Lake Bovilla, endangered by erosion, polluted by sewage and waste

For more than a decade, experts have sought and requested the rehabilitation of the area surrounding the capital’s drinking water reservoir through afforestation, waste management and sewage cleaning, requests that have fallen into deaf ears

Lake Bovilla, which supplies hundreds and thousands of Tirana residents with drinking water, is still exposed to sewage pollution and urban waste stemming from the surrounding villages, as well as soil erosion, as a result of the damaged vegetation.

The reservoir, formed by blocking the flow of the Tërkuza river with an 81-meter-tall dam in the gorge of Zall-Herr, is located northeast of Tirana, beside Fushë-Kruja, with a surface of 4.6 square kilometers.

Bovilla reservoir. March 2018 ©ACQJ

After a decade of research and the construction of the water treatment plant on the “Kodra e Kuqe” near Tirana, it’s waters were first used to supply around 60% of the capital’s population in 1998. The construction of the Bovilla reservoir, the water treatment plant and water supply network cost 22 million Italian Liras (around 11 million euros), a loan given by the Italian government.

The Albanian Center for Quality Journalism found out that, even though the Albanian and foreign experts have raised – for more than 10 years now – the alarm on the need to rehabilitate the area surrounding the lake, to increase the security of the drinking water in the capital, the Ministries of Environment and Infrastructure, Tirana Municipality and UKT (Tirana Water Department) still don’t have an integrated action plan.

Today, the terrain surrounding the Bovilla reservoir suffers erosions as a result of deforestation and stream and waste mismanagement and lack of sewage treatment for the nearby villages.

According to the experts the Center contacted, the situation becomes even graver during the rainy season, when soil, urban waste and sewage penetrate in the lake.

Bovilla reservoir. March 2018 ©ACQJ

Even though they are aware of the pollution in lake Bovilla, the aforementioned institutions have entrusted water security only to the treatment plant on the “Kodra e Kuqe”. Experts meanwhile believe that despite the rigorous water treatment, this procedure does not purify it completely in times when pollution in the reservoir is severe.

Experts think that investing in the reservoir is necessary, not only in order to increase the security of drinking water, but also to avert the treatment cost increase in highly polluted waters. They share the opinion that regardless of the fact that the water treated and distributed to the citizens may be inside the sanitary standards, cleaning the reservoir would increase its quality significantly.

Researches remained on paper

Lake Bovilla is one of the most studied water reservoir on the subject of biodiversity. The story of the increased in interest by Albanian and foreign researchers towards the basin started in the autumn of 2001, when the residents of Tirana were alarmed by the odor and bad taste of their tap water.

In January of 2002, the government itself requested the establishment of an inter-ministerial group, which would identify the consequences of pollution, following the examination of the Bovilla reservoir and conditions of the water treatment plant.

A few months later, the situation appeared to be resolved adding active carbon to the water treatment, but the researches continued to request a more stable solution in such cases.

Concurrently, civil society organizations began to investigate the matter. They soon concluded that the rehabilitation of the area surrounding the Bovilla basin was necessary, along with dense afforestation and stream arrangement to avoid erosion. They also found necessary the treatment of urban waste and the urgent establishment of septic tanks for the sewage of the surrounding inhabitants.

The Center of Economic Studies, SEDA, in a study in 2002 concluded that the case of pollution in the Bovilla basin would be solved in a final manner through a funding of 2.2 million euros in two phases.

According to the study, which was made available to the Center, an investment of 1 million euros would ensure sewage treatment of the surrounding area, while the rest would serve for the rigorous monitoring of the basin, the construction of a special laboratory along with a profound analysis of the water in the lake.

These requests were disregarded by the government, likewise was the data from the thorough limnological research on the reservoir, carried out during the October 2005 – September 2008 period from a group of Albanian and Swiss researchers.

Aleko Miho, a biology professor near the Faculty of Natural Sciences at the University of Tirana, who took part in the research, told the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism that in spite of many attempts, there were no records that the institutions took into consideration the findings.

In his opinion, it is of the utmost importance to initiate the intense afforestation in the area that surrounds the basin, starting with the considerable damage caused to the vegetation by fire, the inhabitants and their household animals.

“If I am not mistaken, I have yet to hear of programs to afforest the basin and actions to regenerate the vegetation, especially the protective mountain belts, also known as the sanitary belts that surrounds the reservoir, which stretch 320-400 meters above water level,” – he stressed.

According to him, the urban sewage discharge in the area increases the possibility of water pollution with pathogenic bacteria and organic matter when it rains.

“I have yet to hear of actions to collect the solid waste around the pond or actions to collect and process the sewage in the area,” he added.

“The Bovilla reservoir is polluted, while all the Zall-Bastar inhabitants’ sewage discharges there, Not a single septic tank has been established or canalization to avoid pollution”, said Mehmet Metaj

Mehmet Metaj, executive director of Alba Forest, which was supported by donors during the period 2004-2006 to intervene slightly in the improvement of the Bovilla vegetation, stressed that pollution in the basin from the surrounding villages is alarming.

“The Bovilla reservoir is polluted, while all the Zall-Bastar inhabitants’ sewage discharges there, actions are yet to be taken, and investments are yet to be made. Not a single septic tank has been established or canalization to avoid pollution, or any other investment to re-afforest the hills nearby and arrange them with mountain dams has been made,” he said.

The responsibility in the hands of many institutions

The Albanian Center for Quality Journalism, through the right to information law, sought information from UKT for the actions undertaken to increase the water security in Bovilla and the plans of investment. Despite being legally obligated to provide this information, UKT did not respond to the official request.

Regardless, in 2014, when the media denounced the grave pollution situation in Bovilla, UKT, in a press release, pointed out the variety of institutions responsible for this situation.

“Preserving the reservoir from waste drop-off and deforestation is the duty of the Prefecture of Tirana and the Ministry of Environment.

According to the government’s decision, the relocating 20 families that live nearby the reservoir and supplying the surrounding villages with septic tanks and canalization networks, is a task that must be performed by the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure,”a press release reads.

“Afforestation of the area, fish cultivation, and stream arrangement are responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment, which have been accomplished only in part,” it reads.

One of the duties that UKT accepts to be accountable for is monitoring the reservoir. The journalists of ACQJ took notice of the lack of security elements to prevent the waste drop-off in the water, during the observation in the field. Besides a painted “Stop Police” sign in the dam walls, there were no other security measures.

Pollution from the urban waste in the reservoir near the dam. March 2018 ©ACQJ

On March 20th, the Mayor of Tirana, Erion Veliaj, signed an agreement with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, EBRD, to extend the water filtration capacities for lake Bovilla.

He also spoke of a new line, which would connect the Bovilla reservoir directly to the Unaza e Re area, Yzberisht and Kashar, but he never mentioned a funding to rehabilitate it.

The experts for over a decade now have been calling for the rehabilitation of the biggest reservoir in Tirana.

Maintenance, afforestation and addressing the waste and sewage treatment problem would increase not only the security of drinking water but also the efficiency of the reservoir that supplies more than half of the capital.

Translated by Joel Çela

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