The Czech Republic can better adapt to increasingly frequent droughts thanks to an amendment to the Water Act
At the end of 2020, the area of water management regulation has been significantly altered. The so-called “Dry Amendment to the Water Act” was passed at the national level. This amendment, among other things, reacts to increasingly intensive droughts and implements ways to handle them. The Chamber of Deputies received a draft of the Constitutional Act on Water and Water Resources Protection which should take the water protection to the next level. At the EU-level, a new directive on quality of water for human consumption which upgrades the requirements for water quality, state control mechanisms and access to drinking water was approved.
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Conceptual drought management in the Czech Republic
After a long negotiation before Christmas 2020, the so-called “Dry Amendment to the Water Act” was promulgated in the Collection of Laws as Act No. 544. It responds to the drought problems and resulting impacts of water scarcity by implementing plans for drought as conceptual operative and therefore foreseeable documents, according to which mainly drought committees in certain regions will be proceeding when dealing with water shortage. The amendment introduces priorities of using water during a drought with the primary focus on securing the functionality of critical infrastructure and other operations providing necessary services and drinking water supply to the public.
The amendment also deals with some practical application issues. Among other things, it e.g. sets rules for wastewater and rainwater management, repeals the obligations leading to unnecessary burden for the businesses (mainly the obligation to clean and pay for wastewater from floodways of sewage treatment systems) and introduces the right of the operators to remove trees endangering the safe and smooth operation of water pipelines and sewerage systems. On the other hand, it implements a new measuring limit for surface and groundwater consumption of 1,000 m3 annually or 100 m3 monthly instead of the original limit of 6,000 m3 annually or 500 m3 monthly.
New rules for the water for human consumption – quality, control and access to the water
At the end of 2020, a new directive on the quality of water intended for human consumption was adopted. It has been applicable since January 2021 and the EU member states have been given two years for its transposition. What is it going to bring about? Above all, the water quality standards are being tightened beyond the recommendations of the WHO, the requirements for water quality monitoring are being strengthened and the focus is on preventive measures owing to the measures on assessment and risk management of the whole water cycle from the resource to the consumption. Not even emerging pollutants, i.e. endocrine disruptors, medical products and microplastics were left behind. These materials will be newly tracked so that the necessary arrangements can be adopted in time. New regulations relate also to the materials which come in contact with water. They have to meet given hygiene standards to ensure the required quality of supplied water.
The directive put greater emphasis on public awareness since the states have to ensure that the public has access to relevant information on water supplies. Another single topic is the support of access to water intended for human consumption. The member states will have to adopt arrangements to provide access to drinking water mainly for the vulnerable and marginalised groups. The countries will also have to support measures enabling the use of tap water in public areas, public buildings, in restaurants, etc. for free.
Constitutional water protection?
A draft Constitutional Act on Water and Water Resources Protection is under discussion by the Chamber of Deputies. It is the only part of the environment that is getting attention by a special constitutional act. The draft aims to reinforce the public interest in water protection and drinking water public supplies. These public interests should prevail over the other interests. In this respect, the draft enshrines the right of drinking water access for everybody in their place of residence.
A significant conceptual change is the fact that the construction of water works, i.e. water resources intended for mass drinking water supplies, are ensured exclusively by the state, self-governing territories or legal persons that are controlled by the state or by the self-governing territories. The constitutional act also determines that the strategic water infrastructure for public needs owned by the above-mentioned entities cannot be alienated for the benefit of others.
Rights and obligations arising from the constitutional act will, of course, be applied within the limits of the relevant implementing legislation. Nevertheless, it can be said that the impacts on the area of water management can be significant.