Baltic Sea Action Summit

Baltic Sea Action Summit

2011-10-10

How to connect customers or how to make customers connect

The questions asked in the title of this article are not only theoretical - they both have to be solved. Because the decision on the connection of the user to the networks is not made by the water supplier or another person, but rather by the user himself, when discussing this problem, it would therefore be more rational to use the term "user connection".

However, there are indeed cases when users are connected. We have experienced the most painful episodes in encouraging users to connect to the water supply and sewage networks, in Priekulė, Klaipėda district. There is quite a large number of small blocks of flats in this district which are home to the most financially challenged parts of the population- retired people, families with many young children and other disadvantaged persons. These people are unwilling or unable to agree on the construction and financing of the building terminal. Therefore, we have decided that it will be economically advantageous for the company to build its own inlets into these homes, rather than to wait until the residents do it themselves, and risk having to repay part of the support from the EU because of some non-connected residents. Currently we are connecting Priekulė apartment houses to the water supply and sewage networks at our own expense, having received an advance commitment from the residents to lay the pipes inside the house and use the service of drinking water supply and wastewater.

Unfortunately, only a small proportion of the Priekulė population can be connected according to this solution, and the problem of the Gargždai population connection, where networks were also constructed under the 2004-2006 funding program, has also not been solved completely. I believe that such problems exist in many other Lithuanian towns.

Under the terms of the EU-funded projects, the beneficiaries - municipalities or water suppliers - are responsible for consumer connection. It is therefore necessary to address the issue of how water suppliers can encourage consumers to connect to the network, especially sewerage. It is clear that a major contribution in this case could be made by the decisions of the Ministry of Environment and local municipalities.

First of all, it is necessary to address the reasons of non-connection, and find the "medicine" for each reason. We have been analysing the matter from the viewpoint of the implementation of the projects financed by the 2004-2006 year financial programme, since we have to report on the connection of consumers to these networks by the end of this year.

Four main reasons can be distinguished.

 

First: people manage untreated wastewater illegally and pollute the environment - either directly or through leaking discharge pits, allowing it into drainage systems, storm water systems, surface water, or to infiltrate into the soil, as this is in their best economic interests.

In response to this problem, we have attempted to strengthen the cooperation between AB Klaipėdos Vanduo, Klaipėda city and district municipalities, Klaipėda Region Environmental Protection Department (hereinafter - KRAAD) and the police. With our incentive, municipalities have formed regular committees that carry out continuous inspections of the areas where the sewage networks are constructed, but there are residents who are still not connected to them. People who claim that they deliver effluent from sewage pits to wastewater management companies are required to prove it by invoices of payment for services. If a resident is unable to provide such documents or if illegal sewage discharges into the environment are detected, KRAAD workers draft a report on the violation of effluent treatment procedures and set a deadline for complying with the requirements, i.e. connecting to the sewerage network. After the expiry of the deadline this is again re-checked until no offenders are left. We note that environmental agency staff and other officials of different institutions have a different responsibility in their approach to this problem; therefore we believe that the active position of the Ministry of Environment might have a positive effect.

Effective controls could be significantly increased by a simplified penalisation process for wastewater handling violations. To enable this, we should entitle the responsible personnel from water suppliers to draw up reports on the violations of administrative legislation of residents for the improper management of waste water. This is particularly important when cases of illegal wastewater discharge into the environment are detected. Such a solution would simplify the procedure and there would be no need to invite of the representatives of the municipality, KRAAD and the police, making it much easier to convince a resident to join the networks.

It would facilitate the solution of the problem if KRAAD could be more proactive in inspecting the non-connected population according to information provided by water suppliers (addresses). The above commission would visit only those malevolent non-cooperating residents who did not allow inspectors to check them.

It would be much simpler if the legislation provided for the mandatory connection of residents to the sewage networks where they are constructed. Unfortunately, the position of the Water Department of the Ministry of Environment on this issue is negative. Maybe this question could be addressed by the municipalities? Klaipėda City Council in making its decision has adopted the Health and Sanitation Rules, where paragraph 9 provides for a mandatory connection of home owners to the sewage treatment infrastructure within 24 months of the residential district building a sewage treatment infrastructure. Unfortunately, owing to the negative position of the Water Department of the Ministry of Environment they may decide to annul these rules. I believe that legislation should empower or even oblige water suppliers and regional environment protection departments to close, without prior notice, illegal sewage discharges connected to storm sewers, drainage and surface waters. Such drastic action may encourage people to connect to centralized wastewater treatment networks.

It is also important to ensure the monitoring of the accounting of faecal emissions collected from customers' pits. Residents who are not connected to wastewater networks should be obliged to declare the removal of wastewater (or other legitimate waste management) to the full amount of water consumed, and the regional environmental protection departments should control the water quantities of residents who have discharge pits. In particular, tight controls should be applied to residents in whose residential areas sewage networks are built. This is to prevent unscrupulous people from polluting unsealed discharge wells and soil pollution with sewage. At the same time this would increase the population's cost of waste management and encourage them to connect to the centralized water supply networks.

I want to point out that people who have orderly effluent pits and cooperatively pay for wastewater removal cause no problem. Whenever possible, they willingly connect to centralized wastewater treatment networks, as it is much cheaper than to pay for waste removal. The problem may well be aggravated by the initiative of Water Department of the Ministry of Environment, that the "Water supplier must sign an agreement with the holder of the individual wastewater and provide wastewater treatment services" (quote from the draft Government resolution) at a uniform price (i.e., excluding transportation costs). Perhaps this proposal has not yet caused any serious harm, but it will cause it if continues to be promoted. When enforced, such a provision would place a significant burden on the population connection to a sewerage network and would not resolve any water management problems. It would be unfair in respect of other users who use a centralized wastewater service. A service organised this way would cause losses to the water service provider and this would be borne by other honest consumers who pay a higher price for the common effluent treatment.

In order to increase public awareness AB Klaipėdos Vanduo has recently intensified its environmental education of the population. The local media regularly informs the public about the benefits of centralized sewage treatment, environmental damage from unlawful sewage discharge, fines for illegal waste management and so on.

Second: the population has no funds.

This problem is very acute in small towns such as Priekulė, and it is important also in Gargždai, so we seek as far as possible to simplify the procedure of connection to water and sewage networks and reducing the price:

We require no project concerning water inlet and/or sewage outlets, when a connection has been carried out by a certified construction company. Inlets and outlets are validated in accordance with the working plans made by the contractor.
At our company's expense we will prepare simplified water inlet and (or) sewage outlet projects, if the resident connects within a specified time - until the end of 2010.
If there is a project already in place, we will allow residents to carry out the work of the installation of inlets and outlets on their land on their own; our specialists will only control the work progress and quality.
When connecting, we do not require a working plan from the resident if the inlets and outlets are installed according to the coordinated project and we are controlling it.
We delay the payment period for 6-12 months of for the connection works when those works are performed by our company.

Third: the population has installed local treatment facilities and does not wish to make additional investments in waste water management.

We still have not found any "medicine" against those types of people who don't want to connect to the network. Maybe it is effective if the law entitles the water supplier to apply a 50 percent reduced wastewater treatment tariff for five years for customers who have refused their own sewage treatment facilities and subscribed to using a centralized wastewater treatment service.

In that way, lesser waste water treatment rates would compensate users some of their non-worn own sewage treatment plant costs and they would be encouraged to connect to the centralized water supply networks. For water suppliers such a decision would also be economically more beneficial than non-connected resident because in the bill of waste water treatment services, variable costs, whose rate depends on the quantity of services provided, account for only about 15 per cent of the total costs.

It would also be beneficial for the natural environment, because no individual sewage treatment systems can clean waste water as effectively as a large wastewater treatment plant. Individual sewage treatment plants should be allowed to operate only where there are no centralized wastewater collection networks.

The proposed solution to the problem can furthermore help to resolve the old issue of Klaipėda Kartonas cardboard plant sewerage transfer. Currently, AB Klaipėdos Kartonas operates its old sewage treatment plant and treats about 750 thousand m3 of effluent per year. The wastewater treatment facilities meet the requirements, but the concentration of pollutants in treated wastewater is twice as high as in treated wastewater discharged from AB Klaipėdos Vanduo sewage treatment plant. AB Klaipėdos Kartonas would agree to use our waste management service if for the time being they were required to pay a lower price. This would be economically beneficial to our company and all of our customers. Providing AB Klaipėdos Kartonas wastewater treatment services at a 50 percent discount, we would get about 500 000 Litas of additional profit per year or reduce the total cost for all users by 1.25 percent. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Environment has so far not supported our initiatives to provide such an opportunity in the legislation.

Fourth: delays in execution of projects financed by the EU.

This is especially true for the projects in the funding period of 2004-2006. People should be given a period of at least 24 months for the connection to the new systems. In the projects for funding in 2007-2013, the period projected for population connection is 24 to 60 months. The networking construction work in Gargždai and part of the work in Priekulė were completed in the middle of 2009. The last networking construction work in Priekulė is scheduled to complete this November. It is therefore obvious that no population can be connected before the end of this year.

In order to accelerate the connection of the population, we permit the connections of inlets and outlets to the networks being laid in the street. Connecting to a network already constructed is useful because:

  • it saves time;
  • it is easy to organize the construction of inlets and outlets, as the company that lays networks in the street is willing to take the work;
  • quite a lot of people can be saved money, as so far connection is made to already excavated networks in the trenches, removing the need to excavate them twice.


Unfortunately, this method of connection is not provided for in the legislation, and some of the construction companies do not allow connection to a network still under construction.

Therefore, due to the problems causing the population to be reluctant or unable to connect to the newly built systems arising from EU funds, we would ask the competent authorities to postpone the terms of settlement for the connection of the population to the newly built sewerage networks for projects completed after 2008.

AB Klaipėdos Vanduo
General Manager
Leonas Makūnas

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