EU funds squandered building islands of mud in Lake Tisza

August 19, 2016

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The water management project of Lake Tisza received HUF 6 billion from the EU. Photo: komplextiszato.hu

Millions of dollars of EU funds have been squandered on one of the biggest water management projects to be undertaken in Hungary in recent memory: the reconstruction of Lake Tisza.

Lake Tisza (known to Hungarians as Tisza-tó) is the largest artificial lake in Hungary. It was created after the building of the Tisza dam in 1973 as part of the ongoing Tisza river flood control project. The filling of the dam was finished in the 1990s, resulting in the 127 km² lake.

Being an artificial reservoir, the lake needs constant human intervention. The biggest one was the Complex Lake Tisza Project (Komplex Tisza-Tó Projekt – KTP) which received HUF 6 billion (USD 21.6 million) of funding from the European Union.

Dredging the mud

The aim of the project is to reconstruct the water management and protect the diverse ecology of the lake. As such, one of the most important elements of the project was dredging the mud from the basin.

The 27-kilometer-long lake is quite shallow with an average depth of 1.3 meters. Also, it is not a huge stretch of water, but rather a flooded area containing 43 km² of small islands, streams, channels, forests, reeds and hills.

Dredging is important because deepening the backwaters and opening smaller channels helps the outflow of the water, so that fish and other animals may reach the Tisza river more easily.

Naturally, for such a work, huge amounts of mud had to be dredged. But the real question was: what to do with it. According to Hungarian regulations, mud is considered dangerous waste and, as such, it must be decontaminated and transferred to another place. This would have cost enormous amounts of money, so directors of the project decided to build small islands from the mud instead. This seemed a practical solution, winning the support of environmentalists as well.

Project gone wrong

Unfortunately, the project went terribly wrong, writes Hungarian news website 444.hu. As photos taken by Ákos Hadházy, co-chairman of the party Politics Can Be Different (Lehet Más a Politika – LMP) show, the islands of mud were built without any protection or reinforcement to their walls, meaning they are simply being washed back to the lake.

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The walls are being washed back to the lake. Photo: 444.hu

Some islands are still standing, but the walls on their shores are slowly falling apart. Others are in the process of disintegrating, while some have disappeared completely.

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Some islands have already disappeared. Photo: 444.hu

Interestingly, there is one island where the directorate of water management – seeing the destruction of the others – decided to try protecting the shore. As winter was not cold enough to use heavy machinery, they simply put spikes around, weaving tree branches into them. This primitive solution seems to work, as the island is still standing and plants have been growing on it for months.

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One island was protected with primitive methods: it is still standing

Fishermen around the lake told 444.hu that the disintegrating islands pose threats. First, the huge amounts of mud washing back into the water promote the growth of weeds. Second, it is dangerous for boats as they may run aground near the islands in the shallow waters.

The online newspaper asked the directorate of water management why they failed to protect the shores of the islands, but have not received an answer yet.

Misuse of EU funds is not uncommon in Hungary. Just a week ago, 444.hu uncovered another example in the city of Ózd. There, USD 13 million worth of European Union funds appear to have been wasted on a so-called “Digital Power Plant” and theme park/film archive featuring rows of empty shelves, pointless exhibitions and an unused conference center.