State to limit access of firms and farmers to water in times of drought

Photo: František Janačík, Czech Radio

The Czech state is planning to limit the access that manufacturers and farmers have to water in times of drought, reported. However, critics say new legislation to that effect could adversely impact some businesses and spark lawsuits.

Photo: František Janačík,  Czech Radio
Under the proposed changes, officials could amend or cancel water collection permits with greater ease and speed than at present.

The measure – the brainchild of the ANO minister of the environment, Richard Brabec – is set to affect everyone from hydroelectric operators to farmers who draw tens of millions of cubic meters of surface water each year,

The regulation is intended to protect fish and consumers downstream during months whenever river levels fall due to high temperatures and drought.

Ministry of the Environment spokesperson Ondřej Charvát told that if flow rates are too low, rivers’ ability to self-clean decreases. For this reason treated wastewater may not be discharged in rivers, as they would be unable to clean it, he added.

The proposal is part of a new amendment to the country’s Water Act jointly drafted by the ministries of the environment and agriculture. It is due to go before MPs for discussion this week, the news site said.

The legislation, which also tightens controls on well owners, is expected to enter force in the second half of 2020 at the earliest.

The country’s water authorities issue around 800 permits to draw on the resource annually. However, it is difficult for them to introduce new limits regarding how much water must remain in a river.

Indeed they can only make changes of that kind when what are known as river basin management plans are being modified – which occurs only once in six years – and even then this must follow consultations.

Some argue that the current means of making changes is slow for good reason. Zdeněk Horáček, an expert on water issues at Deloitte, told that permits are often connected to business and production plans, so must only be changed or cancelled when this is fully justified.

Mr. Horáček also expressed concern that the proposals make no mention of compensation for businesses, who he said could sue over stymied investments.

For their part, ministry officials insist the new powers will only be employed in extraordinary situations. What’s more, the authorities already have some power to curtail or ban water usage for short periods during droughts, said.

The Czech Republic has repeatedly suffered severe droughts in recent years and government officials have launched a number of initiatives to deal with the problem.