World Water Day marked by calls for protection of watercourses

Ljubljana – Marking World Water Day, experts stressed the importance of waters and the need to protect the abundance of water sources that Slovenia boasts for future generations, especially in the light of proposed changes to the waters act that would loosen the rules for water protection areas.

The right to drinking water was enshrined in the Slovenian Constitution in 2016, Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina noted, warning against any rash solutions that could jeopardise this right.

“Since it is clear that the quantity of water is limited all around the world, water is an important economic commodity, and thoughts and ideas are getting louder that water should no longer be a public but become a market commodity,” he warned.

When the Constitution was amended to include the right to drinking water, “we expected this will be only a foundation for better implementation of the human right to clean drinking water”, Svetina said.

However, this declarative step was not followed by legislative solutions and did not bring the desired effects on people’s awareness about the importance of drinking water, he added.

Relevant legislation should have been passed by May 2018, and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office has warned of this on many occasions, Svetina said.

Slovenia is one of the wealthiest European countries in terms of water resources and this calls for even more prudent water management, he stressed.

Any changes to the waters act and other environmental legislation must be well thought through, sustainable, and taken in dialogue with experts and other stakeholders, the ombudsman warned.

Initially, the changes to the water law were to allow the Waters Fund to allocate money for regular maintenance of watercourses, but the coalition parties added two more provisions allowing some projects in water protected areas and coastal areas that have not been allowed so far.

Water and environmental NGOs have been campaigning against the changes, and concerns have also been expressed by the Chamber of Local Public Economy and some health experts.

Parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič, a member of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC), said today the National Assembly faced an important decision when deciding on the changes to the waters act and that he hoped it would be adopted in the spirit of World Water Day.

He said he had received a number of letters and initiatives ahead of the vote, stressing that politicians must be aware that “on the one hand we are privileged to have extraordinary drinking water and on the other hand drinking water is becoming a strategic resource and a market commodity.”

He is confident the final decision would be “the right one”.

President Borut Pahor also stressed the need for a comprehensive approach to the managing of water resources today. He pointed to a recent call by the permanent advisory committee for climate policy to the government and the National Assembly not to adopt the changes to the waters act in a fast-track procedure.

“Water is crucial for our existence, so we must do everything in our power to protect it,” Pahor said.

Also dividing the public are the government plans for the construction of hydro power plants along the central part of the Sava river, with environmentalists calling for protection of water sources and biodiversity, and Environment Minister Andrej Vizjak stressing the country’s goals in renewable energy use and decarbonisation.

In its World Water Day message the state-owned energy group HSE, which is to operate the plants, stressed the importance of water as a renewable energy source.

In its 20-year history, HSE hydro power plants have produced almost 68 TWh of electricity, which is enough to meet Slovenia’s electricity needs for almost six years, the holding said in a press release.

HSE hydro power plants can provide enough electricity for all Slovenian households, it added.

According to the Statistics Office, the Slovenian public water supply system pumped 170 million of cubic metres of water in 2019, most from underground water sources. Almost half of it, 79.6 million cubic metres, was supplied to households.

Just over 241 million cubic metres of waste waters from various sources, including 58 million cubic metres from households, were flushed down the public sewage system. Almost 70% of them went though waste water treatment plants before being released back into the environment.

The Institute for Nature Conservation stressed that people usually start to become aware of the importance of water when there is not enough of it or when floods come. “But we forget that the water ecosystem with all its hydro-morphologist features and life in it is often jeopardised because of our foolish actions.”

The Environment Ministry announced last week that the state funding of supply with drinking water would go up from EUR 900,000 this year to more than EUR 6.7 million next year.

The funding of regular maintenance of watercourses will also go up, from EUR 16.3 million last year to EUR 25 million this year. More than EUR 65 million will go for anti-flooding measures this year.

Meanwhile, water has been scarce in some areas and in 2019 more than 3,150 hectares of land, mostly agricultural land, but also sports fields and ski slopes, needed irrigation. The plans for agriculture by 2023 envisage expanding this agricultural lands areas by around 10%.

“Slovenia has a lot of experience irrigating farmland, but so far the climate has not forced us to build massive irrigation systems. However, today and in the near future, irrigation will become crucial for maintaining stable and quality products,” the Agriculture Ministry said in its Water Day message.

It added that one of the strategic goals of Slovenian agriculture was to reduce the negative impact of farming on natural resources, especially water resources.

The current government is also determined to finally provide a reliably water source for the coast, with the project of the Padež water source being listed among projects of national importance a few days ago. The Istrian municipalities have welcomed this solution, while the Kras and Brkini regions have been critical.

The Foreign Ministry also joined calls for water protection today, organising several events, including a campaign on the importance of water on Twitter and Facebook.

The Green Group, whose member is Slovenia alongside Iceland, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, published a joint statement highlighting a commitment to sustainable solutions to water-related challenges and the protection of water resources for future generations, the ministry said.