STA, 5 July 2019 - The city councils of all four coastal municipalities have urged authorities to present them within a month a timeline of activities to find a new, safe water source for Slovenian Istria.
Koper, Piran, Izola and Ankaran councillors met on Friday after almost 11,000 litres of kerosene spilled as a train derailed in a tunnel on the Koper-bound railway near Hrastovlje, south-west.
The spill is a threat to the Rižana water source, the only source of drinking water for Slovenia's coast. The greatest threat is heavy rain, which could make kerosene penetrate further into the soil and underground water.
The councillors are worried the state cannot guarantee the coast the constitutionally guaranteed right to drinking water if the Rižana source is contaminated.
They thus demand that all the necessary measures are taken and implemented to prevent the pollution of the only water source for Slovenian Istria.
Supervision of the state in which railway and road infrastructure is in water areas, should be enhanced, the councillors decided.
The railway infrastructure in water areas should be maintained and modernised to avoid any problems with the rail tracks.
The authorities should also make sure that trains carrying dangerous cargo in water areas run at adequate speeds.
Finally, the state should take measures to minimise risks for similar incidents.
If these measures cannot be guaranteed, then the option should be studied to ban transport of dangerous substances through water areas until a new water source is found.
The councillors also tasked the mayors to prioritise efforts to find a new water source and expressed support for the state's efforts to build the second rail track between Koper and Divača.
The session, which Koper Mayor Aleš Bržan labelled "Istrian parliament", was also attended by government representatives.
Environment and Spatial Planning Minister Somin Zajc promised serious efforts would be made to find a new water source, announcing a meeting with Istrian mayors at the ministry's water directorate for next week.
Several possible water sources have been proposed in the past, so it is clear which ones could be suitable, but they will have to be studied again, he said.
While he could not give any detailed timeline, he said "we're probably not talking weeks or months, but a year or two".
To further protect the Rižana water source from kerosene pollution, a special protective foil was laid in the Hrastovlje tunnel on Wednesday after much of the contaminated material was removed earlier.
All our stories on water quality in Slovenia are here
STA, 28 June 2019 - The Koper-Divača rail track, a crucial transport link for the Koper port, is expected to be reopened at midnight today and not at noon as initially planned, railway operator Slovenske železnice has announced. The reason is the decision to remove more of the material potentially affected by Tuesday's massive kerosene spill.
"We removed the contaminated rocks during the night, conducted probes in collaboration with the Environment Agency (ARSO) and planned to reopen the track at noon. Upon consulting with the Geological Survey and ARSO this morning we then decided to dig out additional material that could contain kerosene," Slovenske železnice director general Dušan Mes told the press.
"Thus the track will be reopened with a 12-hour delay," he announced.
Mes explained the need to remove another layer of the material was established after the removal of the first. The initial plan had been to do the second step within a period of 14 days, but security concerns prevailed.
"It would have made no sense to expose everybody to risk to save 12 hours," Mes said, while speaking of enormous pressure to reopen as soon as possible coming from everybody at home and abroad who are using the track for freight transport.
Tuesday's spill of an estimated 10,000 litres of kerosene caused by a derailed freight train near Hrastovlje in SW Slovenia has been causing serious water supply concerns as the oil is expected to reach the groundwater eventually.
The emergency efforts have been conducted under the watchful eye of the Koper municipal authorities, which is not happy with the work done so far and expects explanations.
A press release by the municipality says that the kerosene must not reach the spring of the Rižana river, which is a water source not only for the Koper municipality but for the entire Slovenian coast. A failure in this respect would have human as well as economic consequences.
Another major issue has been transport, as the rail link needed to be closed, including for freight transport to and from the country's commercial port of Koper.
To address the backlog and also direct the rail cargo to roads, the Infrastructure Ministry announced today it would allow heavy goods vehicles to also use roads from and to the Koper port during the upcoming weekend.
Heavier traffic is thus expected during the weekend, with roads already being busier than usually because of the tourist season.
The weekend permit was urged by port operator Luka Koper and the transport department of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GZS).
Mes said it was too early to estimate the damage caused by the suspended rail transport. However, he expects it will be possible to make up for a lot of the backlog in July when there is usually less freight transport. Some of the cargo has meanwhile already been transported via road or through other ports.
STA, 27 June 2019 - Environment Minister Simon Zajc visited on Thursday the location of the kerosene leak caused by a derailed freight train near Hrastovlje in SW Slovenia, saying that after the last damaged wagon had been removed from the tunnel, works on removing the polluted soil would start Thursday night. Rail traffic on the section is expected to resume on Friday.
Speaking to the press after a meeting with stakeholders, Zajc said that everything had been arranged with the national railways operator Slovenske Železnice regarding the rehabilitation of the area hit by the spill.
The removal of the pollutes soil will start tonight, with representatives of the Environment Agency and the Environment Inspectorate being present to make sure that the soil is treated in accordance with law, he added.
Asked when railway traffic on the section is to be resumed, Zajc said that "we will speak about traffic once the threat of kerosene getting into the groundwater is minimised."
According to Slovenske Železnice director general Dušan Mes, rail traffic is expected to be resumed on Friday, but he could not tell when exactly. He added that the cargo accumulated in the port of Koper equalled some 200 to 250 trains, which would have to be compensated for in July.
The meeting was held at the Koper seat of the regional water system operator, Rižanski Vodovod, as there are concerns that the leak might have contaminated the local river Rižana, which supplies the system.
Zajc announced that the ministry would provide full support for Rižanski Vodovod in terms of monitoring of water and further measures, especially if the kerosene reached the groundwater.
The minister talked in Luxembourg yesterday with his Croatian counterpart, who expressed his country's readiness to help the Slovenian coast needed additional water from the sources from the Croatian part of the Istria peninsula.
Rižanski Vodovod director Martin Pregelj reiterated that the situation was under control, while warning that the threat of the kerosene entering the groundwater remained. The operator is regularly monitoring the quality of water and taking samples, he added.
Zajc added that a permanent solution for an additional water source for the Slovenian coast needed to be found, adding that "this event was a clear signal." He intends to call a meeting with all mayors from the area to agree on how to find a solution.
The work on removing the derailed wagons from the tunnel is meanwhile going as planned. Dragan Puzić of the Koper Fire Brigade told the STA that only two out of the six wagons remained to be removed from the Hrastovlje tunnel.
STA, 26 June 2019 - The only water supply system for the entire Slovenian coast may be in jeopardy after a kerosene-carrying train derailed Tuesday afternoon near one of the potable water sources. Measures have been taken to prevent the worst, but there is no doubt that the kerosene will reach the groundwater with the first strong rainfall at the latest.
The regional water system operator, Rižanski vodovod, supplies more than 87,000 residents, but the figure grows much higher during the summer season, to about 130,000 people.
Slovenia is bracing for a heatwave expected to peak in the second half of the week and the coast is a popular destination for many seeking to respite from scorching temperatures.
Following an emergency meeting this morning, called in the wake of the spill, Rižanski Vodovod urged its clients to conserve water.
The porous Kras terrain is notoriously tricky when it comes to water flow and Nataša Viršek Ravbar of the Karst Research Institute of the Research Centre of the Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU) told the STA that it is only a matter of time before the oil reaches the nearest water source.
Once a pollutant is in the Karstic ground, there is nothing anybody can do, she said. As fas as she knows, the tunnel where the accident happened does not have built-in oil catchers.
Currently, efforts are under way to pump out the spilled kerosene from the tunnel near the village of Hrastovlje. It is estimated that some 10,000 litres of the fuel spilled as several wagons derailed last afternoon.
Viršek Ravbar believes that the only way to ensure quality of water is constant monitoring. The oil will likely reach the water source during the next rainfall and may remain polluted for a long time.
Rižanski Vodovod said that direct sourcing had been suspended from the jeopardised point of intake at the source of the River Rižana and that the source was being monitored.
Stressing that people's health is the most important thing, the company, owned by the four municipalities it services, also increased the intake of water from other, safe sources and scaled up pumping from the deepest water sources.
The water supplier also expressed belief that thorough clean-up works would take priority over haste to relaunch traffic. The accident halted not only passenger transport but also cargo transport to and from the port of Koper, the country's only seaport.
Environment Minister Simon Zajc, who is abroad today, is to visit the site tomorrow.
STA, 6 June 2019 - Bathing water quality in 41 of 47 bathing waters included the European Commission's report for 2018, released on Thursday, were classified as being of excellent quality, with all 21 coastal bathing waters receiving this grade. Five waters were labelled good, one as sufficient and none as poor.
"All reported bathing waters are in line with the minimum quality standards of the directive on bathing waters and thus classified 'sufficient' or better," wrote the European Environment Agency, which examined 374 samples from 21 coastal and 26 inland locations.
The tested sites
With the exception of 2011 when one bathing site was classified as good, all coastal bathing waters in Slovenia have persistently been labelled as excellent since 2009.
The inland bathing waters have all also been receiving at least good or sufficient grades since 2010, with half persistently classified as excellent.
EU-wide, minimum quality requirements were met by 95.4% of the 21,831 bathing waters monitored last year, with 300 waters in Albania and Switzerland also included.
Cyprus, Greece, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta and Romania were the only other countries besides Slovenia without a single poor quality case.