Systemic corruption, contested concession awards, improper documents, pressures against the local population and continuous placing of the environment at risk for the sake of private interests of privileged investors, characterizes the process of construction of small hydropower plants in BiH. In such an ambiance, the local community is the one that is most affected, through miserable concession fees, destruction of roads, breaking of pipes, disappearance of fish stock and multi-million-worth damage arising as a consequence of malfunctioning of small hydropower plant facilities.
By: Predrag Blagovčanin
Let us remind ourselves of the incident that happened about ten days in the Fojnica village “Prokos”, due to enormously high electrical voltage, in which more than 500 households and economic entities suffered multi-million damage.
BiH Power Utility Company (Elektroprivreda) confirmed that the breakdown occurred due to the malfunctioning of the relay protection on „Mujakovici“ small hydropower plant on the Jezernica river, which is owned by the company „Intrade Energija“. In addition to this plant, this company owns three more hydropower plants in the Fojnica area.
Luckily, no-one was killed yet
Unfortunately, this several million-worth incident in Prokos village is not an isolated case. According to Robert Oroz, an activist from Fojnica ecological association Gotuša, it was on sHPP Mujakovići where the pipes broke on a number of occasions, and the local road collapsed due to the water torrent.
„Due to that continuous breaking of the pipes on this hydropower plant, the road toward the Prokoško Lake was blocked until the damage was remediated. Last year, the people of Prokos threatened that they would completely block the road, which led to the owner of Intrade Energija to replace the PVC pipes with iron pipes. “
Robert Oroz stresses that at this location so far there has been no problems with overvoltage on the local network; however, problems occurred with flooding and destruction of privately owned land.
„So far there have been no problems in Fojnica with „electric shocks“, but problems occurred with flooding and destruction of private property on MPP on the Kozica river by the same investor. Compensation for material damage was paid on a number of occasions. It is noteworthy that most of such hydropower plants are being built with minimum supervision. Only few measurements precede the developments around flows, while proper studies would require at least a ten-year sample.”
The quality of PVC pipes that were or are being integrated is disputable. In June this year the breakdown of the pipes from „Bistričak“ mini hydropower plant water intake caused the damage to the newly build Nemila-Bistričak road.
The previous president of the local community of Šerići, Halid Goranović, stated for BHRT that the relevant institutions were to blame for the fact that the water intake was not built in the envisaged manner.
„This is only one more indicator how neglect and self-will of an individual can cause constant problems for a few thousand people. The authorities gave the green light for the construction of a mini hydropower plant at this location, although the Bistričak river is a torrent river. No river bank protection was built. We have such problems with every big rainfall because the pipes go right through the middle of the road.“
The situation is similar on the newly built small hydropower plant on the Doljanka river which is owned by the celebrated BH basketball player Mirza Teletović. Dženan Šašić from the Citizens Association „Za Doljanku“ highlights that the PVC pipes have already got broken.
„The pipes have been laid here, mostly along the road, for 3 km, between the river and the trunk road, being the trunk road crossed at places. Recently the sHPP Zlata has been tested, moment at which the PVC pipes have leaked and they had to re-dig and mend the pipes in one section. With larger water quantities it is possible that pipes break again and remove a part of the road.”
In case of large rainfall and higher pressure, pipes quality is critical. However, the investors install the lower quality plastic pipes to save money. It is exactly due to the low quality pipes and the procedure of construction beyond the prescribed standards that a fatal outcome may occur. A video footage of pipe breaking on Voljevac small hydropower plant on the Vrbas shows water destructive power.
A water jet made a crater and reached 15m height, luckily nobody from the local population was injured. Similarly to the majority of small hydropower plants, this one owned by Elektro grupa d.d. Gornji Vakuf was also built next to the village, while the people of the Voljevac local community did not give their consent for its construction.
Nehra Zekotić, neighbour of this village, states that luckily, when the sHPP Voljevac pipes broke, only one stable was damaged. He says, however, that due to the noise coming from the plant she considers leaving this village.
„I have been sleepless for one year now, because they built a hydropower plant 50 meters from the mosque and my house. When the pipe broke, luckily no one was there. My neighbor’s stable was destroyed and the cow was taken away by the water current. They have not been payed anything for the damages, and he does not have the time to pursue it. As for me, the biggest problem is the noise that comes from this plant. I can get no sleep, I sent my wife and children to live in Bugojno.“
Zekotić further says the Voljevac sHPP water intake brought piles of waste to his village, dried the Vrbas river bed and completely halted the movement of fish population. He also says that the inhabitants has not been consulted at all about the construction of this power plant.
„We were not consulted about building the hydropower plant at this location. The papers of the ecological permit contain the signatures of five people who accidentally signed it. Neither the president of the local council nor the people who live here attended the debate. I address myself to the mayor but they answered that they were not competent for that. I also called the inspectors which also refused to check the place. What did we get? Nothing. We have garbage, there is no fish, the river bed is dry and due to this noise no one can get any sleep.“
They turned the Lašva into a waste-water drain
The consequences of the construction of small hydropower plants are largely reflected in ecological systems. During this year, due to sludge discharge from sHPPs, fish were killed in Lašva river and Drinjača river near Zvornik.
This was confirmed by the inspection supervision too. Ivica Tomičić, the president of the Busovača association of sport fishermen states that twenty years of work vanished in just one moment thanks to the institutions that turned the Lašva river into a waste drain. He also points that a damage settlement agreement was made with the institutions responsible for this fish kill.
„We agreed about a compensation for the damage and about certain actions to prevent this from happening in the future. Naturally, we wish that this had never happened. The state gave a green light for partitioning of the rivers. We should be realistic about this. The Lašva River will become a waste drain and there will be no fish migration there any more. There are 20 hydropower plants on it, and they even want to build another one on Plava voda. If the water temperature rises by one degree, which is currently being done, the brown trout will disappear. But no one is concerned about that. The mountain rivers are not being destroyed in Switzerland or in Germany, but in Bosnia they are.“
Tomičić was present at the public consultation on the construction of sHPP Kozica. He says that the investor Amer Jerlagić promised the construction of fish tracks as well as the preservation of biological minimum. These promises were never fulfilled.
„I was present at the public consultation where I was hushed by everyone, because everyone has some personal interest in this. Jerlagić, as an investor, promised everything from the biological minimum to the fish track. According to the Fishing Act, before the beginning of works we as fishermen are asked to relocate the fish with a generator, and this is well known. We came to check what was going on and could see that the works were well under way. I asked them why they did not call us, they say that they forgot. That is why they paid a 3000 KM worth fine, but this a drop in the sea. We used the money to stock fish in Kozica river. What did we get? Nothing.“
The way public consultation are held is for Tomičić a striking example of how the investors circumvent the legal procedures for issuing the permits for the construction of small hydropower plants. As an example he states the public debate for construction of MPP at the locality of Gavrine kuće.
„The public consultation for the construction of the hydropower plant near Gavrine kuće was scheduled to take place at the gas station. We turned up there as fishermen as we have a 10-year water concession. More precisely, we have the “fisherman’s” right. To be quite clear, we actually cannot stop the construction of hydropower plants. We introduced ourselves and the lady who chaired the meeting says that the materials were handed to us, that we were the association “Vir Merdan”. I said that there is no “Vir Merdan” in any union or in the registry of associations. What is behind this? A fictitious association was founded, and it gave the consent as if fishermen did not have anything against the construction of the hydropower plant. Regardless of us not getting the documents they continued the public consultation. “
According to Tomičić, the public consultation was also attended by the former Federal prime minister Edhem Bičakčić whose design firm prepared the documentation for construction.
„When we got the documentation we made complaints on 18 pages, as Edhem Bičakčić’s design firm copied the project from the Željeznica river that flows from Trnovo near Sarajevo. It means that they copied the entire documentation from the Željeznica and transferred it to the Lašva valley; neither the levels nor any data correspond, but what can you do, the people from the local community who can stop the construction are simply not educated enough. The former prime minister came and said that a river is water between two hills. And, of course, the people agreed. In such a situation we try to get the best of it so we ask them to abide by the law. To make the fish tracks, to keep the biological minimum – and they will do it, but no fish is likely to pass there. Unfortunately, this is the situation.“
Tomičić stress that pressure is made on local communities, activists and all those who in any way request the construction of hydropower plants within the existing legal frameworks.
„We are openly threatened in public consultations. We get anonymous messages. Our children are being threatened. The inspections are bribed, they do what they want to do and how they want it. At the end, one wonders what is the point of all this. Quasi experts who develop studies have no idea which fish live in this terrain, and unfortunately, this is our reality. The reality in which the state allowed that these things happen.“
Heaven for the investors, hell for nature
The announcements on the construction of 300 small hydropower plants on 244 rivers in our country, according to environmental activists and experts in this field present a threat not only to wildlife but also for the limited quantities of drinkable water. Besides, due to the system subsidizing the work of small hydropower plants our country loses 4 million KM annually, according to Damir Miljević’s economic analysis.
Concessions on rivers granted to private investors result not only in partitioned rivers, devastation of natural resources, disappearance of endemic floral and animal species, but also in several million worth damage occurring as a consequence of work of small hydropower plants.
Of course, the responsible persons have no problem with this data. Natural resources are being privatized without any plan or strategy, and how privatization ends in Bosnia and Herzegovina is best shown by the examples of former state-owned companies.
In the following sections of this text will write about disputed concession awards, the role of the local authorities level, the pressures on local population and the fact that investors can build a hydropower plant in your backyard.
This article is part of a series of articles in cooperation between Center for Environment and the journalist Predrag Blagovčanin, as part of the campaign „Save the Blue Heart of Europe”