STA, 20 August 2021 - The government has confirmed a plan for a major new water source for the water-starved Istria region on the coast, a decision that has been welcomed by municipalities in the region but decried by local environmentalists as damaging for the environment.
The EUR 134 million project, confirmed by the government earlier this week, involves building a reservoir on Suhorca stream, and a smaller reservoir on the Padež, a larger stream of which Suhorca is a tributary.
The reservoir would supply water to three existing water supply systems in the region, which is typically very dry because of the karst terrain and, more recently, climate change.
The decision came after almost two years of public debates on the need for a new water source prompted by a train accident in mid-2019 during which a kerosene leak threatened to pollute water supplies for much of the region.
The plan was chosen over an alternative proposal to link up the three existing but separate water supply systems in the region, which would have reduced supply disruptions but would not have increased the overall volume of available water.
The coastal municipalities Ankaran, Izola, Koper and Piran have welcomed the government decision as a major step towards improving the reliability of supply.
In a joint statement issued on Friday, they said the decision was "not only a step towards sorting out water supply in Istria but also the start of resolution of one of the key national security issues."
Locals living in villages in Brkini, a hilly part of Istria where the streams will be dammed, have long opposed the project on environmental grounds and insist the project is hugely damaging.
They say untouched nature will be irreversibly damaged and the altered water regime will pose a risk to the Škocjan Caves, a UNESCO-listed natural wonder.
The government and the Environment Ministry "have clearly shown they don't care if unspoilt nature is irreversibly degraded, habitats and ecosystems destroyed, and the UNESCO status of global natural and cultural heritage lost," Mario Benkoč of the civil initiative Let's Preserve Brkini told the STA.
Brkini locals advocate the link-up of the existing water supply systems and urge the government to abandon the project immediately. A protest is planned in Suhorca Valley on Saturday.