Weekly Water Report Eastern Europe & Former Soviet Union Stories

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Coastal Europe Must Adapt To Avoid "Catastrophic Flooding" This Century

BRUSSELS, Belgium

Coastal Europe faces unprecedented flood risk unless timely adaptation measures are taken, according to new research. Coastal floods could impact up to 3.65 million people every year in Europe by 2100, compared to around 102,000 today. One in three EU citizens lives within 50 km of the coast.

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South Africa Considers Ban On Microbeads

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs is to consider a total ban on manufacture, importation and use of microbeads – the tiny plastic beads used in cosmetics, toothpaste and sandblasting.

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Toxic Algae Threaten Sweden's Drinking Water

STOCKHOLM, Sweden

Toxic blue-green algae blooms are creating problems at Swedish water treatment plants as Europe's heatwave persists. The blooms thrive at higher temperatures and water purifiers are at risk of failing to filter toxic substances that have large accumulations of cyanobacteria. Drinking water containing excessive amounts of cyanobacteria can cause stomach problems and liver damage.

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Romania: EBRD Loan Enables Constanta To Open Tenders For Water Infrastructure Upgrade

BUCHAREST

The Romanian city of Constanta will open tenders for the modernization of water infrastructure and for related services, using the proceeds of a loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

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Southern Russia Installs Card Operated Water Pump Systems

KRASNODAR

Southern Russia has become the latest region to install card-operated water pumps to cut down on water waste. Public utilities have introduced “smart” pumps that dispense water through pre-paid cards across Russia. The first such card-based pump has appeared in Krasnodar near the Black Sea coast this week.

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WSP Acquires Controversial US Government Consultancy Louis Berger For $400 Million USD

WASHINGTON, DC

Canadian consultancy WSP Global is to buy professional services business Louis Berger for $400 Million USD.

The acquisition will add 5,000 people to WSP’s workforce, predominantly strengthening the company's United States footprint, while broadening WSP’s presence in Continental Europe (mainly Spain and France), Middle East and Latin America.

Macedonia Seeks Bids For Waste Water Plants

SKOPJE

Macedonia’s Finance Minister Dragan Tevdovski has stated that the country is seeking bids for the construction of waste water treatment plants in the municipalities of Bitola and Tetovo by the end of 2018. A six million euros Waste Water Treatment Plant opened in Radoviš on July 18, for which the EU provided five million euros, through the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA).

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2017 Most Deadly Year For Environmental Activists; Agribusiness Kills More Than Mining Industry For First Time

LONDON, UK

A new report published July 31 by international NGO Global Witness records a rise in 2017 in the number of “environmental defenders” killed last year to 207 - the highest total ever recorded by the organization since inception in 2010.

Mass Seagull Deaths Investigated In Russia's Far East

VERKHOYANSK

Authorities in Russia’s Far East are investigating a mysterious mass die-off of gulls. Approximately 50 carcasses were discovered in the Sakha republic’s town of Verkhoyansk this week. Residents have reportedly been told not to drink water from a lake where the gulls were discovered.

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OOSKAnews Voices - Stuart Orr, WWF: Unprecedented Wave Of New Dams Could Spell Disaster Far Beyond Laos

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND

OOSKAnews Voices is a series of guest "opinion columns" written by senior participants in different parts of the international water community. Stuart Orr, Leader of WWF’s Freshwater Practice, driving the freshwater strategy of the world’s largest independent conservation organisation, writes that an unprecedented wave of new dams could spell disaster far beyond this week's deadly dam failure in Laos. A global authority on water stewardship, Stuart has spent the past decade devising and testing innovative approaches to freshwater conservation at WWF by engaging business and finance, and focusing on emerging themes such as the water-food-energy nexus, economic incentives and water-related risk. He has written numerous scientific papers and mainstream publications on issues ranging from corporate water governance to fish protein in the Mekong. Stuart has also sat on various advisory panels and boards, including the World Economic Forum’s Water Security Council and the IFC’s Infrastructure & Natural Resources Advisory Steering Committee. Stuart holds an MSc in Environment and Development from the School of International Development at the University of East Anglia. 

The scale of the catastrophe in Laos is still unclear. Dozens could be dead, killed by the man-made flash floods that swept through their villages after the collapse of a dam under construction in Attapeu province in southern Laos. Thousands are homeless, their villages and livelihoods destroyed. It is a tragic reminder of the inherent risks of major dam projects – just as the world finds itself in the middle of a headlong rush for hydropower as countries seek to produce extra energy while reducing carbon emissions. 

From the Amazon to Zambia, thousands of new hydropower projects are under construction or on the drawing board. Maps show rivers across the Balkans and Himalayas smothered in planned dams. Governments and developers talk excitedly about the energy that could be generated, the jobs created. Meanwhile, risks and costs are invariably downplayed, and community and environmental concerns often disregarded – give or take the usual rhetoric about ‘consultation and impact mitigation’.

Major Dam Projects Require Good Governance

The reality is that major dam projects require not only advanced engineering expertise but also good governance to ensure that the best construction practices are followed and that governments opt for the best trade-offs between benefit and risk. But this latest disaster once again raises some serious questions, particularly about the capacity of small developing countries to effectively oversee the development of numerous hydropower projects – often at breakneck speed.

Laos currently has dozens of hydropower dams under construction, with many more awaiting the green light. It is questionable whether the country has the institutional capacity to fully review all the various feasibility studies and environmental impact assessments as well as monitor all the ongoing construction work – the same is true of other countries in this new dam-rush era.

All this heightens the risks that are part and parcel of every major hydropower project. While dam collapses are the most catastrophic in the short term, large dams involve a variety of other risks that can negatively impact people and nature from local communities to distant deltas. Many of those risks are specific to each river and each site, and they are all cumulative, requiring well-coordinated multi-disciplinary teams to assess them fully. As a result, these risks are very seldom fully factored into the ‘should-we-build-it-or-not’ equation.

Take the world’s forgotten fish – freshwater fish. At least 11.6 million tonnes of wild freshwater fish are caught each year, providing low-cost protein to tens of millions of people and enhancing food security. But major dams block fish migration routes, preventing species from reaching their spawning grounds and devastating wild fish stocks. The lower Mekong river boasts the world’s most productive freshwater fisheries but dams in upstream countries – including Laos and Cambodia – have already contributed to their decline. Future dams could see populations and catches collapse, threatening the livelihoods of millions.

This is a far less visible risk, but a very real one in the Mekong – and many other river basins around the world where communities rely on fish stocks that depend on free flowing rivers.

And then there are the world’s sinking and shrinking deltas. While everyone is aware of the risk of rising seas, very few seem to know that deltas around the world are already disappearing – bit by bit. Or by one and half football fields per day in the case of the Mekong and one football field per hour in the case of the Mississippi. The cause – not enough sediment is flowing down rivers to replenish the deltas because sand and silt are being blocked by dams. This is putting not only the future of many people (500 million people live in major Asian deltas alone) but also some of the world’s most productive agricultural land at risk.

Already we are watching houses and infrastructure gobbled up by the sea – and that’s before it really starts to rise.

Factor in associated risks like river bank erosion and the displacement of communities and it’s clear that every dam involves significant impacts and trade-offs, which are only magnified by the cumulative impact of a series of dams. This is why it is absolutely critical for countries to pursue a system-wide approach to dam development – as part of an overall sustainable energy plan. Otherwise dams around the world could spell further disaster for people and nature.

Hydropower has an important role to play in providing reliable, renewable power in countries, like Laos, where so many people lack basic access to electricity. But new dams – and even those under construction – need to be thoroughly and transparently assessed in terms of all costs and benefits. And very carefully sited – off mainstems, for example – to mitigate the considerable impacts downstream.

Most importantly, hydropower dams need to be looked at again in the light of the plunging cost of solar and wind energy and large-scale storage. These now provide a genuine alternative to major hydropower projects – beset as they so often are with social, environmental and financial risk. Solar, in particular, is becoming much more competitive, is much less capital intensive, and can be implemented in a much shorter timeframe. It also carries far less risks.

When was the last time you heard about a solar power plant disaster?

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Swedish Fund EQT Acquires Saur Group

PARIS, France

French water company Saur Group has entered into exclusive takeover talks with Swedish investment firm EQT after the company had been put up for sale in April this year.

Founded in 1933, Saur serves around 7,000 French local authorities under long-term contracts. Internationally, the Group has presence in Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Scotland, Spain, and Poland.

Ukraine Mine Flooding Poses Serious Socio-Economic And Environmental Risk

KYIV, Ukraine

Concern is mounting in Ukraine about radioactive contamination of fresh water caused by flooding of mines in the Russia-occupied east of the country.

Ambassador Ihor Prokopchuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna, said in a statement to the OSCE Permanent Council, 19 July:

"The ongoing conflict, which Kremlin does not wish to end, continues to pose serious socio-economic and environmental risks for the population forced to live under Russia’s occupation. In the heavily industrialized areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, we face “the risk for environmental pollution resulting from major operational disruptions and incidents occurring at industrial and other large-scale facilities”, as emphasized in the report by Ambassador Apakan. The report refers, in particular, to more than 35 mines flooded entirely or in the process of being flooded. The issue of utmost concern remains the Yunkom mine in Bunhe, where the Russian armed formations deny access of the SMM and, consequently, the update on the intentions of the Russian occupants to shut off the pumps".

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Thousands Of Redundant Dams In Europe Should Be Removed

BRUSSELS, Belgium

A new study by Dam Removal Europe has called for tens of thousands of redundant dams and other barriers to be removed to help restore rivers and lakes – boosting wildlife populations and benefiting communities across the continent.

Eastern Romania City Without Water For Five Days After Pipe Burst

BACAU

The almost 200,000 inhabitants of Bacau, one of the biggest cities in Eastern Romania, have been without water since last Saturday [July 14] after a large pipe burst. The 45-km pipe was changed seven years ago, with an investment of EUR 52 million. The inhabitants of Bacau could have water again starting Friday [July 20].

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BRICS Bank Will Finance Russia Water Infrastructure

MOSCOW

Russia may borrow $1 billion from BRICS New Development Bank for infrastructure projects, Deputy Finance Minister Sergey Storchak told reporters on Monday. "With the new BRICS development bank alone we are now preparing four new loans," Storchak said.

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Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Cyber Attack On Chlorine Facility

KYIV

Ukraine is claiming to have stopped a VPNFilter attack which targeted a chlorine distillation station last week. The malware was developed by the Russian cybergang APT28, according to the FBI, is designed to detect a "sensitive" target and warn its operators, who can then use it to pivot inside the infected organization and launch further attacks.

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UNEP And Google Announce Collaboration On Mapping Water-Related Ecosystems

NEW YORK, NY

UN Environment (UNEP) and Google announced a global partnership July 16 that aims to expand what the world knows about the impacts of human activity on global ecosystems.

Long term, the partnership hopes to establish a platform for open-source data and analysis of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. As an entry point to development, the partnership has launched with an initial focus on fresh-water ecosystems including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes. 

These areas account for 0.01% of the world’s water but provide habitat for almost 10% of the world’s known species and evidence suggests a rapid loss freshwater biodiversity.

Google will periodically produce geospatial maps and data on water-related ecosystems by employing massive parallel cloud computing technology. Satellite imagery and statistics will be generated to assess the extent of change occurring to waterbodies, and made freely accessible to ensure nations have the opportunity to track changes, prevent and reverse ecosystem loss.

When completed, the platform will leverage Google’s cloud computing and earth observation, public catalogs and for the first time enable governments, NGO’s and the public to track specific environment-related development targets with a user-friendly Google front-end.

The partnership was launched during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development at UN Headquarters in New York, where world leaders are gathering to review of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

“We will only be able to solve the biggest environmental challenges of our time if we get the data right,” Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said. “UN Environment is excited to be partnering with Google, to make sure we have the most sophisticated online tools to track progress, identify priority areas for our action, and bring us one step closer to a sustainable world.”

"This partnership announcement builds on a common shared vision between our organizations," said Rebecca Moore, Director, Google Earth, Earth Engine & Earth Outreach. "We are excited to enable all countries with equal access to the latest technology and information in support of global climate action and sustainable development."

Other areas of collaboration include advocacy and capacity building activities as well as the development of partnerships with organizations like the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

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High Payments To Utility Executives Damage Trust, UK Regulator Says

LONDON

High levels of payments to bosses and investors by water companies have damaged customer trust, the regulator Ofwat has said. It has published new rules that will force firms to explain how executive pay is linked to performance and to prioritize customers' interests. The new rules come as the bosses of several water firms prepare to be quizzed by MPs.

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