A new Water Law was signed this month by the Polish president. It is a response to the 2016 Court of Justice ruling that Poland had failed to implement Water Framework Directive. Although this new piece of legislation was meant to fully implement the EU law, it contains provisions that are likely to have a largely negative impact on the environment.
New payments for water – environmentally detrimental
Following the EU requirements, the new Water Law introduces the payment system for ‘water services’.
However, it enables the landowner to draw water free of charge as long as they don’t exceed a yearly average, not daily as ClientEarth recommended. As a result, the landowners will be allowed to take more water on some days, especially during peak summer season (when the water levels are low anyway), balancing it by lower consumption for example in the wintertime. This provision will lead to the excessive use of water and may lead to more droughts in the future.
It is worth noting that the limit itself is too high as it exceeds the amount of Polish water resources for each resident per year. Therefore, this provision does not promote sustainable water use based on a long-term protection of available water resources.
Privileges for fish producers
What is more, fish producers are being put in the privileged position as they will be allowed to draw water for economic purposes even if a river has very little water in it. This solution is particularly dangerous for smaller rivers and it may prevent some ecosystems from absorbing enough water to sustain species and consequently, it may increase the threat of drought.
Step in the right direction – reducing outflow of nitrates
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that there are also steps in the right direction in the new legislation. In line with ClientEarth’s recommendation, the new Water law obliges all agricultural producers (and not only big ones as had been planned before), to reduce the outflow of nitrates from agricultural sources. It’s worth mentioning that the majority of Polish farms – more than 70% – are small (less than 10 hectares) so this change is really significant.
Lack of civic control over water use
Critically, the new Water law practically excludes NGOs from participation in water permit issuance processes breaching the Aarhus Convention and making environment protection much more difficult. That is why ClientEarth referred this problem to the Aarhus Compliance Committee which will be considered at the upcoming 58th meeting of the Committee in Budva in Czech Republic, next month.