An entire industry depends on the ecological condition of Varna and the associated Beloslav Lake, such as tourism, on which the economy of Varna and the region is based. The two lakes were connected to the sea 50 years ago through two navigable canals, which are a transport corridor by sea to Devnya. The Devnya industrial complex, together with shipbuilding and ship repair, are the reason why the lakes have greatly deteriorated environmental indicators. What and how much is the pollution can only be guessed, because there are no current comprehensive studies. Adding the thermal impact of TPP Varna, the discharged water from the municipal treatment plant and the tributary of the Provadiyska River, which often overflows the tailings near Padina, it is normal that the cause of fish plagues in lake waters does not become clear. The most recent example of reckless pollution was last summer, when Lake Varna took in tons of wastewater from a damaged sewer pipe that runs along its bottom.
The negative impact continues, although the lakes are part of Natura 2000 under the Birds Directive and despite the separate protected areas – “Kazashko” and “Mochurishte”.
The new ecological pressure on the reservoirs is related to the deepening of the navigable canal. The disposal of the dredged mud masses is the time bomb for the ecology of Varna. The effect of industry is “sealed” in the mud masses – the chemical deposits from the Devnya production, including the mercury hydrolysis used for many years in Devnya. The opinion is of the Institute for Climate, Atmosphere and Water Research at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. According to a preliminary estimate, the dredging volumes are expected to be in the range of 7-8 million cubic meters. They will land under the noses of Varna residents and in close proximity to the Kazashko protected area.
In early May, the Council of Ministers approved the deepening of Channels 1 and 2 in the port of Varna. The project includes deepening of navigation route’s lake part of the approach and the turning circle of the port terminal “Varna-West” and strengthening of the shore.
According to the General Director of the State Enterprise “Port Infrastructure” Angel Zaburov, the deepening of the access channels of Varna’s port is one of the largest projects implemented in the last 40-45 years on the territory of Varna. Its value is BGN 350 million. The goal is to provide 2 m more draft of the ships up to 13.50 m or acceptance of vessels with a tonnage of 60-70 thousand, the so-called “Post-Panamax” ships.
Despite the scale of the project and its implementation in a protected area, no environmental impact assessment (EIA) has been carried out for the investment proposal, nor even an assessment of whether to carry it out. The only thing that the Varna Environmental Inspectorate RIEW issued in March this year was a “decision to assess the likelihood of a negative impact.” According to Annex 1 of the Environmental Protection Act, the EIA is mandatory for “Inland waterways and ports serving ships on inland waterways that allow the passage of ships with a displacement of over 1350 tons.” Moreover, according to the construction permit of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works from June this year. the construction is the first category according to Ordinance 1 of the construction department.
The decision of the eco-inspection states that the activities do not contradict the regime for a protected zone, according to which the burning of reeds is prohibited at certain times of the year.
The environmental bomb
The real ecological bomb was planted due to the disposal of the scraped toxic mass of sludge of 7-8 million cubic meters. This is planned to take place in the closed underwater depot “Nalbank” in the protected area due to exhausted capacity. It is located at the end of Channel 1 in Varna Lake, only 10 meters from the protected area “Kazashko”. According to the decision on the compatibility assessment of RIEW – Varna from May this year, the landfill will resume its activities, transforming its borders. Its total operational volume is expected to be a little over 3 million cubic meters. Neither the environmental opinion nor the permit of the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works makes it clear where the remaining 5 million cubic meters of mud will be deposited.
The RIEW’s opinion
The disposal is planned to start from the deeper part, where a dike will be made of hard dredged material. It should play the role of a barrier for the spread of sludge, recommended by the eco-inspection in Varna. “Subject to the conditions set in the decision, no significant indirect impact is expected on key habitats in the Kazashko protected area. The implementation of the investment proposal will not lead to significant transformations, damage or reduction of the habitat area of species, including disturbance and repulsive effect of animal species subject to protection of the Varna-Beloslav Lake Protected Area, the assessment decision states. compatibility of RIEW-Varna. From there they believe that after the filling of the landfill, the changes will affect only its underwater part, which is of less importance for the existence of water-loving bird species in the area. The Ecoinspection is of the opinion that the transformation of this part of the water area into shallows will be favorable for waterfowl, because its characteristics will be similar to those of wetlands within the meaning of the Biodiversity Act.
The chemical analyzes of the samples taken from the landfill area and the performed geological drilling did not establish the presence of heavy metals, oil products and other toxic substances, dangerous for the birds in the protected area, the decision says. The Public Center for Environment and Sustainable Development requested the results of the analyzes made under the Access to Public Information Act.
What scientists say
Scientific knowledge is currently insufficient to make a good objective assessment of the current state of water in the Varna and Beloslav lakes and the direction of development of ongoing processes – both natural and anthropogenic, according to an opinion of the Institute for Climate Research, atmosphere and water to BAS, sent to the Minister of Environment. The control bodies do not have a system of modern, scientifically based means to exercise effective control activity and, if necessary, to react operatively, the scientists claim.
What the eyewitnesses say
Fishermen who have been working on the shores of the lake for years believe that the whole process of deepening is “emptying into emptiness.” The muddy mass is sucked from the route of the canal and poured on the northern, deeper shore. However, the natural direction of the water currents carries it to the south. Thus, in practice, the sediments from the bottom, together with all the chemistry in them, spread from one shore to the other.
“Currently, there are no fish in the lake, except for the traditional Ilaria,” said Stancho Kazakov, chairman of the Malka Chaika fishing cooperative. According to him, in other years there was anchovy, horse mackerel, blackthorn. And this happens only a month and a half after the beginning of the deepening of the canal.
The fish escapes from the turbidity of the water, which is caused by digging. Most likely, this has led to smaller amounts of oxygen and has indirectly affected the state of biodiversity, “said Ivaylo Ivanov of the Bulgarian Society for the Protection of Birds. On the one hand, due to the lack of oxygen and on the other due to the chemical composition of the sludge, the number of organisms along the entire food chain decreases, and hence the number of fish, Ivanov believes. He expects this to affect the objects of protection in the lakes – birds and mammals that feed on fish. Due to the fact that they do not freeze in winter, the lakes are a convenient place for wintering various species of ducks, divers, cormorants and other waterfowl.
One of the obvious examples of what is happening to the ecosystem from the accumulation of dredged masses is the construction of the port of Gastrade in Lake Beloslav. There are deposited in an underwater depot many times less quantities of silt mass on the south coast. As can be seen from the photos taken, the picture looks like mud concrete, without any vegetation. If this happens on 10-15 times larger area, what will be left of the lakes ?!
Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations
The project “Improving public knowledge about the role of Civil Society Organizations” shall be implemented with the financial support of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA Financial Mechanism. The main goal of the project is to improve citizens’ awareness of the role of non-governmental organizations in society. This material is established with the financial support of the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria under the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area. The whole responsibility for the content of the document is held by the Public Environmental Center for Sustainable Development and under no circumstances can this material be considered to reflect the official opinion of the Financial Mechanism of the European Economic Area and the Active Citizens Fund of Bulgaria.