Water supply. Water utilities facing crisis – latest NIK report


Do public authorities and water providers ensure security of supply in case of emergencies? This was the question asked by the Supreme Audit Institution when defining the purpose of inspections in local government units. NIK inspected 10 urban and urban-rural municipalities from five provinces: the Lower Silesian, Mazovian, Podlasie, Podkarpackie and West Pomeranian provinces. What lessons have been learned?

Emergency situations – what can we expect in terms of water supply?

Emergencies must be prepared for carefully and in advance. Destruction, contamination or immobilization of water supply infrastructure carries a number of risks to the safety of residents. Flood events or, for example, contamination of water with legionella bacteria testify to the fact that, in the face of an emergency situation, it is necessary to provide residents with drinking water by means other than directly from the tap. The current situation of armed conflict in Ukraine and the destruction of the Novaya Kakhovka dam show that we can expect such extreme situations as well, and we should be prepared for them.

Conclusions of the NIK report

So what are the key findings of the NIK audit in this regard? To quote the report: in the inspected municipalities, a safe water supply for emergencies was not guaranteed. Current needs have not been identified and comprehensive measures have not been planned for events that could significantly reduce the ability to supply water to residents. The resources necessary for their implementation have also not been secured. The planned emergency measures in the municipalities were incorrect. Resources for supply have not always been available during emergencies, and the quantity has been adjusted to meet needs.

The Supreme Audit Office is trying to explain the lack of preparation of municipalities for emergencies. As pointed out in the report, one of the reasons for this state of affairs was the lack of statutory regulations defining the rules for securing water supplies during emergencies. The audited units did not have up-to-date and reliable calculations of possible needs. In most cases, they also lacked up-to-date and complete data on usable resources.

Administrative units, according to data obtained during the audit, did not analyze the status of securing emergency water supplies in municipalities. Demand inm3 as of December 31, 2022. is as follows:

Water supply. Water utilities facing crisis - latest NIK report 1

Source: data from NIK based on expert opinions, own study

The conclusion of the NIK audit: None of the 10 municipalities audited analyzed the status of water supply security. Seven municipalities did not have up-to-date and complete data on resources available for use in emergencies. This information, the report indicates, was obtained only in the course of the audit itself. This was mainly due to the lack of obligation to identify and document the status of such resources in municipalities, the entrustment of water supply to water companies, and the lack of communication with them.

Why aren’t administrative units ready for the water crisis?

In the report, the Supreme Audit Institution indicates that during the audit period, there were no universally applicable regulations governing the calculation of water requirements under crisis conditions. The only regulations in this regard were the provisions of the National Emergency Management Plan, which determines the amount of water needed to meet the basic living needs of citizens.

Suggested solutions according to NIK

Despite the lack of regulations, the results of the audit indicate that during the first days of a crisis that would prevent the use of basic water intakes, municipalities can use supplies stored in water supply reservoirs. The supply of water stored in this way in all municipalities was sufficient, i.e. enabled the physiological water needs of residents to be met for at least 14 days. The NIK notes that water utilities, despite the lack of legal regulations in this regard, have taken measures to prepare water supply facilities for crisis conditions. The activities were diverse and included. on providing emergency power to water supply equipment, installing equipment to disinfect the water supply network, or determining procedures for storing and locally securing hazardous materials.

According to the NIK, in order to guarantee the security of water supply, it is essential:

  • unambiguous definition by the Council of Ministers of the government administration department that will cover matters of the collective water supply system;
  • Take effective measures by the chief and central public administration bodies to establish rules for ensuring the security of water supply under crisis conditions, including on the preparation of the necessary documentation in this regard.

These regulations should define in a precise and unambiguous manner the roles of the various entities responsible for the operation of the water supply system under crisis conditions.

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