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The Lausitz Water Association found itself facing a difficult future following the reunification of Germany in 1990, with industrial businesses closing down one after the other and the population in and around Senftenberg and Hoyerswerda steadily falling. Today, Brandenburg’s largest waterworks and its operator are benefiting from the courageous decisions the association made back then – not least the decision to hand over the management of its water operations to WAL-Betrieb, a REMONDIS Aqua company, in 2006. For over 20 years now, WAL’s customers have not had to face rising fees – on the contrary, they have remained stable both for water supply and wastewater treatment.
Chairman of the Lausitz Water Association, Dr Roland Socher, explained the reasons behind this success: “The fees and charges for drinking water and wastewater have effectively been frozen over the last 20 years. This can be put down to a number of important decisions that were made some years back. One of these decisions was handing over the business’s operations to a privately owned company 15 years ago. That has brought some huge benefits. The second decision was to have the foresight to invest in the future.”
Foresight was definitely needed when the Lausitz Water Association (WAL) was founded back in 1992. The structure and the size of the business did not reflect the fall in demand. The waterworks in Tettau had originally been built in the 1950s to supply the newly established industrial businesses with water, in particular the coking plant in Lauchhammer. As part of East Germany back then, the waterworks was responsible for supplying both its industrial customers and the local districts, such as Hoyerswerda and Senftenberg, with water. In fact, the demand was so great that the plant had to be extended in 1962.
Dr Roland Socher, Chair of the Lausitz Water Association
The large investments that needed to be made in the waterworks following the reunification of Germany automatically led to the fees being increased, almost on an annual basis. At the same time, the number of local inhabitants continued to fall and the residents who remained in the region tried to limit the amount of water they consumed because of the ever increasing charges. Having invested so heavily in its infrastructure, the association found itself deep in debt in the 1990s. Many areas of its supply network, however, still needed to be renovated. At the time, it was not clear whether the association would be able to manage the balancing act of making the necessary investments while taking in less and less money.
The first milestone was reached at the beginning of the millennium when the decision was made not to renovate the existing waterworks but to build a new facility instead. A modern plant would enable the association to have a clearly defined and more predictable budget. With demand for drinking water continuing to drop, costs could be kept lower by operating a new and smaller waterworks. A long-term contract was signed with the Lausitz mining company ensuring that they would supply them with drinking water from their Schwarze Pumpe waterworks should demand exceed the capacity of the new plant.
Moreover, a major project began in 2005 to extend the sewer system to cover the districts on the outskirts of the city and neighbouring villages. In 2003, the association then decided to put the plant’s operations out to tender. REMONDIS Aqua took part in this multi-stage, Europe-wide procurement process and was awarded the contract in 2005. A new company was founded specifically for this purpose – WAL-Betrieb – and it began working on behalf of the water association almost 15 years ago. WAL-Betrieb is a fully owned subsidiary of EURAWASSER GmbH & Co. KG, one of the leading water management companies in Germany serving a number of city and district authorities.
The benefits for the local partners are obvious: pooling together know-how from various different areas guarantees a sustainable, high-quality performance and cuts administration costs as services are delivered centrally. Today, WAL-Betrieb employs 200 people and serves local authorities, industrial businesses, commercial firms and private individuals. Besides supplying drinking water and treating wastewater, the team also performs a range of additional tasks including household connection services, providing advice on and organising mobile wastewater management services, unblocking drains and cleaning sewers (including household pipes) as well as protecting groundwater and harvesting rainwater. What’s more, WAL-Betrieb has succeeded in extending its catchment area over the last few years: besides now serving the Kamenz water association in the state of Saxony, the company also supplies water to a number of industrial customers in the east of Saxony. In a nutshell: a real success story.