The Polish government is currently struggling to reform the national regulations on the management of water resources, called the Water Law. The Polish authorities are under pressure, as Poland recently lost a case in the European Court of Justice in which the European Commission declared that Poland failed to transpose certain provisions of Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2000 establishing a framework for Community action in the field of water policy.

The new draft Water Law has been getting a lot of attention from the very beginning, as it abolishes many exemptions from the fee for water intake and at the same time increases it, and also introduces fixed and variable fees for water services. Many sectors reacted rather reluctantly to the new public levy, including the energy, chemical, metallurgy and food industries. The new levy is only one of many essential changes in the regulations on water resources.

The new Water Law is about to fundamentally restructure public institutions responsible for managing water resources by introducing one unified organisational unit called the National Water Holding “Polish Waters” (Państwowe Gospodarstwo Wodne Wody Polskie). Polish Waters will concentrate on various issues related to water management, e.g. issuing water-law permits. Such powers are now, in many cases held by local governmental bodies.

Apart from the fee rate issue, the planned legislation will change the model of executing fees for water services as compared to current regulations on similar payments. Currently, most payments due under regulations on using the environment are calculated and paid by the users of the environment themselves, and the public authorities only verify whether the correct payment was made. The new Water Law will change this scheme – the calculation and collection of fees for using the environment will be carried out by Polish Waters, which will determine the amount of payments in every individual case. What is more, the fee will be imposed on individual users by way of so called “information” instead of an administrative decision. As a consequence, the methods of questioning an individual fee calculation will be significantly limited.

The new Water Law will also introduce a so-called water-law assessment (ocena wodnoprawna). Such assessment is supposed to supplement the existing environmental impact assessment regulations by ensuring that if such environmental impact assessment is not applied, the respective authority will still take into account the potential impact of the planned investment on the water environment. This may represent an additional formality for investors developing smaller projects that so far were free from such obligations as they were beyond environmental impact assessment obligations.

The government is still working on the final draft of the new Water Law and according to our sources new version of the draft act is likely to be presented soon, whereas the adoption of the new law is a matter of a few months.