Sewage discharged near expensive plants into the sea

Ongoing promises and investments in millions of euros for plants have not yet solved the “gangrenous” problem of sewage pollution. Environmental experts criticize municipalities for lack of priority with serious consequences for the ecosystem and tourism. 

The boulevard of the city of Vlora, widely known as Lungomare, is the flagship and most expensive project of the Urban Renaissance. But along its 4 kilometers, we documented in early May at least three points of sewage discharge into the sea.

Foto: Spill of white and black water in the sea, Lungomare area of Vlora

Similar polluted water canals are a pervasive sight on Albania’s coastline, despite promises over the years and legislation in place that strictly prohibits them from flowing into the sea.

Data provided through the law on the right to information by 7 coastal municipalities of the country show that investments in tens of millions of euros have not yet solved the “gangrene” problem of sewage channels along Albanian beaches.

From field observations, we photographed a dozen hot spots of pollution on the popular beaches of Durres, Vlora and Orikum.

Over the last decade, about 44.6 million euros have been invested together in the municipalities of Vlora, Lezha, Himara, Saranda, Durres and Shkodra in the construction of wastewater treatment plants. But these investments cover only part of the coastline, exposing the rest to pollution.

Sewage discharge into the sea has been blamed for years for damaging the aquatic ecosystem, tourism and the health of the population. Environmental experts and activists are concerned about the consequences, while criticizing the country’s municipalities for not prioritizing a final solution to the problem.

“A lot of investment has been made in coastal cities, but in reality, it is still not possible to reflect all this great investment. Often plants do not cover the entire sea area. The local government has not seen water management as a priority and the consequences are great, as they affect both health and tourism, “said Xhemal Mato, one of the veteran environmental experts in Albania.

Insufficient investment 

The discharge of sewage into the sea is specifically prohibited by the law “On integrated water resources management”, specifically Article 67, but the implementation of legislation continues to be ignored. Repeated promises by mayors have also failed to guarantee a clean sea.

*Highlighted bullet points read: 1. Near the coastline, beaches and alluvial areas, it is prohibited to: e) Discharge urban and industrial untreated waste waters

There are two sewage treatment plants in the Vlora region; the first built in 2015 in Orikum worth about 530 million ALL and the second built in 2019 through an investment of 4.2 million euros from IPA funds of the European Union.

Although the Vlora plant is designed to meet the needs of 90,000 residents in the winter and 160,000 in the summer season, the municipality acknowledges that there is still sewage discharged into the sea – which it says will be solved with a new investment in process. 

“For this reason, a project has been made to improve the sewage infrastructure in the coastal area, with the aim of clean sea …”, said the Municipality of Vlora, while adding that the project was implemented by the firm “Vëllezërit Hysaj”. The new plant is expected to cost taxpayers another 3.3m euros. A few miles south of Lungomare, in the crystal-clear sea of Orikum, a sewage canal flows just a few feet away from the treatment plant.

Wastewater treatment plant, Orikum

The beach is used not only by vacationers during the summer season, but also by local fishermen.

Sewage Water spill on Orikum beach
Fishermen of the area fishing where the polluted waters flow

A similar situation prevails in the Municipality of Durrës, despite significant investments in wastewater treatment infrastructure. The first plant in Durrës was built in 2013 with funding from the World Bank and the European Investment Bank in the amount of 11 million euros, which treats the city’s polluted waters and the area of Kavaja Beach and Rock.

However, the Water Supply and Sewerage Company admits that despite the plant, there is sewage in the area of the former Swamp, as the sewerage network has not yet been built.

The second plant built in 2019 has cost 1.31 billion ALL and is located in the village of Hamallaj. This plant aims to collect and clean the wastewater of the tourist area in Lalëz Bay and the villages of the Ishëm administrative unit, which are Likmetaj, Kërtushaj, Kapidanaj, Gjuricaj, Lalëz, Kuraten, Bizë, Drac, Shetaj.

One of the most problematic areas of Durrës continues to be the promenade “Taulantia”, the main junction of the city during the tourist season. The Water Supply and Sewerage Company in Durrës calls the discharge pipeline on the Taulantia boulevard “a small sewage spill at sea”, which according to it occurs after rainfall.

The documented footage was taken at a time when there was no rain and the weather was dry, a fact that refutes the Municipality’s claim.

The wastewater pipeline that flows into the sea, “Taulantia” promenade Durrës

Once this area was the main destination of the inhabitants of Durrës, but also of vacationers who came from other countries. Sewage dumping and other sources of pollution have led to beach abandonment by vacationers.

The Municipality of Himara, which also covers the most frequented tourist villages of the Albanian Riviera: Qeparo, Borsh, Lukovë, Dhërmi and Palasë, has only one wastewater treatment plant, located in the area of Dhralë.

In response to a request for the right to information, the Municipality of Himara said it needed five more plants to treat the polluted water and stop their discharge into the sea.

The Municipality of Lezha says that after the construction of the plant worth 3.1 million euros in 2014, “no drop of polluted water” flows into the sea. The Municipality of Divjaka does not yet have a plant and treats urban wastewater in septic tanks. Shkodra Municipality has two plants with an investment value of 18.7 million euros. These plants built in the area of Velipoja and Shiroka, according to Shkodra Water Supply and Sewerage, cover all the needs for treatment of wastewater in the area, both in the winter months and during the summer months.

The Municipality of Saranda, often criticized in the past for dumping sewage into the sea, claims that the plant built in 2013 worth 2.3m euros is enough for the city’s needs.

“From the company’s findings, there are no data on spills or hotspots of the source of infection as a result of uncontrolled sewage discharges, as recent investments have eliminated all uncontrolled discharges,” said a spokeswoman for the Municipality of Saranda.

Damage on multiple fronts

Environmental experts are ringing the alarm that dumping untreated sewage water on shores and beaches could cause irreparable damage to the underwater flora and fauna, but also to holidaymakers who frequent these waters.

Environmental expert, Olsi Nika says that the discharge of polluted water into aquatic environments breaks down almost all the links in the food chain, causing great and irreparable damage to living things in the underwater world.

“The impact of used water in natural water environments or ecosystems has to do with the rate of growth of trophic or nutrient substances in the water. Adding to this rhythm makes it impossible to live a normal life and maintain the normal ecological balances of the fauna in the water, and this causes what we call the massive death of fish. “Practically slowly, the diversified environment with all the links in the food chain or trophic flows is gradually becoming a more bacterial and decomposing environment, and this is actually a process we call ‘eutrophication process,'” said Nika.

Klaudio Hyseni, director of the center “Durrësi Aktiv” and author of several articles on the problem of wastewater thinks that in addition to underwater fauna, this phenomenon also harms the health of vacationers.

“I live in this neighborhood [Taulantia promenade] and have seen the area degrade. There is a risk that people will be infected with infectious and epidemiological diseases. Water in this area becomes a source of infection for citizens. We have confirmed through Health Centers that they have had problems with vision, hearing and skin infection for those who bathe in these waters”. said Hyseni.

Although the responsibility for discharging wastewater into the sea lies with the local government, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment must follow the implementation of laws aimed at protecting and improving the environment throughout the country.

However, the Ministry of Tourism and Environment chose not to respond to what measures this institution has taken to control the discharge of polluted water on the country’s shores and beaches.

This article is published within the framework of the project “Facts and  the Environment”, implemented by the Albanian Center for Quality Journalism and Faktoje, in the framework of the project “Towards Improving Labor Relations and Professionalism in the Albanian Media” supported by the European Union, implemented by the Albanian Media Institute and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). The sole responsibility for the content of this article lies with the author and under no circumstances can it be considered that it reflects the position of the European Union”.