Documents Reveal How Authorities’ Tricks Caused Water Disaster in Bulgaria’s Pernik

Atanas Tchobanov

As early October, the Water Supply and Sewerage Company (WSSC) warned the local authorities and the Regional Governor that they should introduce a water shortage restrictions for Bulgaria’s western city of Pernik. As Bulgaria was in an election campaign, the alarm was ignored. Two days after the local elections, on November 6, the City Hall ordered the WSSC to suspend the water supply to the nearby town of Radomir. However, the Company ignored the order. It stopped the supply for Radomir only on November 29.

This emerges from responses received by the Civil Association “BOETS” (Fighter) under the Access to Public Information Act (APIA) and made available to Bivol. The Association has asked for the entire correspondence in connection with the water usage restrictions.

The documents make it clear that the institutions and the WSSC kept bouncing the ball all through October and November when coordinated and sensible actions could have limited the flow of drinking water from the “Studena” dam and mitigate the oncoming crisis.

WSSC to the Mayor on October 7, 2019: Water shortage is looming!

On October 7, 2019, the head of the WSSC, engineer Ivan Vitanov, sent a letter to the Pernik Municipal Council, the then-Mayor of Pernik Vyara Tserovska (elected on the ballot of the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB) and the then-Regional Governor Irena Sokolova (GERB). The letter warns of the looming need to introduce restrictions for water usage by local residents due to lack of precipitation and water shortage.

There is a resolution on the letter, dated October 10, 2019, which is smeared for some unknown reason. This conspiracy does not negate the fact that three weeks before the October 27 local elections, both the GERB local government and the GERB regional government knew that there had been a problem.

According to Ivan Vitanov’s testimony in the legal case against the arrested and charged with premeditated mismanagement in Pernik’s case former Environment Minister Neno Dimov’s, released by the Prosecutor’s Office, Vitanov had been summoned to a meeting a week after he had sent the letter. There, the Regional Governor and a representative of the City Hall had expressed dissatisfaction with the proposed water usage restrictions and had disagreed with them. At this time, the election campaign was in full swing.

It is also clear that neither the municipality of Pernik nor the municipal council have responded to the alarm about the water shortage in the dam. According to a letter from Irena Sokolova to the WSSC dated November 7, 2019, and provided to “BOETS” under the APIA, the next meeting of the WSSC, the City Hall and the regional government did not take place until October 30, three days after the first round of elections.

In the end, the Mayor of Pernik requested water usage restrictions on November 6, three days after the second round of elections and a month after the first letter from the Head of the WSSC, signaling the water shortage.

Mayor to the WSSC on November 6, 2019: Stop the water for Radomir and set a schedule for the water usage!

On November 6, 2019, Sevzelina Kovacheva, acting Mayor of Pernik, sent a letter to the WSSC with a copy to the Regional Governor Sokolova, ordering the immediate stop of the water supply to the town of Radomir from the water source “Vreloto” and asking them to propose a schedule for water usage restrictions, effective November 15, 2019.

The public learned about “Vreloto” from Sokolova on November 29. No one knows why she declared it illegal water capture, adding she had notified the Prosecutor’s Office. On November 30, Bivol published an investigation, which made it quite clear that water from “Vreloto” does not constantly fill the “Studena” dam, but through an illegally constructed (in Sokolova’s words) dike, it is directed through a pipe to the pumping station “Krapets”(in the headline photo, exact location here) and then to Radomir. This flow is about 250,000 cubic meters per month. According to the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MOEWs), it should be used for Radomir only for emergencies, but it seems it has gone consistently to the town for years.

WSSC does not stop the water for Radomir

On November 29, inspectors from the MOEWs arrived. According to the testimony of another witness in the case against Neno Dimov – Maya Dryanovska – it had been then established that water is constantly diverted to Radomir through the “Krapets” pumping station.

On the same day, more than 400 liters per second of the inflow to the “Studena” dam had been recorded, compared to the previous 40. The only logical explanation for this phenomenon is that after the inspection, the “Krapets” station had stopped pumping the water for Pernik towards Radomir.

All facts stated in Bivol’s November 30 investigation are were fully confirmed by a MOEWs memo later that day.
Then the Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into the “illegal water diversion” from “Vreloto”. It can easily determine whether water has been supplied from the “Krapets” pumping station only for emergencies or permanently, as well as the volumes submitted during the years and months prior to the crisis.

However, so far there are no results from this investigation. It is noteworthy that prosecutors had not questioned Ivan Vitanov at all about the “Krapets” station in the pre-trial proceedings against Neno Dimov.

At least two important questions arise because of the above:

Why did the former Mayor of Pernik, as well as the former Regional Governor, both of GERB, ignore the WSSC alert for an entire month before the local elections?

Why isn’t the WSS Head held accountable for failing to comply for three weeks with the Mayor’s order to stop the pumping of water for Radomir?

No special expertise is needed to assess the damage from these deceits by local authorities, the local WSSC. They deserve at least as much attention from law enforcement as the damage caused by the supply of industrial water from the “Studena” dam to metallurgical plant and Thermal Power Plant-Republic in Pernik. However, it is also clear from the documents that neither the City Hall nor the regional government have requested a ban on the use of industrial water.

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