Filip Abramović, Assistant Minister, Waste and Wastewater Department, Ministry of Environmental Protection

Managing Municipal Waters in Serbia

There are about 45 existing municipal wastewater treatment facilities in Serbia, a very small number of which are functioning, and only a few fully satisfy all modern standards of environmental protection

Filip Abramović Ministry of Environmental Protection

The need for reconstructed and technologically advanced sewage systems and the construction of wastewater treatment facilities is very high, because the total length of sewage collectors, according to the Statistical Office of Serbia, is 16,000 kilometres, while about four million inhabitants (57%) are connected to public water collection, drainage and wastewater systems, which testifies to the fact that sewage systems – and particularly sewage treatment plants – aren’t sufficiently developed.

In a financial sense, according to data of the Republic Directorate from 2017, funds needed for works on atmospheric sewage and channelling and water protection through the treatment of municipal wastewater in the period up to 2034 amount to around €9.3 billion. Apart from securing the required funds, the biggest problem generally in preparations for constructing the systems of plants themselves is an insufficiently updated and comprehensive information system and accurate dana, as well as insufficient preparedness of technical project documentation.

For these reasons, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has exerted great efforts and established good cooperation with local government units and a very detailed information base on the situation in the field, and a study is in the course of being conducted in the field of wastewater management across the entire territory of the Republic of Serbia, with which will all data will be rounded up and consolidated, as well as the exact situation and needs to work further on organising the actual construction of plants.

The purpose of conducting this study is to provide comprehensive insight into the status of municipal wastewater management in local government units on the territory of the Republic of Serbia and encompass the following activities: determining the status of sewage and collection systems in local government units that include the state and age of the sewage network, the level of coverage of the sewage network, the state and age of the constructed main collectors and estimates of the required financial resources and time frame for construction of the complete sewage network.

Likewise, determining the current status and existing models of managing municipal wastewater treatment facilities that also encompass financial analysis of the operations of existing wastewater treatment facilities, financing methods – tariff revenues, other sources of financing, and then maintenance costs – energy consumption, the applying of energy sustainability principles, technical maintenance, staffing costs and the cost-effectiveness of the plant itself. Also analysed is the efficiency itself of wastewater treatment plants, in terms of plant capacity in population equivalents, with the plant to expand capacity of the central plant if one exists, the effective operation of the plant throughout the year in relation to the envisaged capacity, the identification of problems in achieving maximisation of the expected capacity, the quantity of leaked wastewater, the amount of sludge generated and disposal method, the degree to which wastewater is treated and the number of planned remote plants and their capacity. After that is a proposal itself for short- and long-term measures for achieving the sustainable management of municipal wastewater.

According to data of the Republic Directorate from 2017, funds needed for works on atmospheric sewage and channelling and water protection through the treatment of municipal wastewater in the period up to 2034 amount to around €9.3 billion

On the other hand, the Ministry of Environment Protection has also begun providing tangible assistance in the form of expert assistance to local government units aimed at strengthening the capacities of local governments and strengthening local development in the field of environmental protection, thus the Ministry of Environmental Protection provides both operational and financial assistance to interested local governments units, and even in drafting technical project documentation for the construction of sewage treatment facilities. A public call to local government units to express a need to develop technical project documentation for the construction of wastewater treatment facilities was run during February, for them to express the interest and readiness of municipalities, to which 60 municipalities and cities applied.

The technical project documentation that will be developed for justification studies, design concept solutions, design projects, construction permit projects, as well as projects for performing practically up to the issuance of a permit and the launch of works.

The conditions to apply for the drafting of technical project documentation that had to be met by local government units was that they had settled all public service obligations, that they had not been allocated funds for the same purposes from the budget of the Republic of Serbia or the budget of the autonomous province, that they had completed a General Regulation Plan (PGR), that the location earmarked for the construction of the wastewater treatment plant is owned by the local government unit and that more than 60% of the associated sewage network for which technical project documentation must be prepared has already been built. This was necessary in order to produce valid technical project documentation that’s ready for the actual start of works.

I would also note that the Ministry will control all technical project documentation in order for the proposed technological solutions to first follow and choose the best in terms of environment, proven in practise and economically viable, and then to harmonise both the output product – sludge – and standardise it by composition and usability, and upon emerging it became a usable component rather than a new problem, new waste for disposal.

In this sense, the Ministry has also developed its Strategy for Managing Waste Sludge and thus rounded off the entire process and procedure in the sense of a complete solution for the best environmental protection.

At the same time, intensive work is also being done on creating a model and securing the financial resources essential for the construction or reconstruction of wastewater treatment plants, because that aspect, as the crowning part, represents – as I have noted – very large investments, and all available methods must be utilised to secure those funds.

To conclude, I would point out that environmental damage through the negative impact of releasing untreated municipal wastewater into our rivers and land is enormous, and that the Ministry of Environmental Protection considers that – in accordance with this impact – regulating this system is the highest priority in the field of environmental protection in Serbia today, and so maximum efforts will continue to be exerted in order to develop understanding among all institutions, associations and individuals regarding the importance of solving this problem, as well as concrete measures for this system to be regulated.