The Oder River Revitalization Act – it was supposed to be better, and how did it turn out?

Ustawa o rewitalizacji rzeki Odry

The Law on Revitalization of the Oder River, dated July 13, 2023, all references and amendments are extensive reading. I learned the main part in detail, I reviewed the amendments to other laws just as thoroughly. I also read the justification of the law from cover to cover. Unfortunately, as in the Agnieszka Osiecka classic: Words like artificial honey, ersatz, hell, not life, was supposed to be paradise, was supposed to be a miracle. Figure out the rest for yourself, dear reader.

But one step at a time…

Storm overflows in the context of the new law

The Law on Revitalization of the Oder River, in addition to the novelties we wrote about in the previous issue, approved changes in the operation of entities that introduce rainwater or snowmelt and wastewater into water or into the ground. They concern the obligation to apply for a new water permit. This obligation applies to those who introduce wastewater through the combined sewer system. The legislator has set a six-month deadline for applying for a permit amendment to the competent authority. These establishments are required to apply for an amendment to the water permit for the discharge of wastewater into water or into the ground by supplementing the conditions of the permit with regard to the discharge of wastewater from storm overflows of the combined sewer system.

The company, if it does not submit the application by the deadline; that is, by April 8, 2024, will be summoned by Wody Polskie to submit it. Failure to submit the application will result in the expiration of the water permit without compensation, after 2 years from the effective date of the Oder Act.

Conclusion – it is better to submit an application on time and wait for the Water Authority to issue an amendment to the water permit at an unspecified date, than not to submit it and lose the wastewater discharge permit.

With the amendment of the water permit, there will be a need to pay an additional fee resulting from discharges of rainwater or snowmelt to water from storm drain overflows and from storm overflows of the municipal combined sewer system. This is because the Law on Revitalization of the Oder River stipulates that a fixed fee will be charged for overflow discharges, depending on their volume of discharges from overflows of rainwater or combined sewer – storm sewers. The number of discharges was considered to be the average annual number of discharges established in the water permit. That is, if we assume that the number of discharges from rainwater overflows will be 10 per year, and the size of the assumed discharge is 1m3/s, the fixed fee for this will be:

unit fee rate (PLN 2.5 per day per 1m3/s) x 10 dischargesx maximum quantity discharged to water [1m3/s], i.e. a total of PLN 25.

The fee for the discharge from storm overflows will be calculated similarly, with the amount being 2,500 zlotys (the unit fee rate in this case is 250 zlotys per day per 1m3/s).

Conclusion – there is no drama. The amount for the transfer drop will be negligible in the company’s fee balance.

Variable fees are also provided for the discharge of rainwater or snowmelt from overflows and the discharge of wastewater from storm overflows. It was agreed that the equivalent of 10 percent would have to be paid for each transfer. the amount due for the billing period in which the transfer was triggered. This means, more or less, that the entity, when submitting a statement on the volume of discharges for a given quarter, should additionally indicate whether rainwater or stormwater overflows of the municipal combined sewer system occurred during this period. And if so, how many times.

Conclusion – the amount of the variable fee can double. That is, 10 discharges of 10 percent each. The value of the variable fee – a total of 100 percent. variable fee

Oder River Revitalization Act vs. saline waters

Unfortunately, far-reaching changes only theoretically apply to plants that discharge wastewater with increased salinity. This group includes plants that introduce industrial wastewater with total chloride and sulfate concentrations above 1,500 mg/l into inland flowing surface waters. Also included here are all mining plants discharging water from dewatering, regardless of the sum of chloride and sulfate concentrations, if the sum of the concentrations of these compounds in the receivers, calculated assuming full mixing, exceeds 1,000 mg/l.

This definition of a plant with increased salinity applies to entities that, pursuant to Paragraph 12(2), are not subject to the definition of a plant with increased salinity. 3 of the wastewater ordinance can now legally discharge water with higher chloride and sulfate concentrations. The Law on the Revitalization of the Oder River introduces regulations for these plants to implement a retention and dosing system to enable them to stop discharging saline water for at least five days. The use of the system is expected to allow, during periods of hydrological drought, i.e. when there are lower water levels, to stop the discharge of saline water.

Conclusion – the list of establishments has not been expanded and the changes apply only to those already identified

These plants can count on certain simplifications in conducting the process of building a retention system. An investor planning to implement an investment in a retention and dosing system will be able to comply with the provisions of the Law of July 8, 2010. On special principles of preparation for implementation of investments in flood control structures (Journal of Laws 2021, item 1812). As an additional simplification, it is possible to locate retention and dosing systems in areas for which a local zoning plan is already in effect, which designates agricultural areas, areas of homestead development on farms, forestry, livestock and horticulture, areas of meadows or pastures. The purpose of introducing such a solution is to streamline and speed up the procedure of investment implementation.

Plants discharging wastewater with increased salinity must also expect changes in water service fees. They aim to have a financial impact on investment policy and intensify the activation of systems that increase environmental safety in the discharge of saline waters during hydrological droughts and reduced flows in the receiving basin. Plants that have retention and dosing systems will be able to benefit from reductions in water service fees.

Currently, the amount of the fee for discharging wastewater into water or land is in the form of a variable fee per kg of substance, expressed as an index of the sum of chlorides and sulfates (Cl+SO4), and amounts to PLN 0.05. As of January 2024. The value for plants discharging wastewater with increased salinity will double and amount to PLN 0.10. Maintaining the fee at the current level was guaranteed to plants that have a retention and dosing system with a capacity to stop the introduction of wastewater for at least 10 consecutive days.

Conclusion – the cost of investment is disproportionately high in relation to the variable fee concessions applied.

Oder River Revitalization Act on corporate environmental responsibility

The Law on Revitalization of the Oder River has unexpectedly imposed a kind of restriction, not to say a penalty, on establishments with a retention and dosing system for having one – they must expect interference with the scope of their work. If the plant has such a system, then during periods of hydrological drought warning, it is obliged to stop the introduction of wastewater containing chlorides and sulfates, that is, to fully retention of wastewater or at least reduce its volume by half.

As a precaution, in order to avoid a situation in which a plant fails to comply with retention requirements due to a lack of knowledge of the occurrence of a drought phenomenon, the state hydrological and meteorological service was required to inform those concerned. PSH should not only provide salinity-enhanced wastewater discharge facilities with hydrological drought warnings for the chloride and sulfate discharge location area, but also forecasts for it.

Currently, having the systems is voluntary. Indeed, the amendments to the law did not make it mandatory for all plants discharging saline water to have such a system.

Conclusion – it is better not to have a system and follow the weather forecast.

Investment simplifications

It is indisputable that having a retention and dosing system by a plant is beneficial to the ecosystem. This is not in dispute. Nevertheless, the assumption that simply simplifying the procedure for building a retention-dosing system will persuade plants to make the investment is far from optimistic. Especially since the Law on Revitalization of the Oder River does not make the construction of the system compulsory due to the high cost and long time required for the investment. Explaining the lack of a mandatory order to implement a saline water retention system, it was pointed out that imposing an obligation on all entities could lead to many of them suspending their business activities, which is an interference with freedom of operation.

Conclusion – the possibility of applying the flood spec law will not induce investors to implement the system and will not compensate for the costs incurred.

All the more so because to apply this particular simplification of the spec, an application must be made to the Polish Water Authority. As if the mere fact of making a retention system does not guarantee increased security. The document should include:

  • the planned location of the investment with an indication of the legal status of the property on which it will be implemented;
  • description of the assumed effect of the investment on the aquatic environment with the indication of the assumed capacity of the retention tanks, the amount of industrial wastewater or waters from the dewatering of mining plants, containing chlorides and sulfates, discharged through the retention-dosing system, the maximum amount of industrial wastewater or waters from the dewatering of mining plants, containing chlorides and sulfates, discharged into the waters or into the ground, specified in the water-legal permit or in the integrated permit

The opinion within 30 days shall be issued by the President of the Water Authority, taking into account (quoting the law):

  • the planned location of the investment on third-party properties, taking into account the need to apply proportionate restrictions on the rights and freedoms of third parties, in particular, the course of the linear investment along the shortest route from the receiver of water from the dewatering of mining plants to the mining plant or retention reservoir in which these waters are held, unless this course would cause greater interference with the rights and freedoms of third parties, taking into account natural and terrain conditions;
  • the assumed effect of the implementation of the investment on the aquatic environment, taking into account the need to ensure the retention of industrial wastewater or water from the dewatering of mining plants, containing chlorides and sulfates, during periods of hydrological drought warnings in order to periodically, for at least 5 consecutive days, suspend the discharge of such wastewater into water or land.

Conclusion – the application of the flood spec is only possible for systems with a minimum retention time of 5 days.

Sewage penalties (sewage penalties) vs. the Oder River Revitalization Act

Finally, a few sentences about administrative penalties. It promised to be a good thing. The tariff reaches up to PLN 1 million. However, the penalties do not stop or limit the introduction of wastewater containing chlorides and sulfates, as they only apply to plants that have a retention system. What about the others? We will ask this question to Polish Water, especially since the president is expected to develop a list of plants discharging wastewater with increased salinity in order to report on the occurrence of the drought phenomenon.

Conclusion – I expect unexpected requests for demolition of retention facilities due to their catastrophic condition.

I expected legislative changes on the scale of the Oder disaster. Radical provisions to halt saline water discharges during low water periods. Meanwhile, the law on the revitalization of the Oder River focuses on ensuring that no one is harmed, no one is offended and no one is exposed to additional costs. Those who already protect, prevent, retention and metering face millions of dollars in fines for failing to be vigilant during the drought, while those who do not protect, prevent, retention and metering have their water service fee doubled. From the plant’s point of view, this is still a more economical solution than multimillion-dollar investments in retention systems, even if, according to the special law, they can be implemented on other people’s land.

And how not to continue quoting the classics: and it’s all wrong, wrong, wrong, well, and if, if – not that, well, what the hell were we talking about….

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