Water company, or when “nobody’s” has a manager

spółka wodna

Water company – are such organizations needed and by whom?

According to the Water Law, maintenance of land reclamation facilities is the responsibility of the landowners concerned, and if the facilities are covered by a water company, it is the responsibility of that company. And this is where the first problem arises. Because what does it mean “to interested owners”? What if there is no interest? I don’t farm, I don’t directly benefit from the fact that there is a drainage ditch running through my plot (or at least I think so, because after all I don’t cultivate the field and harvest the crops). Improper maintenance of the ditch, or lack of any action in this direction, is the subject of many neighborhood disputes and administrative proceedings that drag on for years, in which usually one of the parties will never be satisfied with the settlement and the decision issued.

And it is for this reason that water companies have operated and continue to operate in the various municipalities, maintaining water reclamation facilities. Their task is to maintain and protect the facilities, ensuring that they function properly and perform the irrigation and drainage function.

Unfortunately, at present, the sense of ownership and belonging to the land results in a conviction that there is no shared responsibility for the land beyond it and a reluctance to establish water companies, or even to participate in its structures. In accordance with the principle of “Tom’s liberty in his own house,” more and more often each owner, without looking at the others, carries out his “policy” of land drainage. I deliberately write “drainage,” because that’s mainly what the drainage pseudo-treatments serve. The fact that they should also serve the purpose of hydration, few people remember anymore.

Recall

Land reclamation is an activity involving the regulation of air-water relations in the soil to create the best possible conditions for the growth of crops, through drainage and irrigation measures.

Now, however, we will focus on what a water company is, and it is an organization that provides an opportunity to improve the operation of land reclamation (understood as combined drainage and irrigation operations). Is the reactivation and effective operation of water companies an opportunity for sustainable water management in times of climate change and increasing water scarcity?

Water company in law

In each successive Water Law, one of the chapters is devoted to water companies and talks about the purpose of the company, its establishment, statutes, liability and contributions. Also, the current law has devoted an entire chapter to the topic, which shows how important this organization is. Water companies may be formed to make, maintain and operate facilities, including water facilities, serving in particular to:

  • The provision of water to the public, including its treatment and supply;
  • Protection of water from pollution, including the discharge and treatment of wastewater;
  • Water reclamation and the conduct of rational management on reclaimed land;
  • flood protection.

In addition, the provisions of the new law identify one more function of a water company – drainage of developed or organized land . In addition to the previously accepted purposes of the companies’ operation, an additional purpose has emerged to meet the changing conditions of land use and changing land use.

At the same time, despite the importance given to water companies in the law, another piece of legislation deprives us of knowledge of their operation and statistical information on drainage activities and maintenance of related facilities. Pursuant to the Decree of the Council of Ministers of December 21, 2018. amending the regulation on the program of public statistical surveys for 2018 (OJ 2018; item 149), the survey entitled Quantitative state and maintenance of water and water reclamation facilities (survey operating until 2018 under statistical number 1.45.31 item 147, print RRW – 10) was dropped.

Thus, the development of land reclamation data is no longer required. Until now, they have been prepared by county offices and the former Water Reclamation and Water Facilities Boards on the basis of data provided by water companies. On the surface, the removal of one of the reporting sheets may seem insignificant, but nevertheless, as of 2018, we have no statistical knowledge of the operation of the companies and their drainage facilities.

Water company – management of drainage facilities

A water company is formed by an agreement of three individuals or legal entities, concluded in writing. In order to form it, it is required to adopt articles of association and elect corporate bodies. The procedure for establishing companies is described in detail in Articles 443 – 461 of the Water Law. It should be remembered that these are non-public organizational forms that bring together individuals or legal entities on a voluntary basis.

And here we return to the problem of “interest” in the operation of land reclamation systems.

Voluntary association in any organization is a right, and therefore there is no way to force all owners who benefit from the operation of the drainage system to be active. With the current land ownership structure, and due to the varying degrees of interest in maintaining water reclamation facilities by owners, management by a single entity even seems an inevitable necessity.

The legislator found a solution and indicated in the regulations the basis for incurring benefits to the company by non-members and persons not interested in the operation of drainage systems. The benefits can be in the form of monetary dues (payment of a fee) or non-monetary obligations (maintenance of a facility on one’s own land). It is important for the water company to apply to the competent district governor, who will determine in a decision the amount and type of benefits and the deadlines for their fulfillment. The district governor may issue decisions for any natural or legal person who is not a member of the water company and who benefits from the company’s facilities or contributes to the pollution of the water for the protection of which the water company was established.

Water company – maintenance of drainage facilities

Maintenance of drainage facilities is the responsibility of every landowner. Moreover – proper maintenance requires coordinated action by all obligated parties. Therefore, it is worth entrusting this activity to water companies. Drainage facilities are often very complex and extensive systems, with a wide range of impacts. Maintenance work should be carried out regularly, and the mere existence of equipment does not guarantee proper irrigation and drainage. In order to fulfill their tasks, they must be maintained, and proper coordination of the timing and scope of the work performed by the landowners themselves is basically impossible to achieve.

But the effects of the water companies’ efforts are not visible either. Members refuse to pay dues, resulting in underfunding. Lack of money generates abandonment of the tasks for which the companies were established. A vicious circle is created – no fees – no opportunity to apply for funding – no implementation of activities. So where to get the funds from?

Water company – financing of drainage facilities

The water company’s activities are financed by membership fees. Subject subsidies from the state budget could be important in a water company’s budget. They could, but the company won’t always reach for these funds, as the amount depends on the collection of membership fees. Very important here is the commitment of the board of directors and effective efforts to collect contributions. The amount of revenue from membership fees planned and achieved is the main criterion for determining the amount of the subject subsidy from the state budget. In the Opole province, for example, membership fee collections must be at least 65% to apply for a grant.

Grants can be received for maintenance of drainage ditches, i.e. for mowing slopes and ditch bottoms, cutting down trees and shrubs, de-silting and repairing culverts and structures on ditches, and other work on the ongoing maintenance of water and drainage facilities. Depending on the rules introduced by the individual provinces, subsidies can also be obtained for the purchase of materials necessary for the execution of drainage work (including: fuel, repairs and the purchase of spare parts for equipment directly used in drainage work) or to cover part of the salaries of the company’s employees directly performing drainage work.

For example: the Subcarpathian province has allocated a total of PLN 2,675,401 to 78 water companies in 2022. The lowest subsidy amount is PLN 1,400, the highest is PLN 95,983, and the average is more than 34,000 per company.

In addition, the water company can count on support in the form of earmarked grants from the budget of local government units by resolution of the Municipal Council. The amounts depend on the municipality’s budget capabilities. The company can also generate profit, which should be allocated to statutory activities. An effective board will also reach for the decisions of the district governor to place a financial burden on those “interested” in the maintenance of drainage facilities who are not interested, and yet the operation of drainage systems brings them tangible benefits.

In previous calls under the Rural Development Program 2014 – 2020. (last from December 28, 2022 to February 24, 2023), the water company could apply for support under the Sub-measure 5.1 Support for investment in preventive measures to reduce the effects of probable natural disasters, adverse climatic events and catastrophes. Support could be obtained, among other things. for the provision of equipment to maintain water facilities to protect farms from flooding, flooding or excessive wetting caused by flooding or heavy rain. The aid also covered the execution of works, consisting of:

  • Reconstruction or repair of a drainage ditch;
  • Construction, reconstruction or repair of a culvert, damming threshold, levee or culvert with damming;
  • works on drainage networks.

The total financial limit under Submeasure 5.1 for projects implemented by water companies and associations of companies is more than PLN 327 million. The Agency for Restructuring and Modernization of Agriculture has published on its website an update on the order of distribution of aid under the sub-measure.

There are currently 58 companies on the main list and 13 companies on the “reserve” list, awaiting positive verification (data updated by ARMA as of 25/04/2023).

I am rooting and keeping my fingers crossed for all water companies to succeed in receiving funding. And I am cheering on the others to increase the efficiency of their operations, collect dues and reach for external funds to carry out their statutory activities. In addition, I would like to remind all “interested parties” that from 2018. A water company can also be established to drain developed or organized land.

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