Discussion highlights serious wastewater issues in mountain areas

Ljubljana – Calls to restrict the ever growing hiking industry in Slovenia’s mountains were heard at a press conference by environmental group Cipra Slovenija, which highlighted serious issues with waste water management. Compounded by climate change, pollution is affecting streams and could threaten access to drinking water, experts warned.

“Climate change is profoundly altering the carrying and regenerative capacity of the water cycle in the mountains. Even in the Julian Alps we are experiencing droughts in the summer that we didn’t use to,” Cipra Slovenija head Matej Ogrin told the press in Ljubljana on Thursday.

“At the same time, as visitors to the area we are putting increasing pressure on the high mountains and other mountain areas,” he added, highlighting the persistently growing tourism industry.

The results are bacteria-polluted water springs below the peaks, a blooming Lake Bled, faecal pollution of the Sava Bohinjka river etc., Ogrin warned, saying current practices of all stakeholders in the mountains were causing rapid deterioration.

Miha Pavšek of the Anton Melik Geographical Institute warned that valleys below heavily visited areas needed to be protected, as he pointed out that samples taken below the country’s highest mountain Triglav had shown several elements exceeding allowed values.

“In the huts around Triglav, waste water management must be resolved immediately, urgently and without delay…In some huts it would be sensible to limit the number of daily visitors, and it is also worth considering reducing the capacity of mountain huts, which have water and sewage problems every year,” said Pavšek.

At the same time, glaciers in the area are disappearing, which is likely to cause water supply issue at these very huts, he added.

Meanwhile, Vido Kregar from the Kamnik Caving club said that samples taken at over 150 points in springs and watercourses in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps had shown only a small part of the springs were absolutely free of bacteria. Only about 40 were suitable for drinking, while E. coli is present in the rest.

“We have confirmed a high level of pollution in springs below ski resorts, especially below Velika Planina, which puts in peril the drinking water catchment for the town of Kamnik, which supplies 20,000 people,” he added.

While Kregar further stressed that waste water treatment plants installed in the mountains were not made for this purpose and were not producing drinking water, Miro Eržen of the Alpine Association of Slovenia argued the state was severely underfunding these mountain sites.

Bojan Traven, a representative of the local community of Fužina, however asserted that hut operators were driven mostly by profit concerns and were robbing locals of the right to drinking water.

The director of the Triglav National Park Tit Potočnik meanwhile called for dialogue, while agreeing “the number of visitors needs to be restricted”.

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