MPs pass amended water act

Ljubljana – Parliament passed on Tuesday changes to the water act with 44 votes in favour and 38 against. One major provision has been scrapped from the bill in the wake of criticism by NGOs, but environmentalists warn that the legislation is still problematic with efforts already launched to place the law on a popular ballot.

Ahead of today’s vote, deputy groups across the political aisle lauded the bill’s proposal to boost funds for regular watercourse maintenance and management and anti-flooding measures, however the opposition was critical of changes that pertain to construction works on water and coastal areas.

The planned provision allowing construction of manufacturing facilities which use hazardous materials in water protected areas had been removed from the bill by the government following opposition from environmentalists.

An amendment was tabled today by the coalition, however, allowing simple facilities including for private use to be built on water and coastal areas.

Mateja Udovč of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) said this was to allow private owners, especially those with houses near creeks in urban areas, to build a parking lot for their car or a shed, which they had not been allowed to do so far.

Regarding the increased funding for watercourse maintenance, Mihael Prevc of the coalition New Slovenia (NSi) noted the price of flooding Slovenia had paid in the past 20 years, saying that appropriate watercourse management could mitigate or even eliminate flood damage.

The solution of providing funds from the Water Fund for such efforts was a key reason for fast-tracking the bill, said Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak. The changes eliminate inconsistencies and red tape, according to him.

Boris Doblekar of the ruling Democrats (SDS) said it was good that the power of deciding on coastal land was being transferred from the government to local authorities, which would shorten the unreasonably procedures.

However, apart from the financing proposal, other provisions of the legislation do not enjoy cross-partisan support. The coalition along with Vizjak and opposition could not see eye to eye regarding a change of Article 37 of the water act.

The opposition believes that the modification opens the door wider to construction work on coastal and water areas, whereas the coalition denies that, saying that, on the contrary, the changes shortens the list of facilities that can be built on such areas, allowing only public facilities and only under certain condition.

Vizjak said the proposal for such changes had come from municipalities, which would like to build playgrounds for children, recreational parks or boat houses by the water. “I haven’t seen a proposal where a municipality would want to have dangerous facilities in a coastal area,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tina Heferle of the opposition Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ) noted that a large number of venues and facilities were considered shared use facilities so the changes did not aim to reduce construction options.

The changes allow for facilities such as bars and restaurants, shops, multi-storey car parks, hotels and buildings offering various services to be built by the sea, said her party colleague Edvard Paulič. “When in doubt, the benefit of environment protection must prevail over other interests,” he said.

Interfering with the coastal land can cause irreparable damage to waters, and changes to Article 37 of the water act pave the way for privatisation of public areas, warned Željko Cigler of the Left.

Moreover, the opposition berated the government for a lack of appropriate public consultation on the bill and criticised Vizjak for his attitude towards experts who have been opposing the changes.

As MPs discussed the legislative proposal, the Youth for Climate Justice movement gathered in front of the parliament building to express opposition to Article 37, which they believe will have a negative impact on groundwater and thus also on drinking water.

NGOs Eko Krog and Danes launched an online petition last week, calling for the removal of Article 37, which has been so far signed by almost 25,500 people.

Following the passage of the bill, the Zdrava Družba (Healthy Society) movement said that it had already initiated efforts to put the legislation to a referendum. A total of 2,500 signatures must be collected in seven days for the proposal to move to the second stage of proceedings.