NGOs warn against changes to water legislation

Ljubljana – Three NGOs urged MPs on Monday to vote against the planned changes to the water law arguing they posed a major threat to drinking water. The appeal comes before the parliamentary Infrastructure Committee discusses the bill, which the government adopted in January and the coalition further amended last week.

Eko Anhovo, Eko Krog and Danes are bothered by changes to two articles which would allow construction of production or other facilities in water protected areas.

Article 69 says a production facility using hazardous materials for which an environmental permit is needed or a landfill cannot be constructed in a water protected area.

But a coalition-sponsored amendment would enable the government to introduce exceptions in by-laws, Miha Stegel of the Danes civil initiative group told the press.

Another change is that to Article 37 which would allow building for instance car parks on waters and coastal areas, which would pose a risk in case of accidents.

If construction of buildings that use hazardous substances is not allowed in drinking water areas, there is little chance of its pollution, said Uroš Macerl from Eko Krog.

However, accidents did happen in the past, and it is only a matter of time when pollution in water protected areas would happen, he added.

He noted the executives at Eternit in Anhovo, Kemis in Vrhnika and Termit in Moravče having claimed before accidents happened that their facilities were safe due to various safety mechanisms.

Marcel said the changes to the water act were in public consultation for only two weeks last autumn, while the coalition further changed the bill last week.

The NGOs are also critical of the government sending the bill to parliament to be fast-tracked, citing it contained minor changes.

But Marcel said that “the water law they want to change is of utmost importance for the future of every Slovenian”, with Stegel adding the bill should be rejected while water sources should be fully protected.

Occupational health expert Metoda Dodič Fikfak said the impact of industrial polluters went beyond the industry’s fences, stressing “water is an excellent carrier of pollutants.”

She pointed to several heavily polluted areas in Slovenia, including higher concentrations of atrazine in the river Ljubljanica following a fire at hazardous waste management company Kemis a few years ago.

“But if you don’t measure something in the water, then there is none. There is no asbestos and no lead in our water, because we don’t measure them,” she warned.

The NGOs sent the MPs a letter asking them whether they were ready to take responsibility for the changes to the law.

The opposition Left said the changes to Article 69 were “an unacceptable proposal which will significantly deteriorate water protection”, so they proposed an amendment to annul the problematic provision.

The Environment Ministry has downplayed the changes noting that water protection zones may be vast and have different protection regimes with different degrees of safeguards.

“Half of Ljubljana is on water protection areas… Accidents do happen and for such instances there are plans and documents that prescribe action to prevent the pollution of any water sources,” it said.

As for construction in coastal areas, it said the changes were nothing fundamentally new since construction along the cost was already allowed under certain conditions, the new bill merely simplified certain administrative procedures by shifting the decision-making from the government to the Water Agency.