The Aoos River (Vjosa in Albanian) flows in the borderline between Greece and Albania. It springs from the mountain range of Pindos and after crossing the area of Epirus for 70 kolometres, it enters the South Albania where after 192 kilometres, flows into the Adriatic Sea.
The basic tributaries in the Greek region are Voidomatis and Sarantaporos. The biggest part of the river basin of Aoos belongs to the National Park of the North Pindos, including two national reserves.
The geographical distribution, the size of the river and the cleanness of its waters, in combination with the variety of the bioclimatic, geological and geomorphological factors, render the Aoos River one of the most beautiful and cleanest rivers in Greece.
The most serious anthropogenic interference has been the DEI construction of a big hydroelectric dam in the springs of Aoos, at the end of ‘80s. The water of the artificial lake of the dam is diverted to the river basin of the Arahthos River, affecting the flow, the hydromorfology and the ecosystems of Aoos.
The plans of DEI concerning the “exploitation” of the water power of the area included the structure of a dam and a water reservoir in the heart of “Valia Kalnta” for the water harvesting of Arkoudorematos, a tributary of Aoos.
In 1989 the case was taken to the European Council and in 1990 to the European Court by the Association of the Protection of the Nature of Epirus. Appeals and complaints followed to the European Union by the community of Vovusa of the Zagori Municipality and environmental organizations.
After several reactions of environmental groups and that of the European Environmental Committee which brought Greece to the European Court, DEI changed its course. Nevertheless, it made a comeback with a new proposal which had to do with a construction of a hydroelectric structure and a dam in Aoos, and more specifically in the region of Smixomata in Vovusa. Once again there were reactions by the local community and organizations, while the European Environmental Committee warned to bring the country for the second time to the European Court.
After the deregulation of energy and the commissioning of a part of the production to the private sector, the issue of the dams of Aoos has emerged several times since 2000 for the regions of “Smixomata” and “Vathilakkos” (Lakkos Pappa).
In 2009, a plan was submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Energy, Climate Change and Public Works, regarding the diversion of additional water quantities from the river to neighboring river basins and especially to Lake Pamvotida, which lies in the city of Ioannina. The plan also made provision for a construction of hydroelectric stations along the canal of diversion.
The announcement of the plan caused the reaction of the local communities and environmental groups. In 2010, the Minister of the Environment, Tina Birbili, rejected the plan.
The instigators of the plan relented, given the fact that there was a similar decision to the river diversion taken by the European Court, the one of the Aheloos River. The European Court decided that according to the Direction 2000/60 the water transport from one river basin to another is allowed in exceptional circumstances and only in case it is used for water supply, irrigation and energy production.
Nonetheless, the fight of the environmental organizations did not stop, since the work of the diversion of Aoos was included in the first Plan of Management of River Basins of the water district of Epirus, in 2013. The organizations WWF of Greece and Kallisto, the Municipality of Konitsa, the Entity of Management of National Forest Vikos Aoos and Pindos and the Mediterranean Institude for the Nature and the Human (Med-INA)went against the specific Plan of Management of River Basins and brought the case to the Council of State.
In 2017, the Council of State rejected the appeal regarding that the plan of the deviation of Aoos does not refer to a mandatory measure but a future plan.
In 2018 there was the first reconsideration of the Plan of Management of the River Basins of
the water district of Epirus, which did not include the diversion of Aoos. This happened due to the change of the methodology of the plans’ development. This change did not exclude the subsequent inclusion of an additional work. However, in general terms, the plan of the diversion got frozen.
Nonetheless, the interest in smaller or bigger hydroelectric works in Aoos and its tributaries did not stop. The planning of the Energy Regulatory Authority includes three big hydroelectric constructions with the creation of reservoirs in the river basin of Aoos, as well as 293 smaller hydroelectric works.
Over the years, a big campaign has been in progress “Save the blue heart of Europe” with the participation of Albanian, Greek, international organizations and members of the scientific community.
Several Greek groups collaborate on its implementation – Pindos Environmental, MedINA and the Green Tank, the Albanian EcoAlbania, as well as big international Non Governmental Organizations (NGO): the Euronatur, the RiverWatch, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Tour du Valat. Their aim is to create a cross-border national park of Aoos – Vjosa, “free” of dams.
The campaign had its results. Albania abandoned its plans which had to do with the creation of big dams along the river and bound itself to create the national park of Vjosa.
In Greece the effort for further protection of the area of Aoos and its tributaries, from Konitsa up to the borders Greece – Albania, is still being continued.