Municipalities up in arms over prospect of costlier ground water

Photo: Jan Rosenauer

Outside of periods of drought, water conservation is not something Czechs consider a pressing issue. However the prospect of a threefold increase in the price of ground water by 2022 has divided the cabinet and elicited loud protests from municipalities around the country.

Photo: Jan Rosenauer
In the wake of last years’ bad drought - and forecasts of more dry summers in the years to come - Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka asked several ministries to work on a long-term drought prevention strategy. Projects aimed at improving irrigation and ground water retention, changes to the landscape and the building of new reservoirs and basins should cost the state 28 billion crowns over the next five years. All those measures have won broad approval - however a plan to increase the price of ground water three-fold by 2022, as proposed by the Environment Ministry, has caused an outcry. Towns and municipalities dependent on ground water are up in arms over the proposed price increase and the prime minister has come out in their defense. He says the government’s strategy against drought must not become a pretext for increasing the financial burden on Czech households.

“We sought to find a way to reduce the tax burden on families with children; having achieved that we would now take the money away from them by increasing the price of ground water.”

The prime minister’s Social Democratic Party has made it clear it will vote against the water management bill in its present form and Mr. Sobotka wants another debate on the matter in Cabinet.

Marian Jurečka, photo: Filip Jandourek
Environment Minister Richard Brabec from the ANO party, who originally planned a four-fold increase, says that in the long run a hike in water prices is inevitable and the proposed increase should not present a significant burden. Agriculture Minister Marian Jurečka from the Christian Democratic Party backs this view.

“We are talking about an insignificant sum –an increase of about 70 crowns a year for a four member family – moreover at a time when people spend far more than that on bottled water.”

The Union of Czech Towns and Municipalities is strongly opposed to the price hike and argues that it is discriminatory, since many towns and cities have no choice but to use underground water. They say it will disadvantage not just households but companies in the region and moreover point out that a proposed hike in the price for waste water will make the burden even higher.

Photo: Martin Němec
Approximately half of the water consumed by Czech households is underground water. The regions of Přerov, Hradec Králové and Brno are largely dependent on it, while Prague, Ostrava, Liberec and České Budějovice are mostly supplied with water from dams. The former would thus be harder hit by the proposed price hike, but water management experts point out that the current fee for underground water is several times lower than that for surface water and has not been raised for several years. Moreover they say that in view of the global climate change water will gradually become an increasingly valuable commodity with price hikes affecting consumers worldwide; which means that the present average consumption of 100 liters per person, per day may soon be a luxury that Czechs will have to learn to do without.