NIK about rain and stormwater management

Because of progressive urbanisation in Poland, as many as 23 million people (about 60% of our country’s population) live in cities. Housing estates, office buildings or shopping galleries erected in cities occupy almost every single free piece of land. As a consequence, rain or snow which have been very rapid in the past years due to the climate changes cannot be absorbed by the ground and run down asphalt streets and concrete pavements straight into the municipal drainage system. As a result about 70% of those waters is lost forever as through the drainage systems they are carried to the rivers and then to the seas. Therefore, it is extremely important to change approach to rain and stormwater and to limit its surface runoff by increasing the so-called field retention, and also to pre-treat that water, to use it in municipal management, industry and in individual households.

The new approach to manage rain and stormwater was to be reflected in the Water Law Act passed in 2017. The rain and stormwater drainage fees specified there as well as the fees for reducing natural field retention were supposed among others to encourage changes in the existing rain and stormwater drainage systems (the aim was to increase field retention and the level of using that water). Also legal classification of that water was changed as it was no longer considered as sewage.

Key audit findings                             

The audit revealed that despite climate changes and systematic groundwater decline in Poland, no consistent strategy has been developed to manage rain and stormwater. NIK has underlined that a good strategy is crucial to counteract consequences of human activity, especially in urban areas where the impervious surface is still growing, thus preventing rain and stormwater absorption. 

The audited cities did notice the issue of rain and stormwater management. They considered that, however, mainly in the context of protecting local infrastructure against negative consequences of floods and inundations, being the outcome of heavy rain or snow. As part of investments, 12 of 18 cities used solutions ensuring water infiltration and collection as well as irrigation of greeneries. Only five of all audited cities promoted rain and stormwater management or implemented programmes to subsidise such undertakings conducted by property owners. At the central level such programme (Priority Programme My Water for 2020-2024) was implemented only on 1 July 2020, that is 2.5 years after the Water Law Act was passed. It is oriented on subsidising initiatives leading to the retention of rain and stormwater within the borders of the premises. Its aim is to protect water resources by increasing retention on some premises and using the collected rain and stormwater.

Most of the audited cities (15 of 18), did not specify the principles based on which property owners were to participate in maintenance costs of the stormwater drainage system. The costs were incurred exclusively from the cities’ budgets at that time. That approach was economically unjustified and discouraged property owners from managing rain and stormwater on their own premises. In case of two cities which introduced such fees, they were charged against the law (upon breaching the Municipal Management Act).

Efforts of local government units in this area covered mainly development of the stormwater drainage system. At the same time, they did not focus much on building wet ponds or infiltration wells. That was surprising, considering the fact that both retention and infiltration of rain and stormwater are additional tools designed to protect urban infrastructure from the consequences of severe weather conditions. The audited cities spent the total of PLN 809 million on investments covering elements of infrastructure to manage rain and stormwater (of which PLN 248 million was from subsidies). The investments helped to provide: 161 km of stormwater drainage system, 31 wet ponds as well as retention and infiltration ponds, and also 327 rainwater absorption wells. The investments covered by the audit were prepared properly and realised without excess costs.

The State Water Holding Polish Waters performed its tasks under the Water Law Act, including flood and draught protection as well as water resources protection, without separating tasks related to the management of rain and stormwater. Actions taken in this area amounted mainly to issuing water-law permits as well as charging rain and stormwater drainage fees. In 2018-2020 (1st quarter), the total revenue of SWH Polish Waters due to those fees exceeded PLN 230 million.

In case of all types of organisational units of SWH Polish Waters, water-law permits were issued past the statutory deadlines. Some of other irregularities related to water-law permits included: issuing permits by non-eligible persons or despite the fact that some Water Law requirements were not met.

Not all audited entities properly performed their tasks related to charging fees for reducing natural field retention and stormwater drainage. The said irregularities occurred in six catchment authorities and in five cities. They were related among others to: failure to charge fees due, providing fee information with delays. In five catchment authorities and in two cities overdue fees were recovered with delay or were not recovered at all.

The NIK audit showed that cooperation between organisational units of SWH Polish Waters with urban communes was ineffective. Only four catchment authorities provided communes with data on permits for special use of water involving reduction of natural field retention. Due to the lack of data, communes failed to charge fees for reducing retention in some required cases. Also, not all entities obliged to pay those fees submitted declarations required under the Water Law. That limited effectiveness of the fee system adopted in the Water Law which aimed at encouraging the reduction of rain and stormwater drainage and efforts to maintain the natural field retention. It also contributed to the reduction of revenue due to SWH Polish Waters.

The audit also revealed that some units of SWH Polish Waters did not take any actions towards entities which drained rain and stormwater without necessary permits. Also, 5 in 18 audited cities carried out the rain and stormwater drainage without required permits.

At the same time, NIK auditors identified some good practices:

  • four cities requested SWH Polish Waters to provide information on water-law permits for special water use, to properly establish entities potentially obliged to pay fees for reducing the natural field retention;
  • most cities, as part of realised investments, used solutions to support field retention increase, delay drainage and pre-treat rain and stormwater;
  • three cities implemented programmes to subsidise the construction of infrastructure related to the management of rain and stormwater, designed for owners of properties located within administrative borders of those cities.

Recommendations:

to the Minister of Infrastructure

  • to take measures to amend the Water Law Act as to the obligation to provide communes with issued water-law permits and establishing sanctions for the failure to  submit declarations being the basis for charging fees.

to the President of SWH Polish Waters:

to take efforts to ensure smooth cooperation among the units of SWH Polish Waters, as well as cooperation with the local government units in terms of providing information about issued water-law permits to efficiently charge fees.

Article informations

Date of creation:
23 February 2021 22:18
Date of publication:
23 February 2021 22:18
Published by:
Marta Połczyńska
Date of last change:
23 February 2021 22:20
Last modified by:
Marta Połczyńska
A street drain, pavement and melting snow all around © Adobe Stock

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