The Aquifer Basin of Elbasani, Albania
and the problems of its management
Petraq NAÇO, Enton BEDINI, Rakip HYSENAJ
Geological Research Institute, Tirana, ALBANIA
The Aquifer Basin of Elbasani represents one of the largest water resources of Albania. It extends along both
sides of the Shkumbini River, in the segment from Labinot Fushe to Cerriku in central Albania. The aquifer basin
of Elbasani is a complex hydrogeological node of potent underground and surface drainage that pass through a
gravel bed over 200 m thick. The waters of this gravel aquifer are exploited by many wells. These wells are the
main suppliers of the Elbasani area with drinking water and industrial water. The Elbasani gravel aquifer
possesses considerable water reserves that are being only partly exploited to the benefit of the community. The
aquifer is characterized by potential water reserves that meet the demand for drinking and industrial water of the
Elbasani area and may be used also for the water supply of other zones with intensive urban development. The
aquifer basin of Elbasani is organically linked with two elements: the gravel horizon and the Shkumbini River.
Both these elements are seriously threatened by pollution due to urban and industrial developments that are
taking place in the basin area. The aquifer basin of Elbasani being such an important water resource requires
special protection measures.
Keywords: Aquifer Basin of Elbasani, Shkumbini River, Albania, management of water resources
The Aquifer Basin of Elbasani represents one of the largest water resources of Albania (Eftimi and
Tafilaj, 1979). It extends along a sector of the Shkumbini River valley in central Albania (Fig. 1, 2). The
aquifer is tightly related with early and recent developments occurring in this sector of the Shkumbini
river valley (Aliaj et al., 1996). The Shkumbini River valley due to its particular geographical position is
facing extensive urban and industrial growth. Urban and industrial concentrations along the valley
have increased the demand for drinking water and industrial water, but in the same time have had a
negative impact on the aquifer basin. Therefore, a better management is required. This paper aims to
emphasize that the Elbasani Aquifer Basin represents a large potential resource of drinking and
industrial water, but in the same time the aquifer basin is seriously threaten by pollution (Naço,
Regional tectonic and active extensional regime
The Aquifer Basin of Elbasani is related with the Elbasani-Dibra transversal fault that is one of the
most important tectonic elements of the Albanides (Aliaj et al., 1996; Naço, 2003). Direct expression of
this transversal fault is the Dumrea evaporite massif, east-west orientation of the Krasta tectonic sub-
zone in this segment and the tectonic front of Shpati ultrabasic massif with the Krasta sub-zone
formations. The Elbasani-Dibra transversal fault is still active. Recent activity is expressed by
earthquakes (Aliaj et al., 1996), new tectonic planes (Naço, 2005b) as well as in the quaternary
formations (Naço, 2005a), especially on those of fluvial origin. The Elbasani-Dibra transversal fault
has conditioned the Shkumbini River flow in this sector and has created the necessary conditions for
the sedimentation of large gravel thicknesses. The formation of the aquifer basin of Elbasani and its
emplacement crosswise to the orientation of Ionian, Kruja, Krasta and Mirdita tectonic zones is a
product of the Elbasani-Dibra transversal fault.
The Dumrea and Peshkopia evaporite massifs are the most spectacular surface expressions of the
Elbasani-Dibra transversal fault. These massifs represent diapiric uplift from deep underground
through old transversal faults creating complex tectonic regimes. The evaporite massifs are
continuously extending; in their frontal parts they create compressional tectonic regimes accompanied
by extensional regimes behind (Bridge, 2003). Dumrea evaporite massif through the Elbasani-Dibra
fault is bounded to the east with the Maraku carbonate anticline. The anticline is involved in a
continuous uplift and overthrusting regime, whereas its lateral parts are under extensional regime,
appropriate for the creation of graben type units (Bridge, 2003).
In a similar tectonic regime was formed the Aquifer Basin of Elbasani. The Shkumbini river valley in
this sector is a product of the geological and geomorphological phenomena occurring under the
conditions created by such a tectonic regime.
0 2 4 km
Elbasani-Dibra transversal fault
Ioninan and Kruja tectonic zones
Krasta tectonic sub-zone
Mirdita tectonic zone
Fig. 1. The geographical and geotectonical position of the Aquifer Basin of Elbasani.
Fig. 2. Landsat ETM+ natural colour composite over the area of the Aquifer Basin of Elbasani. Landsat ETM+
bands 321=RGB fused with the panchromatic band.
Initially the valley experienced subsidence and high erosion rates of the bedrock influenced by normal
faulting. During the Quaternary, the valley has constituted a wide graben along which has flowed the
In certain periods of the Quaternary, the graben might have been covered by a lake, in which the river
deposited gravel material. In this conditions was formed the gravel horizon of the aquifer; its thickness
may exceed 200 m. The extensional regime is still present, well expressed by fresh faults and the
wide Shkumbini River bed. A tectonic model of the Aquifer Basin of Elbasani is shown in (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3. The tectonic model and tectonic regime of the Aquifer Basin of Elbasani. 1. Elbasani-Dibra transversal
fault and evaporite uplift. 2. Extensional tectonic regime. 3. Faulting system. 4. Faults observable on the surface.
5. The aquifer basin in continuous subsidence. 6. Flysch.
Lithostratigraphy and aquifer horizons
The aquifer basin of Elbasani was formed during Pleistocene-Holocene. It is confined at the bottom by
Pliocene-Quaternary deposits of the bedrock, whereas present day deposits represent the top of the
section. The formation of five river terraces is documented in the vicinity of our area, testifying for the
uplift regime during the Quaternary. However this uplift regime did not influence the area of the
Elbasani Aquifer Basin because the local extensional regime was stronger than the regional uplift
regime. As a result the Labinot Fushe-Elbasani-Cerrik area, in the conditions of continuous
subsidence has experienced subsequent burying of river terraces (Fig. 4), that together with the
conditions of an uncompensated basin with sediments, led to the formation of large thicknesses of
gravels. Based on information from drilled wells the gravel formation is predominated by gravels and
to a less extent by sands (20-30 %) whereas silty-clayey material is present to a minimal quantity. The
latter mainly forms the cover of the gravel formation in the forms of soils 1-8 m thick. As mentioned
above the gravel formation overlies the Ionian, Kruja, Krasta and Mirdita tectonic zones with
concordance or discordance. The main aquifer horizons are the quaternary gravels (Fig. 5). Other
important horizons are the carbonates of Krasta sub-zone known for the springs of Griqani and Krasta
as well as the carbonates of Mirdita zone (the springs of Bysheku and Miraka Tunnel). Apart of
surface springs these horizons may have also other important draining points at the floor of the gravel
horizon or at the Shkumbini River bed.
Functioning mechanism of the aquifer basin
The Aquifer Basin of Elbasani represents a complex hydrogeological node; however its backbone is
the quaternary gravel formation. In a simple and practical model the Elbasani aquifer basin can be
described by the combination of two elements: the gravel horizon and the Shkumbini River (Fig. 5).
The gravel horizon constitutes the storing tank and the filtering system. The Shkumbini River, passing
through the gravel horizon plays the role of the water supplier, delineating so an aquifer of
inexhaustible water reserves. The waters of Shkumbini River and of underground draining from Krasta
and Mirdita tectonic zones recharge continuously the gravel horizon in the conditions of a completely
filled tank. This is supported by data gained from experimental drillings, where despite the high
discharge rates of 100 l/s, the difference between the static and dynamic level has been very small.
Lithology Thickness Brief description of the deposits Geological
al Qh2 River bed terrace. Gravels,
5-7 m sands, pebbles, clays.
H o l o c e ne
8-10 m al Qh1 First terrace. Sands, silts,
al Qp3 Second terrace. Sands, silts,
10-15 m gravels.
al Qp3 Third terrace. Gravels, sands,
P l e i s t o c e ne
10-15 m al Qp3 Fourth terrace. Gravels,
sands, silts, clays.
15 m al Qp3 Fifth terrace. Gravels, sands,
Plio - P-Q
30-50 m N2 Clays, gravels.
Oligocene Bedrock deposits.
1- Buried erosive accumulative surface; 2- Present erosive accumulative surface;
3- Uplift, erosion, subsidence, accumulation; 4- Present erosive-accumulative plain;
5- Strong tectonic uplift during Quaternary; 6- Strong orogenic phases.
Fig. 4. Lithostratigraphic column of the fluvial deposits and the geological events in the Elbasani basin area.
Fig. 5. Hydrogeological model of the Elbasani gravel aquifer. 1. Water bearing horizon. Gravels, sands. 2. Soil
cover. Clays and silts. 3. Bedrock. Krasta tectonic subzone. 4. The bottom of quaternary deposits.
5. Recharge from Shkumbini River. 6. Recharge from Krasta subzone. 7. Secondary sources of recharge.
Hydrogeochemistry and water use
As mentioned above the Shkumbini River is the main water supplier of the aquifer basin of Elbasani.
The chemical composition of the waters of the river is as follows: ph=8, dry residue=0.173 g/l, total
suspended solids=0.2996, H2SiO3=0.012 g/l, Na+K=0.0136 g/l, Ca=0.0371, Mg=0.0184 g/l,
HCO3=0.2104 g/l, Cl=0.0106 g/l, SO4=0.0095 g/l. The analyses show that the water of the river is
within permitted parameters. This is an important factor for the waters of the aquifer. The waters of this
aquifer basin are widely used as drinking water and industrial water. The aquifer is exploited in several
sectors including Labinot Fushe, Krasta e Madhe, Krasta e Vogel, Byshek, Katund i Ri, Mjekes,
Vidhas and Murriqan. Chemical analysis and pumping data are shown in (Table 1). The water quality
is within all permitted norms and recommended for use as drinking water and industrial water.
Through the water-supply line are supplied the urban centres of Elbasani, Cerriku and many inhabited
zones along the hills on both sides of the Shkumbini river valley, as well as many industrial zones and
Kraste e Labinot Kraste e
Well parameters for Vidhasi Katundi i Ri
Vogel Fushe Madhe
several aquifer sectors
Thickness of water
22-68 10 43-82 6-48 10-18
bearing layer (m)
Discharge (l/s) 20-145 55-111 16-17 8.3 102-154
Specific discharge (l/s) 17-115 78-125 119 55 82-104
Static level (m) 0.5-8.2 0.77-0.85 8.25-16.5 7.8-10.7 0.42-17.3
Dynamic level (m) 2.5-8.7 1.22-1.37 8.41-16.8 7.9 0.4-1.04
Radius of influence (m) 50-312 200 25 300
Water temperature (ºC) 14 14-14.5 10 12.5-15 10-15
pH 7-8 7.2 7.7 7.4-7.7 7.3-8.1
4.2-8.9 4.33-4.77 9-11 8.15-13.74 6.5-13
0.32-0.75 0.34-0.39 0.29 0.25-0.42 0.2-0.57
Dry residue (g/l) 0.11-0.57 0.24-0.28 0.2-0.24 0.15-0.28 0.15-0.35
Na+K (g/l) 0.017-0.027 0.005-0.008 0.015-0.048 0.003-0.006
Ca (g/l) 0.03-0.08 0.055-0.063 0.03
Mg (g/l) 0.03-0.054 0.019-0.02 0.02 0.02
HCO3 (g/l) 0.2-0.4 0.24-0.27 0.2 0.22-0.24
H2SiO3 (g/l) 0.01-0.08 0.01 0.02 0.02
Cl (g/l) 0.01-0.08 0.07 0.01-0.05 0.02
SO4 (g/l) 0.006-0.009 0.014-0.018 0.009-0.04 0.006-0.02
Table. 1. Well parameters for several sectors of the aquifer.
Water reserves and usage possibilities
The Elbasani aquifer basin contains large water reserves, due to its large spatial extension and its
recharge system. The alluvial field of the Labinot Fushe-Cerrik segment extends in an area of 20x5 km
and has a depth from several tens of meters up to at least 200 m. In the drilled wells within the gravel
horizon, by vertical pumps is taken a water discharge up to 250 l/s per well. The hydraulic
characteristics are: the filtration coefficient >200 m/day, specific discharge = 60-80 l/s/m, radius of
influence = 350 m. The aquifer is recharged with waters by the Shkumbini River (which is the main
water supplier of the basin with a discharge of 5-185 m3/sec), waters of the basement formations
(more than 1000 l/s) and rainfall. In the area of Vidhasi from the drilled wells a discharge of 2500 l/sec
is made possible; only one third of this is exploited to the benefit of the community. A discharge of 260
l/s is made possible in Murriqani locality, however only 80 l/s are being exploited. Bysheku springs
have a discharge of 250 l/sec but only 20 l/sec are being exploited. As can be seen from these figures
less than one third of the exploitable water reserves are used to the benefit of the community. This
conclusion does not take into account the total water reserves of the aquifer which may reach up to
5000 l/s. The aquifer is characterized by potential water reserves that meet the demand for drinking
water and industrial water of the Elbasani area and may be used also for the water supply of other
zones with intensive urban development (e.g. the Golem-Durresi area).
Problems of management and protection from pollution
A better management of the aquifer basin and its water resources is required. Entire urban and rural
areas in the alluvial field and in the surroundings face shortage of water supply. Very close to the
Bysheku springs the touristic centre of Llixha has no continuous water supply. Approximately 2000 l/s
of water from the Vidhasi wells are not exploited, while in the same time the touristic centre of Golem-
Durresi has great difficulties for drinking water.
Although the basin is covered by a clay horizon varying between 1-8 m thick, it is continuously
threaten by pollution coming from the infiltration of polluted surface waters. The gravel formations are
noted for high permeability; hence they request a special protection. Intensive construction is taking
place over the gravel zones, often very close to the exploitation wells. The pollution from agricultural
activity is also present. Diverse tailings are being thrown along the Shkumbini river bed. One of the
main polluters is the metallurgical plant of Elbasani, which by fluid or gaseous discharges represents a
potential threat to the basin.
The construction of a landfill for the city of Elbasani, away from the aquifer basin as well as the
construction of a line for the discharge of sewage and other polluted waters in the westernmost side of
the basin is required. The aquifer basin and the whole Shkumbini watershed must be placed under
strict protective measures.
The Aquifer Basin of Elbasani is one of the largest water resources of Albania.
The aquifer basin was formed in an extensional tectonic regime related with the activity of the
Elbasani-Dibra transversal fault.
The aquifer basin constitutes a complex hydrogeological node of potent surface and underground
draining and thick gravel horizons.
Less than one third of the discharge of existing wells and natural springs is being exploited.
Total water reserves of the basin reach up to 5000 l/s. These large quantities of fresh water can be
used not only to meet the water demand of Elbasani area, but also for the water supply of other urban
The aquifer basin is under serious threat from urban and industrial developments, pollution through
infiltration and discharge of polluted waters along Shkumbini River. Therefore special protection
measures for the aquifer basin of Elbasani and the whole Shkumbini watershed are required.
Aliaj Sh., Melo V., et al. (1996). Neotectonic structure of the Albanides and its geodynamic evolution
(in albanian). Central Archive of Geology. Tirana. Albania.
Bridge S.J. (2003). Rivers and Floodplains. Forms, Processes, and Sedimenatry Record. Blackwell
Publishing. p. 491.
Eftimi R., Tafilaj I. (1979). A brief review of underground waters of Albania. (in albanian). Buletini i
Shkencave Gjeologjike. Tirana. Albania
Naço P., et al. (2003). Assessment of the thermal water basins in the Elbasani-Tirana-Ishmi area and
their practical importance (in albanian). Central Archive of Geology. Tirana. Albania.
Naço P., Leka P., et al. (2005a). Complex study for the administration of the territory and natural
resources: Geology-Territory-Environment of the municipalities and communes of Elbasani
district (in albanian). Central Archive of Geology. Tirana. Albania.
Naço P., Bedini E., et al. (2005b). Active tectonics, evaporites and permanent seismicity of Elbasani
area, Albania. 14-th Meeting of the Association of European Geological Societies, Torino,
Italy, September 2005.