Managing wastewater in the Slovenian mountainside

AM - mountain huts NMountain areas are home to a high variety of species and are culturally very diverse. In addition to being an important source of natural resources, they also host different human activities, from agriculture, forestry to tourism. Although sometimes giving the impression of being invincible they are sensitive to human interference. Recently they have mostly been affected by infrastructure and tourism.

Slovenia has 3 main mountain ranges, roughly covering all sides of the country. Almost 10 % of the country is 1000 m above sea level. Mountaineering, hiking and skiing are the most popular pastime activities among Slovenians. The Alpine Association of Slovenia is one of the biggest non-governmental and voluntary organisations in the country with almost 55000 members. The highest peak Triglav is portrayed in the country's coat of arms. In conclusion, Slovenians are a mountain nation.

The above mentioned activities have consequences that most people are unaware of. Tourism can have a negative impact on mountain areas due to improper wastewater management. The latter can result to environmental degradation - pollution of water bodies.

Zavetishche pod ShpichkomNIn Slovenia this is especially evident in areas 1500 m above sea level. Public wastewater services in these areas are not always carried out as prescribed by law. Financial situation of owners, inaccessibility of buildings, environmental conditions and the infrequent use of buildings make wastewater treatment a major challenge. Small wastewater treatment plants do not clean the water properly and sludge of septic tanks from buildings, that cannot be reached by vehicles, is disposed in the nearby environment. The situation was made even more difficult by legislation not adapted to actual conditions.

How many buildings in Slovenia are situated 1500 m above sea level and how they manage wastewater is unknown. The available national data shows that over 200 buildings could produce wastewater. Almost half of them are situated in Natura 2000 and/or water protection areas, which makes this issue all the more alarming.

Triglavska jezera 2009 09 3NAlthough there are many unknowns related to this issue, light seems to be at the end of the tunnel. Previous legislation was replaced by one more adjusted to actual conditions. Some municipalities and governmental agencies are co-financing sewage infrastructure in remote areas. And last but not least, the Alpine Association of Slovenia started a project to assess water management in their huts. This project aims to renovate and improve mountain huts across the country. As the mountain huts themselves do not generate enough income to sponsor the project, the association plans to obtain funds from the European Union.

Where there's a will there's a way, they say. Let's just hope all stakeholders will be willing enough.

Aljaž Malek, EVS volunteer