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“Investigative Journalists” As An Extension Of Non-Governmental Organisations

We were recently contacted by the “Centre for investigative journalism” Oštro (under the patronage of the infamous Anuška Delić, who became “famous” on social media mainly for having been exposed for a lie she told Doctor Muževič), asking about the credibility of our article about the fact that the amendment to the Water Act, which was rejected in the referendum, would have increased funding for the maintenance of watercourses and increase flood safety.

As they explained, the possibility of financing public utilities from the Water Fund, which was foreseen in the amendment to the Water Act, is also possible on the basis of Article 10 of the Act on Intervention Measures to Assist the Economy and Tourism Sector in Mitigating the Consequences of the COVID-19 Epidemic – from July 2021 onwards. The Water Directorate therefore believes that the adoption of the amendment would not have increased the amount of funds earmarked for the maintenance of watercourses from 2021 onwards.

Professor Dr Matjaž Mikoš from the Faculty of Civil and Geodetic Engineering of the University of Ljubljana pointed out to the media outlet (the name would translate to “uncovering”) that additional investments from 2021 onwards would not have significantly mitigated the consequences of the recent floods, as projects to counteract the damaging effects of water require more time. Dr Primož Banovec, Director of the Water Science Institute, also shared the same belief, pointing out that flood protection does help, but that these are usually longer-term projects. Matjaž Nakrep, from the Faculty of Civil Engineering, Transportation Engineering and Architecture in Maribor, pointed out that the rejected amendment to the law would have allowed additional construction in the area of watercourses and, from this point of view, would have increased the risk of flooding.

Would the Water Act even increase flood risk, as Nakrep claims?

It is obvious from the range of experts that the aforementioned media outlet has chosen that these are people who were already against the Water Act at the time of the referendum, so it makes sense that they would defend their decision – back then, as well as today. What is particularly striking are the words of Professor Nakrep, who said that additional constructions would even increase the risk of flooding. This was the argument of environmental groups and left-wing NGOs during the campaign against the Water Act, as they counted on the fact that the voters would not even read the law in question. But in reality, a building permit that would INCREASE the flood risk would be impossible to obtain under the said law.

If the law had been adopted, it would not have been possible to erect industrial buildings, even as an exception, in the coastal strip, after the entry of the new law into force, and for all other buildings, they would have all been subject to a number of strict safety conditions and environmental safeguards. It had been said that the new law would allow hotels, petrol stations, and even shopping centres to be built in the coastal strip, which is probably what the professor is referring to, but this is simply not true.

And there is more. Under the existing law, it is possible to obtain permission to narrow the coastal strip for all buildings. Under the new law, however, this would have changed, as it would only be possible to obtain such a permit for simple structures and for public-use structures.

However, even without the funds that the media outlet Oštro is asking about, the law would have had a significant impact on watercourses. At the initiative of the municipalities, the law had even been amended to make it easier for local authorities to regulate riverbanks and integrate them into the life of towns and villages. In Maribor, for example, the new law would have made it much easier to improve the Drava riverbank in Lent. Municipalities would have been able to build riverside and lakeside piers, set up walking paths, boathouses, sports grounds and children’s playgrounds, etc. The new law would have taken away the government’s ability to decide on interventions in the coastal strip. This option would have been exclusively in the hands of experts – meaning, those who are the first to be called upon to ensure that no structures are placed on the coastal strip which could have any impact on groundwater or on the sources of drinking water.

Interestingly, it was Oštro’s interlocutor Mikoš who had previously praised the former government in this regard. In a programme on national television, on the 19th of April 2021, he pointed out that the zoning process had not changed with this change in legislation. Meaning, someone who would want to build in the coastal strip would have had to take the initiative within the spatial planning (municipal spatial plan). “Here, I think that the government has really made a positive move by limiting the set of facilities to only those of public benefit. In this sense, the set of facilities will be reduced,” he said at the time.

Their arguments do not hold up

The central argument of those who Oštro called and asked for their opinion is this: the potential flood defences that could have been built had the amendment to the Water Act been adopted would not have been that much better because such projects take a long time. They are using an argument that does not hold up to get their point across. Nobody is claiming that we would have gotten complete flood protection in the years between 2021 and 2023. But we would have at least gotten better protection than we have TODAY. As a direct consequence of the fall of the law, the 17 million euros of funds reserved in the Water Fund could not be mobilised in order to proceed immediately with the much-needed maintenance of Slovenian watercourses – both for rivers and streams. The banks of our watercourses are overgrown, they are accumulating debris, and this is impairing flood safety and causing the waters to flood. Many previous governments promised to tackle this problem, but none of them actually did it. It was only the third Janša government that prepared some legislation that would solve this. The Water Directorate argues that such funding would be possible from June 2021 onward, even under the intervention recovery act. It might have been possible – but nothing has actually happened. Even after a year of the Golob government, when flood protection assessments were already known. Under the law, however, these funds would have started to be used immediately. Two years have passed between then and today’s floods. In two years’ time, the watercourses could have already been sorted out to some extent – projects do take a long time, of course, but they do not last forever. In two years, there could have been some progress. Of course, no one is claiming that the watercourses would have been completely cleaned up by now. But they would be more adequate than they are today.

It seems that the media outlet Oštro wants to structure the article on the premise that the Water Act was irrelevant and even harmful, which is not true at all – and that is also what their interlocutors have confirmed in the past.

M. I.

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