Collection of signatures for water referendum starts

Ljubljana – The collection of signatures for a referendum on the water act started on Tuesday amidst appeals by environmentalists that water sources should be protected and warnings by the government that the referendum would actually be damaging for water sources and for people living along bodies of water.

A group of NGOs initiated the referendum claiming that the amended water act was dangerous because it made it easier to build in the coastal zone.

While article 37 of the law says only facilities for public use may be built in the coastal zone, environmentalists claim this could also mean hotels or marinas, facilities that would in fact limit public access to water.

“If Slovenia’s future involves building up the coastal zone and wild privatisation that would harm drinking water and free access, we do not want these changes to pass,” environmentalist Miha Stegel said today.

The government has dismissed the claims and argued that there will in fact be less construction in the coastal zone.

“We want to additionally protect water sources, the coastal zone and biodiversity in the coastal zone. We’re therefore surprised the initiators of the referendum are alleging that this is precisely what we are not doing,” Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak said.

He said the current law allows construction of public or private facilities in the coastal zone based on government decree, with 54 such projects already approved and thirty still pending, a quarter involving private buildings.

The solution to this is to permit construction for public use “under relatively strict conditions”.

Vizjak noted that the referendum initiative, if successful, would render it impossible to activate EUR 17 million in funding set aside in the water fund for the maintenance of waterways.

He also accused the environmentalists of refusing a substantive debate, after the government was accused of wanting a debate after the law was already passed.

The initiators of the referendum have 35 days to collect 40,000 verified signatures. If they succeed, the National Assembly must call a referendum.