Ministers argue over water

PHOTO: Kaspar Pokk

Minister of the Interior Andres Anvelt (SDE) did not approve draft legislation concerning rescue services’ use of water yesterday as he believed Minister of the Environment Siim Kiisler (Pro Patria) wanted to charge the Rescue Board in the future.

“The interior ministry will not approve this bill. It is unheard-of to require rescuers to have contracts and pay for use of water in emergency situations. I haven’t heard of anything like it from anywhere in the world,” Anvelt said.

Water utilities and the Rescue Board also gathered that the new law would obligate the board to pay for water, while Siim Kiisler said that everyone has it wrong and that no one would charge the Rescue Board for use of water. “They have not paid enough attention to the explanatory memo which is a shame. However, the coordination process allows for rewriting of documents,” he said.

Like a parking ticket for a police car

Kiisler explained that the draft legislation would see bills for rescue services’ use of water divided equally between all water utility clients. The Rescue Board’s water bill would simply read zero and other consumers would cover the cost between them.

The environment ministry’s amendment to the Public Water Supply and Sewerage Act was sent out for coordination in late July. Anvelt was the first minister not to approve the bill the day before yesterday. The remaining nine ministries have until tomorrow to shape their positions.

In a letter he sent to Kiisler on Monday, Anvelt compared charging firefighters for water to having a police car pay for parking. He later compared the idea to sending the welding bill to a person rescue workers cut out of a crashed vehicle.

“The Rescue Board does not use the water it draws from fire hydrants for its own purposes. It uses it to save the lives, property and living environment of people. Therefore, the Rescue Board cannot be obligated to pay for the use of water,” the minister wrote.

Nothing is free

The bill that left Anvelt with this impression reads as follows: “Drawing water from fire hydrants that form a part of the public water supply system will be regulated through service contracts between the water utility and the Rescue Board that provide, among other aspects, the procedure for use of the public water supply and sewerage service and relevant fees.” A separate clause reads that if the water utility’s fee does not cover expenses in full, costs not covered by contracts will be reflected proportionally in the general public water supply and sewerage fee.

Kiisler told Postimees that this means that the entire water bill will be shared between consumers and that direct contracts between water utilities and the board are necessary for the latter to have more information on the location, condition and water pressure of hydrants. The Rescue Board said that current contracts for use of water are between water utilities and local governments.

Executive Director of the Estonian Water Utilities Union Vahur Tarkmees said that it is natural for the board to have to pay for the water it uses as no service can be offered for free. Tarkmees said that water utilities do not care whether the bill is paid by the board or local governments as the money has to come from the state budget anyway.

He added that at least a part of the cost of water firefighters use is already reflected in the bills of all consumers, while the movement of money should be more transparent.