The Swedish Parliament has recently decided to make amendments to the Public Water Services Act. The aim of the amendments is to enhance conditions to achieve sustainable water services. The legislative work that lies behind this has been underway since 2017. The practical extent of the amendments to the Act is not clear at this stage. The amendments will enter into force on 1 January and 31 December 2023.
The Government's legislative proposals (Government Bill 2021/22:208) were prepared by the Committee on Civil Affairs, which proposed in its report (2021/22:CU29) to partially enact the bill, but also to reject a certain part of it. Furthermore, the Committee on Civil Affairs proposed that an announcement should be made to the Government. On 22 June 2022, Parliament made a decision regarding the bill, with the Committee on Civil Affairs' draft decision upheld in its entirety. For a more detailed description of the draft act's content and more comments, refer to the article we previously published, which can be found here. Below we cover Parliament's decision and deliberations, concluding with a few brief comments with reference to the legislative amendments passed.
The first part of the legislative amendments clarifies the possibilities that already exist in the current legislation for the municipalities to make a more flexible assessment of the need for a public water and wastewater system. The municipal obligation to arrange public water services is unchanged, but it clarifies that, under certain circumstances, individual facilities can be accepted as an alternative. The bill sets out that it is the local circumstances in the relevant municipality that should be decisive in connection with the assessment of needs. This means that the individual facility must not constitute a risk that an environmental quality standard is not met and the facility must be compatible with proper management of natural resources.
The second part of the legislative amendments entails each municipality having an up-to-date water services plan that must enhance predictability for property owners. Work is already in progress in the majority of municipalities to draw up water and wastewater plans in the light of the water authorities' action programme 2021–2027. These plans have the aim of ensuring compliance with environmental quality standards and access to clean water. It is judged that a mandatory requirement for an up-to-date water services plan will speed up the work and ensure that the municipalities are prepared to face future challenges, to arrange public water services as well as ensure the facilities' function in connection with the impact of climate changes and local conditions. The majority of requirements are set in order to obtain democratic support for the water service plan in that the individuals and authorities that have an interest in the plan's content have the opportunity to participate in the adoption of the plan.
Parliament rejected the part of the legislative amendments proposing that small individual drainage systems should be covered by extended requirements for inspection and reporting. In brief, it meant that regulations could be announced that property owners with individual drainage systems should inspect the system's function, as well as provide information about the inspection, the system's design and its function. The Committee on Civil Affairs considered that there was a risk that the regulations could entail unjustified costs for property owners that were not balanced by a corresponding positive environmental benefit, with which Parliament agreed and the proposal was rejected.
Finally, following the Committee on Civil Affairs' proposal, Parliament once again announced a challenge to the Government to continue to implement the initiatives required in order to institute a regime that entails property owners with individual drainage systems that meet applicable environmental- and health requirements not being required to connect to a public water and wastewater installation. During the Government's work to produce the draft law, Parliament took the decision on 29 April 2021 to issue an announcement with the same implication. In passing the bill, the Government considered the announcement to be finalised. However, the Committee on Civil Affairs considered that even though the legislative amendments decided are a step in the right direction, they do not fully meet Parliament's previous announcement of April 2021. In the light of the fact that the legislative amendments concerning the more flexible assessment are solely a clarification, and that the municipal obligation to arrange public water and wastewater services thereby remains unchanged, it is not unexpected that Parliament, in distinction from the Government, will consider that the previous announcement is not finalised.
ENTRY INTO FORCE
The legislative amendments regarding a more flexible needs assessment enter into force on 1 January 2023, while the legislative amendments pertaining to the fact that an up-to-date water services plan must be in place in each municipality are applied for the first time on 31 December 2023. Municipalities are thereby given time to draw up water services plans. All municipalities must have an up-to-date water services plan from 1 January 2024.
The Government and the Committee on Civil Affairs have identified the need for a central supervisory and guidance authority. It shall provide the municipalities with guiding principles to assess the need for public water and wastewater facilities and the design of the water services plans and is deemed to be of crucial importance if the aim of the amendments is to be achieved. The question is still being prepared by the Government Offices, and without an authority in place there is a risk that the legislative amendments will not have the impact intended. It therefore remains to be seen whether the amendments will produce the intended changes in practice or not.
Even though the legislative work includes amendments that may change the conditions in connection with needs assessment, we can ascertain from Parliament's announcement that these questions have not been finalised and that there is reason to continue to monitor the Government's and Parliament's work on these questions. The extent to which wastewater management must take place in a public water and wastewater system or whether individual waste water installations can be more widely acceptable even within assembled built environments is a topical issue that has been, is, and will continue to be hotly debated.
In the light of the legislative amendments, in August we will be producing a more in-depth article as an expert commentary to be be published on Blendow Lexnova. Johanna Lindqvist will also participate in a webinar organised by VA-guiden on 25 August 2022. You can find more information on this webinar at vaguiden.se.
Do you want to know more about how the legislative amendments will affect you in particular, or did the article raise other questions? You are very welcome to contact any of us or your regular contact at Lindahl.