Non-governmental organizations and experts managed to get enough signatures to hold a referendum in Slovenia in an attempt to overthrow the recent amendments to the Waters Act. The vote is scheduled for July 11.
Slovenia’s Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning claims the changes prohibit the construction of industrial facilities and private buildings on the banks of rivers and lakes, while environmental activists say they allow the construction of facilities that can pollute sources of drinking water. The amendments were passed in parliament in March.
At least 340,007 citizens would have to vote against the amendments to annul them
Environmental and civil society organizations collected 52,230 signatures in just 30 days. In order for the plebiscite results to be valid, at least 20% or 340,007 registered voters must cast their ballots.
On November 17, 2016, Slovenia became the second state in the European Union to include the right to water into its constitution, the first being Slovakia. It declared water a public good and prevented its commercialization. The lack of water, the oil of the 21st century, is becoming a pressing issue all around the world. First water futures entered the financial markets in the United States last year, while the environmental impact of the construction of small hydropower plants in the Western Balkans puts water on the top of the agenda among green activists.
The fate of water is in our hands – activists
The collection of signatures was organized by more than 20 NGOs from all over Slovenia, and 400 volunteers participated. Some political parties also backed the campaign.
According to them, the changes to the law loosen the protection of water in Slovenia.
The Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning, under pressure from expert associations and civil society, withdrew a proposed change to the law which would have enabled the construction of production facilities with hazardous substances and landfills in water protection areas, the activists said. However, the ministry didn’t withdraw an amendment that allows interventions on water and banks, they stressed.
The provision that allows the construction of public buildings is far too broad and poses serious risks to pollution of surface and groundwaters, activists said
The provision that allows the construction of public buildings on banks is far too broad and poses serious risks of pollution of surface and groundwaters, the NGOs said and warned the changes to the law would restrict access to water as a public good.
We are strengthening constitutional right to drinking water – ministry
According to the ministry, the amendments to the water law provided greater protection of water resources and banks, and significantly increase the funds for flood protection.
Construction of factories and other industrial facilities, as well as private facilities, will not be allowed
Construction of factories and other industrial facilities, as well as private facilities, will not be allowed in the said areas. Under stricter water protection conditions, it will be possible to build only simple public facilities, like sports or children’s playgrounds or boathouses, but only if it is in line with municipal spatial acts.
The government will no longer have the right to determine exemptions for construction in areas next to rivers and lakes
For building such public facilities, municipalities will also have to obtain consent from the Slovenian Water Agency and other competent institutions in charge of changing the spatial acts, the ministry said on its website. Construction on land adjacent to rivers and lakes will not be permitted if it hampers flood protection, and water management, it added.
According to the new version of the law, the government will no longer have the right to determine exemptions for construction on land next to bodies of water.
The new law enables greater flood protection by increasing the funds for the maintenance of watercourses. In addition to funds from the state budget, EUR 17 million from the water fund can be used for maintenance and rehabilitation.