Tonnes of sewage into Varna beach, who’s responsible?
The beginning of the tourist season of Varna in Bulgaria is threaten not only by the consequences of the ongoing pandemic but also by a damaged sewer pipe that lain ignored for almost one year. All wastewater from Asparuhovo and Galata districts’ sewerage with more than 27 thousand inhabitants has been flowing into Varna Lake since August last year. This was shown to the public on the end of April by an inspection of Dnevnik.bg responding to a signal for an accident with the underwater pipeline which connects the neighborhoods with the treatment plant in the village of Topoli. According to a reportprepared a few days after by the Regional Inspectorate for Environment and Water, the wastewater discharged into the lake is over 8.3 thousand cubic meters per day and seriously exceeds the norms for the permissible content of harmful and dangerous substances in wastewater discharged into water bodies.
The owner of the pipeline is the Municipality of Varna and its operator is the ViK Varna OOD. The construction contract was signed in January 2008 between the Ministry of Environment and Water and the company SFELINOS SA – Greece; the facility was put into operation on 6th December 2011. On 20th August 2019, ViK Varna OOD informed Varna Municipality about a defect in the pipeline. On 5th November 2019 a letter was sent to the contractor to eliminate the defect, but the warranty of the facility expired on 6th December without any action being taken. A second inspection carried out by the water company on 26th January found out that the pipeline was broken. On 13th March the Municipality of Varna asked for help to the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works in order to be able to finance the repairs. More than 1 million BGN has been provided and repair work began on 19th May, with a deadline for implementation of the site on 30th November 2020. Deputy Mayor of Varna Hristo Ivanov said the Municipality will seek liability in court from SFELINOS SA – Greece, that in the meanwhile has vanished. Since the beginning of the year, the Ministry of Environment and Water has imposed on the water supply company a monthly fine of about BGN 44 thousand to repair the broken pipe and stop the contamination it causes; the sanction has been appealed in court. “We are appealing this sanction because we believe it was imposed illegally on the operating company. We are not the cause of this pollution, we are just the operating company of this pipe. We did not cause the accident, nor as a result of any bad faith on the part of the water operator did this leak occur. On the contrary, we were the first to notify all authorities and stakeholders ”said Mihail Marinov, Deputy Manager of ViK Varna OOD, toFOCUS Radio – Varna .
Nearly 5 million euros have been spent on the project „Transformation of the wastewater treatment plant in Asparuhovo district into a pumping station and construction of a transport pipeline“, about 75% of them are grants from the European ISPA program. It seems that the damage that occurred last August was due to a collision between a passing ship and the pipeline. The accident could probably have been avoided if an important condition had been met, as evidenced by the name of the project: “Transformation of the Asparuhovo WWTP into a pumping station with mechanical treatment and a transport pipeline below the bottom of Varna Lake”. Dnevnik.bg‘s inspection showed that the institutions involved in the implementation of the project were aware of the non-fulfillment of this condition. In response to an inquiry sent to the Municipality of Varna and the Ministry of Environment and Water, it became clear that only “sections” of the pipe were dug under the bottom of the lake. The pipeline crosses the path of the ships passing through Varna Lake, and for this reason, according to the assignment for its construction, it should have been below the bottom. It is reasonable to wonder about the difference in price in building a pipeline on the bottom of the lake or below it.
A flash mob was held in front of the Varna Municipality on 22th May. Protesters claimed that what is happening in Varna Lake is comparable to an environmental catastrophe, and that the fecal water flowing every day into the lake is the cause of the mass fish plague recorded on 19th May. People are outraged that for months the institutions did not take any measures for the damaged pipe, and that if it were not for media publications no one would have known about the accident.
On 26th May, a group of Municipal Councillors from Democratic Bulgaria started a petition to convene an extraordinary session of the Municipal Council in connection with the pollution of Varna Lake. They believe that there is a real ecological catastrophe and a real epidemiological threat to the public health of both citizens and guests of the city, considering the upcoming tourist season.
Following the considerable amount of pictures of darker and more murky parts of the sea uploaded online by concerned citizens, the Mayor of Varna Ivan Portnich asked not to speculate with suggestions of huge pollution at sea. He showed footage from the Institute of Oceanology on the coast between Cape Kaliakra and Constanta (Romania) where similar sections of seawater are clearly visible, colored yellow-brown because of phytoplankton blooms.
However, here you can see some pictures that I took last week on Varna beach showing a section of murky water coming from the lake area and reaching the bay. In addition, on the shore were equally visible various wastes of the kind that people have the habit of flushing down the toilet although perfectly aware of how this behavior is reckless and unsustainable in his environmental and social aspects (eg condoms, tampons, wet wipes) .
This summer season is seriously compromised by the COVID-19 emergency and related restrictions on services and mobility, as well as by the consequent economic crisis that has affected most of the world’s population. Those families who can still afford it are looking forward to the opportunity to go on holiday to ease the stressful situation experienced in recent months. At the same time, owners of hotels and restaurants in tourist resorts such as Varna are waiting for this opportunity to return to work and to ensure their financial security. Nearly a year after the first notification of the accident, the large-scale water pollution in the lake and the bay risks compromising the present and future of many people. It would have been reasonable and desirable to act promptly.
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.