How Bulgarian City Was ‘Left Out to Dry’

Atanas Tchobanov

The sequel of the drama with water shortages in the western Bulgarian city of Pernik involved a protest rally demanding the resignation of the Regional Governor Irena Sokolova and her revelation at a special press conference that huge quantities of water had been diverted from the “Studena” dam through an illegal dike. Sokolova even vowed to alert the prosecution.

The institutional statements did not make it clear who and how had been draining the water flow destined for Pernik, but from publicly available data, Bivol was able to determine exactly what had happened in recent months and where the water had gone. It went to the nearby town of Radomir.

The “illegal dike” is near the “Vreloto” cave, from which some of the waters of the Struma River flow. They sink a few kilometers further into the karst of the southern slopes of the Vitosha Mountain and the “Jeranitsa” site and through the system of underground galleries, they reach “Vreloto”.

Even with very low water, the flow of “Vreloto” does not drop below 100 liters per second. However, this precious water does not constantly fill the “Studena” dam, but through an illegally constructed (in the words of Sokolova) dike it is directed through a pipe to the pumping station “Krapets”, which is located on the road to the village of Bosnek (in the headline photo, exact location here).

The water capture and the pumping station are not a private initiative but are managed by the Water Supply, Sewerage and Plumbing Company. It is co-owned by the State through the Ministry of Regional Development and Public Works and the municipalities of Pernik, Radomir, Zemen, Tran and Breznik. From the Krapets pumping station, the water is pushed through a steel water pipe to Radomir.

Alternative water supply

Radomir is supplied with water mainly from a water source near the village of Stefanovo, called “Sirenyatsite”. Nevertheless, the city also has an alternative to use water from “Vreloto”, guaranteed with permit 003594/March 21, 2005. Precisely the pumping station “Krapets” is the emergency alternative, which should be activated only in case of a significant reduction of the flow rate for the Radomir area at the “Sirenyatsite” spring.

According to the schedule of the Ministry of Environment and Waters (MoEWs) for water use in October, November and December, this emergency connection should provide 250,000 cubic meters of water to Radomir. This equates to the total flow of “Vreloto” when there is low water or about 100 liters per second.

The quantities allowed are not affected by the apparently critical situation at the “Studena” dam, in which the water diminishes dramatically by two million cubic meters per month and at this very rate, it will dry up early next year.

All of the above is not journalistic interpretations, but information confirmed in an official statement of Environment Minister Neno Dimov, whose institution authorizes and controls the use of water volumes from “Vreloto” for Radomir, from “Studena” for Pernik and throughout the country.

In September, in a response to a lawmaker’s question, Neno Dimov assured that by the end of 2019 “drinking and domestic water supply from the “Studena” dam will be fully guaranteed.” His prediction turned out to be wrong.

Permanently emergency mode for Radomir

However, it seems that the emergency supply from “Vreloto” to Radomir has become mysteriously permanent. This is evident from the data on the flow of water entering the “Studena” dam over the last two months. The inflows in October and November range from 30 to 50 liters per second, and the volume of the dam decreases dangerously.
However, on November 29, the situation changed significantly and the flow rate to the “Studena” dam increased to 400 liters or more per second. The tenfold increase is not the result of magic, but a reaction after the checks that established the illegal dike at “Vreloto”, which directs all water to the “Krapets” pumping station.

The only logical explanation for this phenomenon is that after the establishment of the illegal dike, the “Krapets” pumping station has stopped pumping the water for Pernik in the direction of Radomir. The Prosecutor’s Office, action on the alert of the Regional Governor, can clearly establish whether this is the case.

So far, there is no official explanation as to why the pumping of water to Radomir in an “emergency mode” has taken so long.

5,000 versus 122,000

A 2011 Water Supply, Sewerage and Plumbing Company document shows that “Vreloto” should guarantee water for the elevated area of Radomir for 5,143 people and 1,028.60 cubic meters for 24 hours. This is a flow rate of 12 liters per second, which is significantly less than the flow rate of the source. Since then, the needs of the elevated Radomir area may have increased, but not so significantly.

At the same time, the MoEWs allows these 5,000 people from Radomir to use 250,000 cubic meters per month, or nearly 100 liters per second, from the “Studena” dam. For comparison, Blagoevgrad and the nearby villages supplied by the local water and sewerage system currently use 160 liters per second together with the losses in the water and sewerage network.

What is the explanation? There is a conspiracy theory that the ruling party Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (GERB) runs Radomir, while after the recent local elections, the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) rules Pernik. Pernik’s 120,000 inhabitants “acquired” a water shortage schedule long before Radomir, where this “household joy” is yet to come.

However, the hypothesis of incompetent and probably not so lawful water management, which made it possible for the Struma River to be used as the water supply for Radomir instead of filling the “Studena” dam, is more realistic. Moreover, the pumping was literally a fact until a few days ago.

The suspension of the emergency water supply for the loyal to GERB Radomir will not immediately fill the dam and solve the problems of the “socialist” Pernik. However, the question is whether the “Studena” dam would have been emptied so critically if it had regularly received those 100-200 liters per second (minimum) from “Vreloto”, instead of going down the steel pipes to Radomir with Minister Neno Dimov’s blessing.

There is also a need for some explanations for the illegal construction of a dike in the water catchment area, which diverts all the water from “Vreloto” to the “Krapets” pumping station. This should be done by the institutions in charge and again Neno Dimov who so far remains untouchable despite the scandal and his false forecast.

Update: Colleagues from the regional site “For Pernik” noted that there is another theory – the water might have been diverted to the “Radomir Metal Industries” plant, which is located in the village of Chervena Mogila and is close to the route of the water pipe from “Vreloto” to Radomir. There is not a word in the MoEW schedules about the use of water by this plant. A Bivol check established that currently a Dubai offshore is the owner of the plant.


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