, which is beyond the
focus of this paper.
Conversely, the argument about the damage to
populated land is correct. Indeed, the population in
inundated areas needs to be displaced. However, pop-
ulation displacement is not a case met in dams alone.
Several major civil infrastructures may have simi-
lar impacts. In addition, displacement may happen
also due to natural causes, such as landslides and
unfavourable hydroclimatic shifts, as well as due to
unfavourable economic conditions. Perhaps, the issue
of population displacement has been given exces-
sive emphasis because our modern societies tend to
give priority to individual rights over collective rights,
thus departing from the tradition which gave the
word “idiot” (from the Greek “idiotes”, meaning indi-
vidual) such a negative meaning. Certainly, a better
balance of collective and individual rights needs to
be sought.
Large-scale constructions also cause large envi-
ronmental changes (e.g. Hjorth et al., 1998). Thus,
environmental concerns about dams and reservoirs
are not pointless. However, the problems may not be
irreversible and unresolvable. For example, recently,
Vörösmarty et al. (2010) imply that negative impacts
of dams can be reversed: Engineers ...can re-work
dam operating rules to maintain economic benefits
while simultaneously conveying adaptive environmen-
tal flows for biodiversity.
In this respect, the environmental concerns and
criticisms have helped explore and find solutions for
real problems. These include:
(a) improved ecological functioning (permanent
flow for habitats downstream of dams, improved
conditions for habitats in reservoirs, passages of
migratory fish);
(b) re-naturalization of outflow regime (see Fig. 14);
(c) sediment management by appropriate design and
operation (sediment routing, by-pass or pass-
through, sediment dredging and transport down-
stream; e.g. Alam, 2004); and
(d) revision (increase) of non-emptied reservoir
storage for improved quality of water, ecosys-
tems and landscape.
The latter point has been studied by Christofides et al.
(2005) using as a case study the Plastiras Reservoir in
Greece (Fig. 12, upper), which has an interesting story
of changes. The project was designed for hydropower,
but later, as it also provided water for irrigation and
as the economy of the area became dependent on the
water of the reservoir, the social and political pres-
sure gradually shifted the reservoir’s main objective;
by 1990, it was the irrigation needs that dictated water
management, reducing power production to a side-
effect, and halving the economic value of the energy
produced. Meanwhile, the scenery, combined with
the geographical accessibility of the lake, attracted
visitors and gradually tourist resorts were developed
near the reservoir. The level and quality of water in
the reservoir greatly affect the attractiveness of the
area, and this resulted in pressures to keep the water
level high, or increase the non-emptied storage and
reduce withdrawals. This gave the environmental con-
servation high importance. Ecotourism attained high
priority in the reservoir management and the place has
become very popular even among “green” supporters,
who sometimes overlook that it is not a natural lake
but an artificial reservoir created by a large dam, and
that one of the functions of this reservoir is the inter-
basin transfer, quite similar to the more contemporary
Acheloos plan (or “crime”) discussed earlier. The
story highlights the multi-purpose character, the wide
range of options, and the flexibility of the manage-
ment and adaptability to societal and environmental
needs, of large-scale projects, which can hardly be
met in small-scale ones.
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 571
River flow (m
Inflow, year 2006
Inflow, average 1967-2008
Typical 20th century outflow
Partially re-naturalized outflow
Fig. 14 Schematic of re-naturalization of dammed river flows based on ideas from Vörösmarty et al. (2005) and Tharme &
King (1998). The river flow data refer to the Acheloos River at Kremasta dam (Fig. 12, upper). The natural inflows for a
year (2006) and over the entire reser voir operation period (1967–2008) are shown, at daily scale, along with a typical 20th
century outflow regime, which retains important hydrological characteristics, i.e. (1) peak wet s eason flood, (2) baseflow
during the dry season, (3) flushing flow at the start of the wet s eason to cue life cycles, and (4) variable flows during the
early wet season.
Fallacy 6: Large-scale energy storage is beyond
current technology
While the notion of renewable energy is highly pro-
moted, reference to its substantially different charac-
teristics from non-renewable energies is often missed.
Wind and solar energies (as well as that from small
hydropower plants) depend on the weather, are highly
variable and unpredictable, and cannot be synchro-
nized with the variation of energy demand. Therefore,
energy storage technologies, which can cope with this
problem, are strongly needed, if solar and wind energy
production is to increase.
It has been very common to read statements
such as: Engineers haven’t yet developed energy
storage devices suitable for storing solar and wind
power (Kerr 2010). However, pumping water to an
upstream location consuming available energy, which
will be retrieved later as hydropower, is a proven
and very old technology with very high efficiency
(Koutsoyiannis et al. 2009a; see also Table 5). This
feature of hydropower makes it unique among all
renewable energies. This technology can be imple-
mented even in small autonomous hybrid systems
(e.g. Bakos 2002). However, (for reasons explained
below) it is substantially more advantageous in large-
scale projects. A few of the existing cascades of
hydropower plants have been designed and con-
structed as pumped storage plans, because the need
for energy storage is not new. However, because,
Table 5 Energy efficiencies achieved by typical renewable
and non-renewable technologies.
Energy Remarks Efficiency
Hydro Large-scale (see text) 90–95%
Wind turbines Betz limit (theoretical
upper limit)
Achieved in practice 10–30%
Solar cells Best research cells (three
junction concentrators)
Commercially available
(multicrystalline Si)
Non-renewable (for
Combined cycle plants
(gas turbine plus steam
Combustion engines 10–50%
typically, hydropower plants are used to generate only
peak energy, and thus operate a few hours a day, there
is potential to convert existing one-way plants into
reversible ones, to be used for energy storage; how-
ever, this may need substantial investment, while it
is much easier to design the new plants as reversible
from the outset.
Fallacy 7: Hydroelectricity has worse
characteristics than wind and solar energies
This fallacy may have been a side-effect of the
exclusion of hydro-projects from renewable energy
policies, as people tend to assume that there is
572 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
some rationality even when irrationality dominates.
However, it is easy to understand that the truth is
just the reverse. Large-scale hydroelectric energy pro-
duction has unique desirable characteristics among all
renewables. It is the only fully controllable energy, as
contrasted to the highly-variable and uncontrollable
wind and solar energies. The element that enables
control and regulation is the water storage in a suf-
ficiently large reservoir.
Thus, this feature of hydropower is met only
in large-scale projects and not in small hydropower
plants. As a consequence of this feature, as well as
due to the unique properties of hydromachinery (it
can be turned on and provide full capacity within min-
utes), among all renewable and most non-renewable
energies, only the hydropower plants offer high-value
primary energy for peak demand. Also, as discussed
above, they offer the unique option of energy stor-
age. In addition, as shown in Table 5, hydroelectricity
constitutes the only energy conversion (either renew-
able or not) with really high efficiency, approaching
95% for large-scale projects; other technologies have
difficulty achieving even half of this value.
Fallacy 8: Small projects are better than large
The debate about large vs small projects seems to
have been won by the latter; this is evident from daily
news, from scientific documents and, in particular,
from legislation. For example, in the last decade in
Greece, while there was no noteworthy progress in
the development of large-scale hydropower, a total
of 250 small hydropower plants have been licensed,
with a total installed capacity of 430 MW (Douridas,
2006). For comparison, the installed capacity of the
old Kremasta hydropower plant in Acheloos (Fig. 12,
upper) is larger, 437 MW. A question arises, what is
less damaging to the environment? One large power
plant, on one river (Acheloos), with an installed
capacity of 437 MW, or 250 small power plants on dif-
ferent rivers and creeks, with a total installed capacity
of 430 MW (1.7 MW each on the average)?
To study questions of this type in a more general
setting, we can start from elementary knowledge of
geometry, which reveals that if a certain volume V is
divided into n geometrically similar shapes, the total
area and the total perimeter will both be increasing
functions of n; specifically, they will be proportional
to n
with s = 1/3and2/3 for the total area and
the total perimeter, respectively. This simple truth has
implications on several fields, from the area occupied
by reservoirs to the hydraulic losses in conduits,
turbines and pumps.
Thus, we can expect that the occupied reservoir
area per unit volume, or per unit installed capacity
of the power plant, will be a power function of n,
i.e. n
with s > 0, where n is the number of indi-
vidual elements to which a total volume or a total
installed capacity is divided. As shown in Fig. 15, sta-
tistical analysis on existing hydropower projects with
data from the literature, shows that the average reser-
voir area per unit installed power is larger in small
projects, and fully supports the simple theoretical
argument (with s = 1/3).
Likewise, the hydraulic losses in pipes, per unit
area of pipe cross-section, will increase for decreas-
ing size of pipe (because of the increase in wetted
perimeter), and this will also hold for hydromachin-
ery, i.e. pumps and turbines. Thus, the efficiency in
energy conversion will be an increasing function of
scale, and this is verified in Fig. 16 (upper), con-
structed from pump and reversible turbine data from
the literature and an inventory of commercial pumps.
These data can be described by expressions of the
form η = η
–(κ Q)
,whereη and η
are the effi-
ciencies for discharge, Q, and infinite, respectively,
and κ and λ are parameters. In an average curve,
= 0.93, κ = 3000 m
sandλ = 0.4, whereas in
an (upper) envelope curve, η
= 0.94, κ = 2800 m
and λ = 0.6.
Based on these equations, the total efficiency
of a reversible (pumped storage) hydropower plant,
expressed as a function of design discharge, Q,is
shown in Fig. 16 (lower) after making some plau-
sible assumptions on the hydraulic characteristics of
1 10 100 1000
Number of plants required to make a total of 7400 MW, n
Area per unit power, A (ha/MW)
Geometrical law A = 28 n
Fig. 15 Graphical depiction of reservoir area per unit
power vs number of plants required to make a total of
7400 MW. The data are from an inventory of 188 exist-
ing hydropower plants, classified into seven categories by
installed power (from Goodland, 1995, quoted in Égré &
Milewski, 2002). Each point represents the geometrical
mean of each category, where 7400 MW is the geometri-
cal mean of the first category (plants with largest installed
Scale of water resources development and sustainability 573
0.001 0.01 0.1 1 10 100 1000
Discharge, Q (m
Efficiency, η
Max. efficiency from inventory of commercial pumps (present study)
Max. efficiency of good commercial pumps (Moody and Zowski, 1969)
Max. expected efficiency of various pumps (Bureau of Reclamation, 1978)
Max. efficiency of reversible turbines: pumping (Bureau of Reclamation, 1977)
Max. efficiency of reversible turbines: producing (Bureau of Reclamation, 1977)
Optimal efficiency: best technology (Hydraulic Institute, 2000)
Optimal efficiency: worst technology (Hydraulic Institute, 2000)
Average: η = 0.93 - (3000 Q)^–0.4 (present study)
Upper envelope: η = 0.94 – (2800 Q)^–0.6 (present study)
0.001 0.01 0.1 1 10 100 1000
Discharge, Q (m
Conduit efficiency
Turbine efficiency
Total one-way system efficiency
Total two-way system efficiency
(pumping + generation)
Fig. 16 (Upper) Efficiency of pumps and reversible turbines as a function of design discharge (data sources as indicated in
the legend) and fitted mean and envelope curves. (Lower) An example of the partial and total efficiency of a hypothetical
pumped storage plant vs the design discharge, Q; the calculations have been made according to the following assumptions:
(a) turbine and pump efficiency according to the average curve, η = 0.93 (3000 m
s Q)
, of the upper panel; (b) conduit
length of 2 km and roughness of 1 mm; hydraulic head of 100 m; conduit velocity V varying as a power function V(Q)of
the discharge Q with V (0.001 m
/s) = 0.6 m/s and V (1000 m
/s) = 2.5 m/s.
an example power plant, shown in the figure caption.
Clearly, this figure shows the spectacularly increased
efficiency in large-scale vs small-scale (discharge)
and demonstrates that only large-scale systems can
efficiently store energy.
More dams are needed worldwide to meet
increased water and food supply needs.
More hydropower plants are needed to meet
energy needs using the most effective and most
efficient renewable technology.
More reversible (pumped storage) plants are
needed to meet energy storage needs and to
make possible the replacement of fossil-fuel-based
energy with renewable (and, hence, highly varying
and uncertain) energy.
More water transfer projects are needed to supply
water to large cities and to partially replace virtual
574 Demetris Koutsoyiannis
water by real water and trade by local agricultural
Large-scale water projects are superior, because
only these are energy-efficient and multi-purpose,
and because, in an holistic perspective, they can be
less damaging to the environment than small-scale
Acknowledgements I am grateful to the reviewer
A. Koussis, the Guest Editor B. Sivakumar and
the Co-editor Z. W. Kundzewicz, who also acted
as a reviewer, for their constructive critiques
and comments that led to improved presentation.
I thank P. Hubert for providing general information,
J. Stefanakos for providing data for Greece and
discussing several important issues, D. Papantonis
for providing information on pumps and K. Tzouka
for her help in preparing an inventory of com-
mercial pumps. I also thank A. Christofides,
K. Hadjibiros, N. Mamassis, H. Theodosis,
C. Vournas, Th. Xanthopoulos and V. Zoukos
for their encouraging or critical comments and
general discussions, mostly related to a presentation
with the same title (or its preparation) at the LATSIS
Symposium 2010: Ecohydrology, Lausanne, 2010; Finally, I am grateful
to the organizers of that symposium, M. Parlange,
A. Rinaldo and M.-J. Pellaud, as well as A. Porporato,
for the invitation to prepare and present a preliminary
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... The necessary condition for them is the continuity and functioning of the educational system. Communication-cooperation (interactions) and economies of scale helped scientific research and technology to create infrastructures and low-cost production, which are the basis for flourishing societies [116][117][118][119][120]. ...
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Environmental determinism is often used to explain past social collapses and to predict the future of modern human societies. We assess the availability of natural resources and the resulting carrying capacity (a basic concept of environmental determinism) through a toy model based on Hurst–Kolmogorov dynamics. We also highlight the role of social cohesion, and we evaluate it from an entropic viewpoint. Furthermore, we make the case that, when it comes to the demise of civilizations, while environmental influences may be in the mix, social dynamics is the main driver behind their decline and eventual collapse. We examine several prehistorical and historical cases of civilization collapse, the most characteristic being that of the Minoan civilization, whose disappearance c. 1100 BC has fostered several causative hypotheses. In general, we note that these hypotheses are based on catastrophic environmental causes, which nevertheless occurred a few hundred years before the collapse of Minoans. Specifically, around 1500 BC, Minoans managed to overpass many environmental adversities. As we have not found justified reasons based on the environmental determinism for when the collapse occurred (around 1100 BC), we hypothesize a possible transformation of the Minoans’ social structure as the cause of the collapse.
The development of industrialization and urbanization has intensified the coupling of human activities and hydrological processes and promoted the emergence of socio-hydrology. This paper addresses the issue of socio-hydrology due to new development and social demand for hydrological sciences and sustainable development. Four key scientific issues are identified through systematic analysis and summary of the relative research and international progress, i.e., (1) the long-term dynamic process of socio-hydrological system evolution; (2) quantitative description and driving mechanism analysis of socio-hydrological coupling system; (3) prediction of the trajectories of socio-hydrological system co-evolution, and (4) integrated water resource management from the perspective of water systems. Moreover, opportunities and challenges for developing socio-hydrology are emphasized, including (1) strengthening the research of interdisciplinary theoretical systems; (2) improving and broadening socio-hydrological research technical methods, and (3) supporting integrated water resources management (IWRM) for sustainable utilization goals (SDGs). The review is expected to provide a reference for the future development of socio-hydrology discipline.