Integrating social preferences in the management of river basins: the Asopos case study in Greece

Asopos River Basin (RB) is part of the water district of East Sterea Ellada covering a total surface of 450 km2 and extending to Evoikos Gulf. It has an annual runoff of 70 hm3 and a population of approximately 70,575 citizens residing in the broader area. The Asopos River catchment basin is among the highest industrial and most polluted areas of Greece. It is also the only remnant wetland between two larger coastal wetlands that belong to the NATURA 2000 network, those of Sperheios and Shinias; as such, it contributes significantly to the conservation of habitats and to the coherence of the network. Every sector of economic activity in the area (primary, secondary, tertiary and households) has a different water use. In the agricultural-livestock sector water is used for crop irrigation or livestock rearing purposes. In the industrial-artisanship sector, on the other hand, it is used for washing and coloring (textiles), steel production, cement production, oil processing, energy production etc. Finally, regarding the tourism and domestic sector of the economy, water use concerns home supply by the authorized providers. Due to the different uses and needs across sectors, optimal policy design that allocates water optimally through space and time between these activities and ecosystem preservation becomes very challenging. Even more, when the unregulated operation of businesses in the industrial sector as well as the uncontrolled use of water and application of fertilizers/pesticides in the agricultural sector have led to excessive water abstraction, nitrate pollution and contamination by heavy metals, including hexavalent chromium. Until recently, no Management Plan or a Monitoring Program to cope with this situation existed. As a result, residents of the basin area, mostly low-income individuals with a high percentage of employment in the primary sector, ended up facing health issues as well as downgraded quality of life.

Source: Matiatos, Ioannis. 2016. “Nitrate Source Identification in Groundwater of Multiple Land-Use Areas by Combining Isotopes and Multivariate Statistical Analysis: A Case Study of Asopos Basin (Central Greece).” Science of the Total Environment 541: 802–14.
Source: Matiatos, Ioannis. 2016. “Nitrate Source Identification in Groundwater of Multiple Land-Use Areas by Combining Isotopes and Multivariate Statistical Analysis: A Case Study of Asopos Basin (Central Greece).” Science of the Total Environment 541: 802–14.

Social innovations emerge to strengthen actors’ ability to respond to societal changes such as the environmental degradation in the area of Asopos RB. In 2010, the National Bank of Greece, the Hellenic Post Bank and the A. G. Papandreou Foundation funded a 3-year project to tackle health problems associated with arsenic pollution and with the implementation of the WFD in Asopos RB with Assistant Professor Phoebe Koundouri leading the scientific team which consisted of 5 universities (Athens University of Economics & Business, Greece; University of  Toulouse, France; Oregon State University, USA; University of Waikato, New Zealand; University of Ioannina, Greece) and nonprofit organizations. The action was embraced by local authorities, businessmen (farmers, industrialists) and environmentalists who worked together for the common purpose. The initiative resulted in a comprehensive management plan that promoted sustainable development in terms of socio-economic welfare as it characterized, quantified and integrated people’s preferences. What is more, it introduced a new institutional environment where past attitudes towards water pollution are discarded and stakeholders realize how their interactions are critical in achieving the common goal. Finally, it highlighted the importance of the concept of Total Economic Value (the value of environmental good that is derived from its direct consumption but also from its indirect consumption, as well as non-use value) in the holistic management of interactions between humans and nature. Currently, local authorities are developing the social and business network needed for the implementation of the suggested management plan.

More details

Project website:

Koundouri, P., and N. Papandreou (editors) (2013)Water Resources Management Sustaining Socio-Economic Welfare: The Implementation of the European Water Framework Directive in Asopos River Basin in Greece. Springer Publishing, Global Issues in Water Policy.


AchillVassilopouloseas Vassilopoulos (ICRE8: International Centre for Research on the Environment and the Economy; Dept. of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development, Agricultural University of Athens, Greece)


Phoebe KPhoebe_Koundourioundouri (School of Economic Sciences, Athens University of Economics and Business, Greece; Grantham Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK; ICRE8: International Center for Research on the Environment and the Economy)