“I have not received the news that I am an important resident of my city,” says Anita (name changed), a resident of Irbenes Street in Rīga, referring to long-running attempts to connect to the central sewer network of the capital. Irbenes Street is in the Ziepniekkalns district, and its residents have to manage the water they use themselves. Latvian Radio already reported Anita's experience two and a half years ago as part of the "Billion in Sewers" series.
“Nothing has changed nothing except that letters have been received from the local authority asking when we plan to connect to the city sewer. That letter was very hopeful. When we got it, we tried to find out how we could really do it. Then when I called, which wasn't easy either,
“I turned out not to be covered by this section because there are no plans to dig a sewer across Irbenes Street. The reason is that the number of people that should be served [in the area] is not very high,” Anita told Latvian Radio.
As a result, Anita manages the sewer herself, but the solution is inconvenient, especially for a family of five. Washing and laundry schedules should be regularly planned, and local sewers tend to flood.
The situation in Rīga has progressed since the beginning of 2021. If at the time LR reported that the sewerage is managed locally by 15.5 thousand households, then about one-third of them have since connected to a centralized system, said Līva Dubļinska, director of the customer service department of the municipal sewerage service provider “Riga Water”.
“We have developed the fifth round of the Cohesion [project] – in Berģi, Imanta, Beberbeķi [districts] where the availability of the centralized sewerage system in total is ensured to nearly 3,000 inhabitants or 730 real estate properties, and construction has been completed in 2022 and also in 2023,” Dubļinska said.
Meanwhile, in 2024, sewer systems will also be expanded in the districts of Teika, Imanta, Ziepniekkalns, and some separate streets. 900 more residents will be able to connect to the central system, Dubļinska said.
However, some residents of Rīga and elsewhere have to take into account that there are places where the construction of infrastructure is unlikely to happen.
“The construction of sewers and water pipes is very expensive. We collected information on the management of certain waters in the spring. At the time, we received information that one meter of sewage pipes in Rīga on average cost EUR 600-800. And to build a sewer network along one street, it's all about several hundred meters or even kilometers. So it's a very high cost,” explained Iveta Teibe, head of water resources at the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development.
Therefore, if, according to the municipality, the construction of a sewer in an urban area is not economically justified or is technically too complex, the inhabitants should seek local solutions. Riga Water does not currently estimate how many households in Riga will have to take such a fate into account.
It should be noted that there are about 3,000 households for which sewage and water pipes are available, but residents choose not to use them
“Citizens do not have sufficient financial resources and co-financing covers only part of these costs. This is a socially important issue that needs to be thought about globally in the country – how to raise wages for citizens. But connection to the centralized sewer system will not be the first choice people will choose to make,” Dubļinska said.
To support residents who cannot afford to connect to the system, the municipality offers co-financing. Residents can receive up to €2,000 depending on the length of the sewer infrastructure to be built.
The cost of the service may vary widely. Sometimes the connection can cost a thousand euros, but in other places it can cost ten times more, so additional funding is not always helpful.
There are no major risks of environmental pollution if management is thorough. “But that's not always the case,” said Anita from Irbenes Street.
“As far as I know and what I also feel from the aroma in the area, then neighbors have a worse situation. There are overflows straight out in the environment,” Anita said.
Linda Grīnberga, lead researcher at the Faculty of Forests and Environmental Sciences at the Latvian University of Life Sciences and Technology, said about the risks: “In principle, all groundwater is connected. So if we produce pollution that ends up in the ground, it's clear that it ends up in groundwater. Pollution is moving. And it stays long in the ground because self-purification processes are very slow. The first thing we will be able to feel is that any water we want to take from shallow groundwater for our economic activity will already be contaminated. ”
Where waste water enters nature, it is the responsibility of the municipality to deal with it. Rīga City Council said complaints about violations are received and in such cases, a survey is carried out. However, the number and reasons of complaints are not compiled by the City Council. At times, the City Council also conducts the survey in a preventive manner.
“More than 80 properties with such systems have been surveyed. There have been detections of both offenses and systems that are in good order. In many places where we found violations, people then decided to connect to the centralized system,” the City Council spokesman Mārtiņš Vilemsons told LR.
By the end of 2021, municipalities were also required to identify their water management by registering all local sewer systems. It doesn't work smoothly, though. Out of ten thousand such households, there are currently more than 4,000 registered in Rīga. The City Council is currently sending out letters and is urging residents to be more active. The imposition of penalty measures is not planned yet.
Overall, the situation with sewerage management in Rīga is not bad, the Ministry responsible assessed.
“It would be important for the local authority to think about making networks available to at least some of these residents, especially in areas where residents live very densely, very close to each other. We can appeal as the Ministry, but the decision to grant funding is a decision of the local government,” Teibe noted.