Municipalities justify the reprimands of the State Audit Office on the issue of sewerage systems – in the Regions

Subjecting planning to the availability of European Union (EU) funding is the reason why the planning of sewerage systems has become fragmented, commenting on the audit of the State Audit Office (SAO) in the field of wastewater management in local governments, LRA environmental adviser Sandra Bērziņa told LETA.

She agreed that there is a very important issue in the arrangement of the wastewater sector in Latvia, which significantly affects not only the environment, but also the quality of human life. At the same time, the representative of the LSP acknowledged that there is still a lot to be done in the collection, disposal and treatment of wastewater.

Therefore, LPS, assessing that the SAO has addressed this issue and, performing extensive work, has identified the most problematic issues and provided recommendations on what should be done in local governments to improve the situation. The SAO has also emphasized issues to be solved at the state level, which are still the responsibility of state institutions, government and politicians.

As one of them, Bērziņa mentions the situation with the rainwater collection system, the arrangement of which has largely depended on the availability of EU funding.

“Making the arrangement of the rainwater drainage system dependent only on the availability of foreign funding and not choosing other means motivating the improvement does not solve the problems that cause environmental pollution. Also, the sewage sludge management system is still not developed, which is a national issue,” Bērziņa commented.

She also emphasized that subjecting policy planning instruments to the availability of EU funding is the reason why the planning of sewerage systems has become fragmented, not fully integrated into spatial plans.

At the same time, LPS has acknowledged the conclusion of the SAO that the opportunities created by service providers to connect to the centralized sewerage systems are not fully used. In accordance with regulatory enactments, the local government council may issue binding regulations on co-financing for the connection of real estate to the centralized water supply system or centralized sewerage system, determining the amount of co-financing and the conditions for receiving it, which are used by a number of local governments.

“Unfortunately, in the past the proposal to provide connection to the centralized sewerage system as a state aid has not received a response, therefore the support provided by municipalities is based only on municipal finances, and given the projected reduction of at least 10% of revenues in the future. support could be even less or even impossible, therefore other types of state support should be sought for this purpose, “Bērziņa believes, reminding that in 2014 LPS called for connections to centralized networks to be financed from the state and EU budget.

LPS also agrees that the problem is in ensuring the collection and treatment of wastewater generated by decentralized sewerage systems and in ensuring the adequacy of wastewater treatment plant capacities, but in this case, too, sources of funding should be considered, which should not be only EU funding.

The organization representing the local government considers that the regulatory enactments should determine the methodology for calculating the utility fee, which would be applicable to local governments that provide municipal wastewater collection and treatment services. Bērziņa also pointed out that so far the state policy has been looking for tools to get interested in connecting by doing so with co-financing, or by stipulating that decentralized sewerage services will be organized in free market conditions, thus attracting consumers to connect.

“LPS has discussed this issue with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development at the time of the Water Services Law, it was politically decided that it would be regulated only by the market. The reality is that the principle of proportionality is not always observed, leading to guidelines.” recommended by a LPS representative.

She is convinced that both the planned administrative-territorial reform and the SAO audit report show that local governments will need to address the issue of the organizational structure of wastewater management. Municipalities will have to find answers to whether the service should be organized only centrally, whether it should be done only with the help of capital companies, or if some combined solutions are possible.

The Wastewater Management Investment Plan for 2021-2027 estimates that a total of 518,559,279 euros are needed to ensure the existing operation and development of agglomeration water management, of which 220,720,865 euros are needed directly for the reconstruction and renovation of sewerage networks to prevent infiltration, LPS.

“Reconstruction and renewal of sewerage networks is vital for the further provision and development of quality service, at the same time these measures are financially intensive, which is currently not possible to cover from financial resources and fees for services provided,” Bērziņa concluded.

Agency LETA has already reported on the SAO audit, which concluded that Latvia has not succeeded in connecting houses to centralized sewerage systems, thus there are still many unresolved issues in the field of wastewater collection and treatment and a significant amount of untreated wastewater enters the environment, although problems in wastewater management have been known for years and one billion euros have been invested in the country over the years.

“Although one billion euros has been invested in the improvement of centralized sewerage systems in the field of wastewater management, the solution to these problems is still relevant. Solutions have either not been developed or have not been effective enough to eliminate these problems,” the SAO writes in the audit report. Although both policy planning documents and a number of relevant regulations have been developed, the policy instruments developed will not solve all the problems affecting the quality of the environment and will not prevent the release of untreated wastewater into the environment. “

In the view of the SAO, the main and most abundant type of wastewater collection with public sector investments – centralized wastewater systems – does not provide the planned effect. “We have established that the local governments included in the scope of the audit, by expanding the centralized sewerage networks, have not managed to master even half of the established connection possibilities,” emphasizes the SAO.

In the municipalities inspected, the construction and expansion of centralized sewerage networks has failed to achieve even half of the planned connections. In some settlements, not a single household is connected to the new sewerage networks, notes the SAO.

The audit concluded that the increase in the number of household connections was not facilitated by the right of local governments and service providers to co-finance the establishment of connections, which were planned as solutions for increasing the number of connections. Only three out of ten local governments included in the scope of the audit, but in the country as a whole 30 out of 119 local governments have had the opportunity to partially co-finance the establishment of connections.

In the new regulations, which are planned to arrange the decentralized wastewater management, the SAO has identified “defects”, because legal shortcomings have been allowed, which may hinder the implementation of the regulations.

According to the auditors, the increase in the number of connections is also not facilitated by the fact that municipal spatial planning documents do not provide households with detailed information on where it is planned to build centralized sewerage networks, and many households may have built their own decentralized sewerage systems without interest.

On the other hand, the significant amount of wastewater generated in various decentralized household sewerage systems has been left out of full supervision for a long time, the SAO emphasizes.

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