DEPARTMENTAL INTERESTS HARM THE WATER SECTOR
Assen Lichev, Director of Waters Department at the Ministry of Environment and Waters, to the BANKER WeeklyMr. Lichev, Bulgaria is among the five European states with the poorest water resources (together with Poland, the Czech Republic, Belgium and Cyprus). That is why the country often overspends water from its dam lakes. Is there a danger of water shortage if that resource is not properly managed?- Regretfully, recent forecasts show a further warming up of climate in the Balkans. According to international studies, there will be a serious shortage of potable water in the region in about 20-30 years. We'll quickly face a catastrophic situation unless urgent measures are undertaken to restore the forests and green areas which are the main zones of water supply in the country, unless seizure of rubble from rivers stops, unless the branch departmental attitude in using water is overcome. The national strategy for development of the water sector by the year 2015, approved by Cabinet in end-May, was aimed to establish integrated management of these resources, didn't it?- That was the initial idea, but the final version of the document turned out to be quite different. There is one positive and one negative point in it. The positive thing is that the main principles of the EU Framework Directive on Waters were accepted by that governmental document. The negative one, according to me, is that it introduced branch strategies (power engineering, water and sewage, irrigation) in the water sector. To a certain extent that means that departmental interests in the sector will prevail over the general management of the country's water deposits in the next few years.How will then the problems described in the strategy be settled, e.g. the water rationing in a considerable number of settlements, the great losses of water in the network, the legislative regulations of poor quality, and the limited internal financial resources?- That could be done only with a clear awareness that in January 2007 when we join the EU there will be no more administrative barrier for waters and we should be walking in pace with the westeuropean countries. But this is not realized at the political level, less so by the public. After our accession to the EU, the principle of basin management of rivers will be introduced. Almost 80% of Bulgarian rivers are transborder and will be managed jointly by commissions in which our neighbours - Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Romania - will participate on an equal footing. Regretfully, however, a large part of the water resources in the Balkans are on our territory. I say regretfully, because we'll indirectly undertake the most serious commitment - the waters coming from Bulgaria should be of good quality. This is to be realized and the necessary legislative framework and diplomatic preparations should be made in order to regulate the ways for participants in the bilateral commissions to protect their national interests and distribute their obligations regarding the common water basin. This should be done as soon as possible. Regarding the necessary funds, as an expert I believe nobody could help us if we don't help ourselves. The dilemma is if we should draw the successive loan from the World Bank or deal with the problems on our own, for instance by temporary hiking the fee for using water. In my opinion, it's not reasonable to become still more dependent on foreign financial institutions. We made calculations how much own funds we'll need for rehabilitation of the sewage network and construction of water treatment stations. Our analyses showed that the money could be collected by raising the fee for water usage to some BGN0.12-0.16/cu m, up from the current BGN0.02/cu m. However, that opportunity dropped out after the introduction of branch strategies in the water sector. The Ministry of Environment and Waters has recently announced data that some 14.1% of the drinking water in Bulgaria is contaminated and dangerous to the health. Where are the most serious problems and what has caused them?- This percentage is not true, because it refers to water resources and not drinking water. The water basin of a village of 100 people cannot be compared with the Iskur dam lake, which supplies water to Sofia where 1,000,000 citizens live. I would not like to oppose people from various population centres. It is our obligation to protect the rights of each of them and to provide good water services to each household in the country. But now there is another very serious problem. It turned out that a great part of the undersoil waters are contaminated with nitrates. This information came to our knowledge in the beginning of 2004, and a month ago we were assigned the task to make an analysis and establish the most vulnerable zones. Once we get an overall picture of the contamination we have to draft the necessary measures for water treatment. Afterwards we should correct and redistribute the financial resources for the management of waters, fixed in the strategy, for each of the years till 2013. How will the quality of our drinking water be guaranteed after Bulgaria joins the EU?- It will be gradually achieved, as operators will be obliged to do that by applying various methods for treatment of water. This matter is regulated by a separate regulatory legislative document, called ordinance on the quality requirements to surface waters, intended for drinking and household purposes. For the first time this document raised the question how to get good quality water at the entrance of the water supply system. Alternative water supply will be sought at places with very high nitrate contamination. However, specific requirements will be worked out additionally. The aim of both the new Waters Act, to be considered by Parliament on December 27 and due to be approved in 2005, and of the Framework Directive on Waters, is to oblige the State to make everything possible for ensuring good quality of both surface and undersoil drinking water. Almost 250 permissions for small hydroelectric power plants were issued within four years, but only 30% of them have been built so far. What are the reasons for that disbalance, considering the fact that the electricity generated by such power stations is purchased by the National Electricity Company (NEC) at preferential prices?- Here is the report as of August 1, 2004. The exact number of permissions is 244 and only 48 hydroelectric power plants have been built so far. The reason, according to me, is the initial assessment that this is an investment which yields returns very soon. In the beginning many people rushed to obtain a permission and trade it at a profit afterwards. But many of them did not appraise correctly the necessary documents they will have to obtain for building a station. Poor preliminary hydrological analyses were an additional problem. Most of the data were from 1986 and did not render an account of the climatic changes in the last few years. Therefore, many candidates got burned as they has purchased the equipment in advance. There is talk that the new Waters Act, to be enforced in end-2005, will eliminate the possibility for separating the ownership on waters into private, municipal and state. Why is that measure necessary?- During the tenure in office of the former government, ownership on water had to be pluralized into private, municipal and state. That led to many serious difficulties in the administration of the process. And there is practically no ownership on the water, because this is characteristic of an object. The Kleptouza spring in Velingrad is half municipal and half state-owned as per the currently effective Waters Act. Can anyone say how it could be divided? That is why, the new law will stipulate only the regime for the use of water and it will not be unnecessarily burdened with ownership.