By Benet Koleka
KUKES LAKE, Jan 18 (Reuters) - The long-submerged ruins of the old town of Kukes have re-emerged because of lack of rain.
Caked mud encrusts Albania’s Fierza power dam.
For a second year boats lie high and dry on banks terraced by the receding water levels.
"Some people started working the land they lost to the lake in the 1970s," said Kukes resident Fatime.
It is the clearest evidence yet that Albanians are in for a further spell of power blackouts.
Meteorologists say only one third of the average quantity of rain fell in the area from September to December. It was the worst dry spell since 1915 when a rainless summer caused famine.
The re-surfacing of old Kukes means water levels at the Fierza dam further west are now just seven metres from the point where the turbines must be stopped.
About 90 percent of Albania’s power comes from three schemes on the Drini River of which Fierza is the biggest.
On a normal day noise from the turbines would be too loud to make yourself heard. But now only one is turning.
Nearby villagers with no power for hours on end say they "eat dinner by the car headlights". And noise has migrated to the capital Tirana, where thousands of private power generators keep commerce humming while deafening clients.
Coupled with "miscalculations" about how much power Albania should have imported to deal with ever-increasing consumption, the drought means power cuts of up to 12 hours a day.
Elsewhere in the Balkans, though much less dependent than Albania on hydroelectric schemes, water levels in reservoirs have fallen by up to 40 percent.
In Serbia, Momcilo Cebalovic of state power monopoly EPS said production "was reduced by 30 percent due to the drought that hit the region. Because of the reduced production we had to import electricity. In addition, we had to import gas and oil in order to start production in thermal power plants in Vojvodina."
In Croatia, the power board HEP spokesman Radomir Milisic said: "The water levels in reservoirs are low but the situation is not critical and the system is not endangered. We have switched to other sources of energy and imports, which is more expensive, and we are waiting for rain."
In Bosnia, "the situation is not alarming because most of electricity, about 80 percent, is generated in thermal plants which have coal reserves," said Mirsad Fazlinovic of EPBIH, one of three state power firms.
"The berries used to bear fruit in spring, but now we’ll have them in January," said Elidon Pepkolaj, whose little ferry has trouble negotiating the lake’s shallow waters.
"We used to have one metre of snow here at this time of the year, but we have forgotten what snow looks like this year." (Additional reporting by Igor Ilic in Croatia, Nedim Dervisbegovic in Bosnia, and Ivana Sekulara in Serbia)