Reform Index Focus: Changes in Rules for Using Water Fund Lands

Reform Index Focus: Changes in Rules for Using Water Fund Lands

Photo: pexels.com / Jakub Zerdzicki
4 April 2024
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In January, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted Resolution No. 80, “On Amendments to the Procedure for Water Fund Land Use.” Why is there a special procedure for activitieson water fund lands in the first place? Since these lands directly adjoin rivers, seas, and other water bodies, any work or activity on them poses risks of water pollution, deterioration of water quality, erosion of shores, and disruption of aquatic ecosystems. Therefore, the state regulates the permitted activities on water fund lands and also requires an environmental impact assessment before starting some of these activities.

The resolution amending the Procedure for Water Fund Land Use was developed at the request of the Ministry of Infrastructure (now, the Ministry for Restoration). It came into forceon the day of its official publication on January 23, 2024. The changes to the Procedure for the Water Fund Land Use were made in the interests of the water transport sector of Ukraine, as well as all enterprises maintaining inland waterways.

Restrictions on economic activities are established on water fund lands. For example, it is prohibited to carry out land plowing, store and apply pesticides and fertilizers, establish summer camps for livestock, build recreation bases, cottages, garages, and parking lots, wash and service vehicles, and burn dry vegetation – in other words, activities that may cause water contamination (pollution). 

Under the new resolution, restrictions do not apply to activities carried out to maintain waterways as envisaged by Part Two of Article 12 of the Law of Ukraine “On Inland Water Transport.” This law empowers companies that service (maintain in the operational condition) inland waterways (such as state institutions and enterprises under the jurisdiction of the State Service for Maritime, Inland Waterway Transport and Shipping of Ukraine) with the right to engage in economic activities to ensure navigation safety in the coastal zones of waterways (20 meters or more from the water), and sometimes even beyond their boundaries, including the construction of various structures and tree cutting.

 The resolution includes a slightly expanded list of permitted works on water fund lands, which corresponds to the aforementioned article of the law. Additionally, the construction of navigation equipment and dredging works to ensure navigation, including maintenance of specified navigation dimensions of waterways and seaport basins, are now permitted. The government has also authorized other necessary works on such lands in the event of unforeseen wintering of vessels or emergency incidents involving ships. Therefore, the new version of the resolution aligns with the law rather than creating a new list of permitted works on water fund lands.

On the other hand, according to Article 3 of the Law of Ukraine, “On Environmental Impact Assessment,” the entire list of permitted works still poses high risks for water resources and the environment. This law includes land reclamation on water fund lands, construction of hydro-technical structures for maritime and river ports, construction of deep-water shipping lanes, including in natural riverbeds, coastal erosion control works, construction works at sea, laying of cables, pipelines, and other utilities on water fund lands, coastal protection works, riverbed clearance, and dredging to activities that may have a significant impact on the environment and require environmental impact assessment

Whoever plans activities on water fund lands undoubtedly expects certain benefits from their execution. However, for societal and environmental balance, the beneficiary must internalize (i.e., make the subject of their concerns and management) not only the benefits but also the associated risks and losses.

Any human activity on water fund lands carries high risks for both economic sectors (domestic and industrial water supply, fisheries, local tourism) and the environment and wildlife. These risks need to be identified in advance, and anticipated measures to reduce or eliminate them need to be integrated throughout the entire project or program lifecycle, from land management documentation to the completion of work and transition to the sustainable operation of the facilities.

If the beneficiary does not take responsibility for this process, then the risks and losses, both direct and indirect, will have to be addressed by those who use water (e.g., those who breed fish, engage in fishing, swim, and relax near the river), or by the state or local community, which will have to eliminate river siltation, reinforce riverbanks, install additional water purification stages, or create additional reserves to protect animals whose populations have sharply declined.

Therefore, the vast majority of works on water fund lands, permitted by both this resolution and the law on water transport, must undergo an environmental impact assessment in accordance with the Law of Ukraine on Environmental Impact Assessment before they begin. A strategic environmental assessment is needed if such works also require developing and approving separate programs, plans, or amendments to urban planning documentation. When amending the resolution in the future, adding a respective provision regarding this would not be amiss. It would be desirable for the media and the public to monitor the conduct of environmental assessments for the previously mentioned activities.

Authors
  • Volodymyr Bilokon, Senior Project Manager on water resources protection, Recovery and Reform Support Team, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine
  • Oksana Abduloieva, Senior Expert in environmental control, EIA and SEA, Recovery and Reform Support Team, Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources of Ukraine

Attention

The authors do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations