European development bank aids clean-up of Poland's Vistula River

An EBRD loan is helping southern Poland's biggest environmental project to flourish. Plans to cut the amount of waste deposited in the Vistula River flowing through Krakow received a major boost with the recent opening of a new biological sewage treatment plant at the Plaszow waste water facility. The plant will substantially reduce pollution of the river -- and ultimately the Baltic Sea -- by Poland's third-largest city, home to 760,000 people and a wide range of businesses and industries...

By Michael McDonough,
EBRD Communications Consultant

LONDON, Dec. 26, 2006 -- The historic Polish city of Krakow, already famous for rich palaces and stunning churches, is adding clean river water to its list of visitor attractions, thanks in part to an EBRD loan that is helping southern Poland's biggest environmental project to flourish, reported the European Bank for Reconstruction & Development last week.

Plans to cut the amount of waste deposited in the Vistula River flowing through the city received a major boost with the recent opening of a new biological sewage treatment plant at the Plaszow waste water facility.

The plant will substantially reduce pollution of the river -- and ultimately the Baltic Sea -- by Poland's third-largest city, home to 760,000 people and a wide range of businesses and industries.

Widespread benefits
"The benefits will be felt by the citizens not only of Krakow but also of many other cities and towns situated downstream on Poland's largest river, notably Warsaw," says Tomasz Bartos, the EBRD banker handling the project.

"The project will also bring Poland substantially closer to fulfilling its environmental obligations agreed with the European Union," adds Thomas Maier, Director of the EBRD's Municipal and Environmental banking team.

Until recently, Krakow's main effluent treatment plant at Plaszow employed only a mechanical treatment process with technology dating from the 1970s. This type of treatment was insufficient and caused serious damage to the Vistula by allowing discharges containing high levels of nitrogen and potassium into its waters.

The new biological sewage treatment plant at Plaszow channels waste water into activated sludge chambers where micro-organisms trigger a complicated process of removing carbon, phosphorus and nitrogen compounds. It is estimated that this will help cut the levels of organic compounds discharged into the river by 97% and ensure that Plaszow's output meets Polish and European Union environmental standards.

Increased capacity
Building the biological treatment plant was, however, just one part of the Plaszow project, which is co-financed by an EU grant of €55.7 million [US$72.97 million] and a Bank loan worth €20.1 million [US$26.3 million]. The project also involved work to increase Plaszow's mechanical treatment capacity from 132,000 to 330,000 cubic meters per day, as well as the construction of new sedimentation tanks and the modernization of pumping facilities.

As the cost of all these initiatives fell below the original project estimate, €10.3 million [US$13.5 million] from the original December 2000 Bank loan remained unspent. A new loan agreement signed on Oct. 10, the same day the biological treatment plant officially opened, committed these unspent funds to a sub-project covering several investments: connecting lower Krakow with the Plaszow facility; the construction of an incinerator to burn sludge produced by the plant; and the reclamation of lagoons where sludge had previously been dumped.

"These lagoons smell very bad, so it is great that the land is going to be reclaimed," says Dariusz Prasek of EBRD's Environment Department. "This is European-standard, state-of-the-art technology. Plaszow is now one of the most advanced effluent treatment plants in Eastern Europe."

Helping to clean up the Vistula is just one way the Bank is working to improve the lives of Krakow's inhabitants. Other signed projects aim to modernize district heating infrastructure, renew the city's fleet of buses and provide citizens with a fast new tram line.

"The EBRD is a tested partner of the city," says Krakow's recently re-elected mayor, Jacek Majchrowski. "The Bank has proved its effectiveness in arranging financing and getting projects completed in urban transport, district heating and now in water management.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (www.ebrd.com) was established in 1991 when communism was crumbling in central and eastern Europe and ex-soviet countries needed support to nurture a new private sector in a democratic environment. Today the EBRD uses the tools of investment to help build market economies and democracies in countries from central Europe to central Asia. The EBRD is the largest single investor in the region and mobilises significant foreign direct investment beyond its own financing. It is owned by 60 countries and two intergovernmental institutions. But despite its public sector shareholders, it invests mainly in private enterprises, usually together with commercial partners.

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Also see:
-- "EBRD improves water supply in Georgia: Loans to Kutaisi and Poti to support investment programmes"
-- "EU and EBRD support Gdansk water infrastructure: Compliance with EU environmental standards to ensure cleaner Baltic Sea"
-- "EBRD €8 mln loan helps improve water services in Bulgaria: Bank works with EU, City of Rousse; around 260,000 residents to benefit"

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