Vardar/Axios River basin

The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Greece share the basin of the Vardar/Axios River. The transboundary Lake Dojran/Doirani is located in this basin.

Read more about Lake Dojran/Doirani.

Hydrology and hydrogeology

The river has its source in the Shara massif — a mountainous area between Albania and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia — and empties into the Aegean Sea (Mediterranean Sea) at Thermaikos Gulf (Greece). The total length of the river is 389 km, with 87 km being in Greece. The river has a pronounced mountainous character, with an average elevation of about 790 m a.s.l.

Surface water resources in the part of the Vardar/Axios Basin that is territory of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are estimated at 4,185 × 106 cu m/year (an average for the years 1961-1990). There are 120 large and small dams in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Floods in the downstream area were considerably reduced due to these dams.

Pressures, status and transboundary impacts

The main forms of land use are cropland (68.7%), grassland (7.4%) and forests (7.9%). In Greece, a large part of the basin is a protected Natura 2000 site.

Water is abstracted for irrigation (63%), fishponds (11%) and drinking water (12%), as well as for municipal and industrial uses (15%). There is an overuse of water in many parts of the river basin, mainly for agricultural purposes. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, extensive and severe increases in abstraction from the Gevgelija/Axios-Vardar aquifer (No. 137) have resulted in the decline of groundwater levels, reduction in borehole yields, severe reduction of baseflow and springflow locally, and degradation of ecosystems. According to the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the observed impacts are also due to pressures at transboundary level.

The main pressure on water resources in terms of quality stems from agriculture. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia crop production and animal husbandry is practiced in river valleys, especially the Pelagonija, Polog and Kumanovo valleys, as well as in the whole Bregalnica catchment area.

A few industrial installations also affect the aquatic ecosystem. In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, mining and quarrying activities are, in particular, located in the catchment area of the eastern tributaries (rivers Bregalnica and Pcinja). The metal industry at Tetovo and heavy metal industry at Veles, as well as the presence of the chemical industry, petroleum refineries and the pharmaceutical industry at Skopje, are additional pressure factors.

The treatment and disposal of solid waste and wastewater, and their management at communal level, is a problem and has to be improved. This is especially true for the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: while there are controlled landfills for solid wastes from bigger cities, there are also a number of illegal dumpsites for solid waste from the villages. For the time being, the only properly functional wastewater treatment plant is located at Makedonski Brod, in the Treska River catchment. Organic matter from wastewater discharges results in a transboundary impact.

When last reported (in the First Assessment), the surface water quality was classified as “good/moderate”, considered to be appropriate for irrigation purposes, and to be used for water supply after treatment. While the quality of groundwater had been reported as, in general, very good, and often used for water supply without or with very little treatment in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the occurrence of nitrogen, pesticides, heavy metals, pathogens, industrial organics and hydrocarbons in the Gevgelija/Axios Vardar (No. 137) aquifer had been reported as well. The salinization observed is of natural origin.

Responses

The implementation of the WFD — in progress in both countries, but Greece, being an EU member State, is much ahead in this respect — is expected to improve the status of the system in the long term.

Implementation of good agricultural practices and public awareness are necessary measures in Greece, and abstraction controls and monitoring need to be improved. More efficient groundwater and lake water use, monitoring of lake and aquifer water quantity and quality, raising public awareness, defining protection zones, and carrying out vulnerability mapping, as well as wastewater treatment, need to be improved in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; other measures need to be applied or are planned.

Data exchange is deemed necessary by both countries.

Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are considering drawing up a bilateral agreement to replace the existing 1959 agreement, which dealt primarily with the establishment of a joint body for the joint management of water resources management. The new agreement will be based on the most recent developments in international law and EU legislation.