Protests in Bulgaria against skipping new water project

Water project Sofia
The city council of Botunets is one of the four agglomerations in Sofia that lacks proper water services. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

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The city council of Sofia accepted a petition against skipping a new water project worth 128 million euro (250 million Bulgarian Lev, BGN) from the ‘The National Recovery and Sustainability Plan’. This plan has to comply to ‘The Just Transition Mechanism’ aiming to ensure that no one is left behind on the EU’s path to climate neutrality by 2050. The new project included the construction of a drinking water supply, sewerage systems and wastewater treatment plants in four agglomerations in Sofia.

The agglomerations of Botunets, Kremikovtsi, Pancharevo-Kokalyane, and Voluyak with a population of 10,000 inhabitants lack proper water services. The main reason for their exclusion is that Sofia has a concessionaire for a water supply and sewerage service but there is an issue with funding and state aid. Until 2025 water services are provided by the private company Sofia Water, which is managed by the French company Veolia.

Funding

In the last revision of the National Recovery and Sustainability Plan was written that the funding for the new sewerage system should be raised from people’s water bills. However, due to the relatively low incomes of the population, the price of water should remain the same, meaning that it is impossible to gather the required funding. The city council of Sofia stated in their petition: “To achieve compliance with the requirements of the European Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive the financial burden is over 2.9 billion euro, as for the agglomerations with a population between 2.000 and 10,000 inhabitants the necessary funding is about nearly 2 billion euro. We cannot expect citizens to take care entirely for these amounts of money.” Raising water prices in order to invest in water infrastructure is an issue in many European Member States.

Irrigation

Meanwhile, during a briefing at the council of ministers, The deputy prime minister for European affairs Atanas Pekanov announced that the project for modernization of irrigation systems is also dropped in the revised version of the ‘National Recovery and Sustainability Plan’. Modernization of irrigation systems was also part of Bulgaria’s projects to achieving climate neutrality by 2050. According to Pekanov the problem with this project is that in the current form it is not sure each project will benefit the environment. An impact assessment has to be made and such an assessment would delay the adoption of the plan by months. Therefore, this project has been removed from the current version of the plan. As a compensation, a fund for the modernization of agriculture has been proposed.

Subway instead of sewerage

The resources for Sofia have been reduced, the deputy prime minister added. Pekanov stated funding for implementation of the plan should not be invested only in the capital but in other regions of the county, as well. He clarified that there were two projects worth about 185 million euro. One of them is a new subway line that will ensure sustainable transport. The project is being maintained because Mayor Yordanka Fandakova has informed the government that even the slightest reduction in resources on this project would threaten its implementation. So the city of Sofia is planning to spend less money on the other project, which was focused on modernizing the plumbing systems in Sofia.

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