By Lucia Sconosciuto
Preparing to join the European Union in 2004 was both a challenge and an opportunity for countries such as the Czech Republic.
In the municipal and environmental infrastructure sector, for example, it meant having to comply with stricter service and environmental standards.
For the city of Brno, the Czech Republic’s second largest city and a renowned centre for industry, technology and research, it brought the chance to upgrade its sewage system and wastewater treatment plant in the nearby town of Modrice.
In 1999, with the need to serve a growing urban population of 450,000 people (active in the city during the day) and after decades without any significant development to the plant, the operating company Brnenske Vodarny a Kanalizace (BVK) was running an outdated, inefficient and overloaded facility.
In fact, the service’s shortcomings were evident in the rise of pollution levels in the Morava River, a tributary to the Danube and recipient of the effluence from the treatment plant.
All this posed a serious risk to the river basin’s ecology and provoked complaints from local fisherman.
The upgrade and extension, which was financed in part by the EBRD with a €42.5 million loan to BVK, introduced modern technology for the plant’s operation.
The EBRD participation made the overall investment possible by providing long-term loans that in the Czech market at the time were not available for municipal infrastructure investments.
In addition, the EBRD played an important role in strengthening the structure of one of the first Czech public-private partnerships, established between the municipality of Brno and BVK.
“The Bank helped to develop the concession contract between the two entities in line with the best international practice to improve financial capacity and operating efficiency of the water sector in the City,” said Akihiro Kudo, EBRD Principal Banker in charge of the transaction.
For example, a feasibility study into citizens’ capacity to pay the new service’s bills provided a green light to the new tariff regime based for the first time on full cost recovery.
This improved operating structure also allowed the operators to tap into the resources of the EU PHARE programme for pre-accession investments that provided an additional €14.2 million in grants for the modernisation of Brno’s sewerage network.
The works at the Modrice plant started in 2001 and concluded with a switchover to the new system without any interruption to the service in 2004, the year of Czech Republic’s EU accession.
“Regular checks on the quality of the treated water consistently show the level of nitrogen and phosphorus are well below the limit imposed by EU standards,” explained BVK’s engineer Vera Sojkova.
Moreover, the sludge produced during the water treatment is recycled in different ways; part of is used for methane generation that contributes to energy savings for the operation of the plant.
Part of it is treated in the new dewatering and drying house to produce a certified material that can be used in the construction industry.
But the challenges to be addressed never end. “The plant is a living organism: all that happens around has an impact on it: the changing economy, the social behaviour, the new laws and regulations,” said Ms Sojkova.
“We have to be able to adapt and continue to provide a high level of service for citizens and to protect our environment.”