In his presentation of the Act amending the Water Act, Minister of the Environment and Spatial Planning Andrej Vizjak emphasised that the new law tightens the possibility of interventions on coastal properties and that interventions there are no longer decided politically but professionally. The initiators of the Clean Water Referendum are trying to do the exact opposite. They put up stands, and they are actively looking for people to sign a referendum initiative, with some of them not even knowing what they are “selling” or deliberately overlooking the point of the new Act. It is unfortunate that some are trying to score political points on this account while at the same time building dirty projects along the waters themselves. Vizjak is trying to stop such practices with the new law. And he sees only two motives for opposing the changes: “The first is political, because the Levica party (The Left) has now joined in, helping to collect signatures, and Levica’s only goal is to overthrow the government, regardless of the arguments. And the second reason is that behind these initiatives, there is, in fact, capital that wants to preserve the privilege of building on the coastal lands,” Vizjak said.
According to the Ministry of the Environment, during the 19-year validity of the existing law, several reasons for adopting the amendment were brought up, as the amendment eliminates some of the bureaucratised procedures and, at the same time, also aggravates the possibility of interventions on coastal lands. Contrary to the public interpretation of the initiators of the referendum, the law does not negatively affect the coastal lands. “The solution is just the opposite,” Vizjak explained.
The Minister emphasised that this solution reduces the possibility of encroachment on coastal lands. “Article four of the current Act allows for the possibility of narrowing the coastal strip at the suggestion of spatial planning authorities, regardless of the type of building: it is therefore possible to build a private house on the coastal strip or a private villa or even a private port if the spatial planning authority of the municipality or the government agrees. Now, with the new amendment, this has been removed, and it is no longer possible. It is no longer possible to build private buildings on the coastal lands, but only buildings that the general public will benefit from that are intended for the use of the public. So, the conditions are getting tighter,” he explained.
Minister Vizjak is critical of the previous legislation, as it allowed the construction of private facilities, including villas right on the coast. Under the old legislation, the wealthier citizens could forge profits at the expense of the water, and the new law will limit this. The Act abolishes the procedure of narrowing the coastal lands, which has so far, with the cooperation of the Water Directorate of the Republic of Slovenia and the Ministry of the Environment, ended politically, so with the Government of the Republic of Slovenia adopting a decree. According to the amendment, interventions on coastal lands will be directly decided on by the Water Directorate of the Republic of Slovenia. The new legislation will only allow the construction of simple facilities intended for the public good.
The Minister wondered whether the opponents of this solution are perhaps opposing the tightening of the possibility of interventions on coastal lands precisely because they want to continue to be able to build private facilities on coastal lands. “Do they have investors in their party ranks? The Water Directorate of the Republic of Slovenia has as many as 30 cases for interventions on coastal lands,” he added. Minister also called on the deputies to decide on the law based on the actual text of the Act, and “not as it is being interpreted by some associations, that have decided to interpret the law in their own way.”
With the amendments to the Water Act, the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning additionally protected the coastal zone, drinking water and biodiversity, and the law also allocates 17 million for the much-needed maintenance of the watercourses and ensuring flood safety. The law also brings additional solutions for regulating food safety. Among the types of activities that can be financed from the Water Fund, the financing of the public utility service of water management is also added. In any case, this will be an important corrective to the provision of additional funds for the regulation of watercourses.
The new Water Act also requires a water permit issued by the Water Directorate for any intervention on coastal land. Water consent can only be issued if:
- the intervention is not contrary to the conditions and restrictions for the implementation of activities and spatial interventions in areas endangered by floods and the related erosion of inland waters and the sea,
- it does not increase the risk or threat of flooding or erosion,
- it does not worsen the condition of the waters,
- it is still possible to perform public services,
- it does not restrict the existing specific water uses; and,
- it is not contrary to the water management objectives.
The new water law does not endanger drinking water but additionally protects and safeguards it
From now on, it will no longer be possible to build industrial facilities on coastal land. Any intervention in the coastal zone will require the consent of the Water Directorate, which will not be issued in the event of negative impacts on water and the environment.
Certain critical comments have arisen in public at the expense of the referendum and the stands where the aforementioned parties are collecting signatures. Dominik Čevka, one of the producers of organic food, for example, found out through debate that the initiators at the stand did not know the legislation at all. “And how can you have an argumentative discussion with someone who does not even know what they are talking about?” he was critical.
The referendum will lead to the return of old dirty projects
The left-wing parties are persistently urging their voters to add their signature in support of clean drinking water. “Today, I submitted my signature of support for the Clean Water Referendum. Because I want to drink clean water from the tap and because I do not want reckless construction to endanger our rivers, lakes and seas. I invite you all to also submit your signature of support to the administrative unit, or add your digital signature,” the president of the SD party Tanja Fajon wrote, without any real clarification of what the actual changes to the law are. They are trying to score political points by defending clean drinking water with terrible zeal, despite the fact that drinking water will not be even more protected. In any case, we cannot ignore the fact that Janković managed to build a sewer over the groundwater source of clean drinking water without any consideration or opposition from non-governmental organisations. This further proves that the intention of their current actions is nothing more than to tear down anything positive that has been built and prepared in the last year. The question is, do we want a referendum that will help bring back old, dirty projects?
“I really cannot understand what the motive of the non-governmental organisations is, which are intentionally misinterpreting the purpose and text of the Act amending the Water Act. There can only be two motives. The first is political, because the Levica party has now joined in, helping to collect signatures, and Levica’s only goal is to overthrow the government, regardless of the arguments. And the second reason is that behind these initiatives, there is, in fact, capital, that wants to preserve the privilege of building on the coastal lands,” Vizjak told siol. He believes that the NGOs often refuse to see the bigger picture and only advocate for a narrow perspective, which is “populist and irresponsible.”
In the upcoming articles, we will present the Act in its entirety and will also discuss any changes between the old and the new law. More to follow.