Global Challenges – Hungarian Answers and Excellence

Hungary has faced diverse challenges such as the global phenomenon of climate change, extreme floods and droughts and has significant experience in handling storm waters, urban environmental and water quality challenges. There are several success stories in avoiding catastrophes especially because necessary interventions were made in harmony with the ecological systems.

Climate change

According to recent studies the climate of Hungary will likely shift to a more Mediterranean one, with even more frequent extreme events. From a long term perspective, the likely impact of climate change will be primarily in the Tisza Valley, which already faces either water shortage or the other extreme, flood problems.

One of the main statements of the New Vásárhelyi Plan was exactly that planning of necessary interventions of flood protection development and operations of flood reservoirs has to be made in harmony with the conservation and development of ecological systems. This way the development of Tisza Valley flood protection system serves well as protection of people and assets against flood; as it is integrated into the ecological system of Tisza, its tributaries and their flood plains. Besides this, the New Vásárhelyi Plan will also ensure new opportunities for rural development in the Tisza Plain. 

Extreme floods

Flood protection has been successful in the past, but recently both of Hungary’s largest rivers, the Danube and the Tisza Basin have exhibited new signs of increasing risks: flood peak levels show a clearly increasing trend.

In spring 2006, extreme flooding occurred in both cases. For the Danube, this extended from the border to Budapest, while along the entire length of the Tisza, the water level exceeded the highest levels observed previously. Organizations responsible for flood protection were on standby from the beginning of March to the end of May, covering dykes of 3,100 km, from which 1,800 km were categorized at the 3rd highest level of protection. In order to prevent flooding and the breaching of dams, nearly 12 million sandbags were needed for protection. During peak hours more than 14 thousand people worked on the dams and embankments. On 21st of April, on the right bank of the River Koros a 90 meter long crack appeared threatening the dam with collapse. Due to the threat, three villages were evacuated as a precaution; the rescue service took charge of relocation and care. Thanks to heroic work and flood protection expertise, the dam was reinforced and a major catastrophe was avoided.

Another extreme example of floods was a recent one: flooding on the River Danube in all relevant countries, including Hungary beginning of June 2013 has surpassed water levels never measured in the last century. Level of Danube’s water exceeded by 300 mm the record levels but the river remained shy of the 9.3 meter height of flood walls protecting downtown of Budapest. Flood protection professionals were able to hold water in beds of the 418 km length in Hungary. However flood caused significant harms in wealth of people and public in large territory of the country, thanks to joint efforts of rescue service and operation of the warning system together with thousands of volunteers, human life was not in direct danger and all settlements avoided enormous damages.  

Extreme droughts

It is not yet clear whether we are facing a trend influenced by climate change, or recent extreme events still remain within the range of natural climate variability. Whatever the cause, water management will need to deal with the problem. In Hungary, droughts present a major challenge and climate change is expected to make the situation worse. In recent decades the financial loss due to droughts has dramatically increased; in 2012 it reached HUF 400 billion (EUR 1.4 billion). As a response a comprehensive water management strategy has been under development since spring 2013, including a drought management policy and irrigation development. 

In fighting extreme droughts due to the geographical conditions of Hungary where the surface watercourses, streams and rivers are relatively rare, while the country is rich in groundwater, an intensive ‘deep water mining’ industry developed in the early 19th century. One of the prominent example of successful companies is the water prospecting and drilling enterprise, VIKUV, specializing in drilling/completion/servicing of fresh, mineral and geothermal water wells, using modern well construction technologies in a variety of depths, ranging from shallow up to 2000 m. This tradition is being carried on with high standards, unique technologies and capabilities. VIKUV also has long experience in working abroad. Since 1958 it has performed an intense activity under various – sometimes dramatic - climatic and environmental conditions. For example it spent USD 100 thousand on drilling two wells in the villages of Abuware and Hablomender (Ethiopia). They built two waterworks and one sub irrigation system on a 3 hectare site nearby. The irrigation system allows the local community to harvest three times a year and to have farm products throughout the year. The waterworks provides 6000 inhabitants of the Kobo valley with fresh water every day. The project started in September 2007 with the training of Ethiopian engineers. Involving paid local labour in the drilling, the wells were installed by the end of September 2008 and the waterworks by June 2009.

Storm water management

Storm water is rainwater and melted snow that runs off the catchment, be it rural or urban. Due to the geographical characteristics of the Carpathian Basin, Hungary has always been affected by extensive flooding and excess water inundation. Runoff control in hilly areas is especially important in the upstream part of rural catchments. This was the reason of launching a reservoir programme for hilly regions, in the framework of which surface runoff, generated by heavy rainfall and characterized by short duration, is stored in reservoirs created with due regard to environmental considerations.

One of the most significant results of this field is connected to the company Pureco. The company was contracted at the Arad A1 motorway expansion in 2012 and also the Satu Mare bypass in Romania. The company has proposed their own patented proven solution for the treatment of the rainwater collected from whole length of the approximately 213 km motorway; the volume totals 35,500 l/s. The ENVIA TRPR drift and light liquid separator is installable in open-surface storm water drainage channels, the sizes vary between 60 and 225 l/s nominal flow. These installations are known for their low cost and short installation time, as well as simple and economical operation.

Urban environment

To meet requirements of the Urban Wastewater Directive of the European Union, a National Sewerage and Wastewater Treatment Programme was established, which incorporated a detailed implementation timetable till 2015. The plan is to solve wastewater management with tertiary treatment in settlements greater than 10,000 population equivalent (PE) situated in so-called sensitive areas and to have at least biological treatment in all existing treatment plants.

The well-known multinational company General Electric (former Zenon)’s divison, GE Water operates a manufacturing centre of excellence in Oroszlany, which is the World’s largest ultrafiltration membrane module manufacturing site. In the last decade, the facility has increased its production capacity tenfold, with its growth underscoring the urgent need for municipalities and industrial users to treat and reuse water, both to conserve freshwater supplies and to lessen the impact of wastewater discharges. GE’s Oroszlany facility covers 80,000 m2, has 870 employees and can produce 250 “ZeeWeed” MBR systems annually. GE’s industry-leading water treatment technology MBR, a fast-growing alternative to conventional water-treatment methods, uses hollow-fibre UF membranes to separate particles, bacteria and viruses from wastewater, along with beneficial bacteria to further treat the water, providing a more consistent and better quality.

Water quality and accidental pollutions

A new Hungarian groundwater and soil protection regime was adopted in 2000 to ensure compliance with the relevant EU-directive on groundwater protection. In view of the fact over 90% of drinking water is abstracted from groundwater, the Hungarian legislation is considered as one of the most stringent in the World.

Another success story is related to Shenzhen, China, where the lack of wastewater infrastructure was an obstacle for further development of a major industrial zone where land was a premium, thus a traditional waste water treatment plan was out of the question. Due to its small footprint the company Organica could offer a solution to locally treat the wastewater close to the source. The unique aesthetics and completely odourless operation enabled the seamless integration of the waste water treatment plan directly adjacent to the buildings it serves. The plant in Shenzhen is Organica’s excellent reference of a four-train FBR system combining the advantages of conventional Sequence Batch Reactors (SBR) and continuous flow wastewater treatment technologies. The FBR process uses a combination of continuous flow and sequencing batch reactor systems, which combined with the natural biofilm carrier of plant roots, provides outstanding efficiency.   “Not only is Organica’s plant flexible enough to fit into a highly dense urban environment, it also provides cutting-edge technologies for quality water treatment. Their approach to Nitrogen removal is superior to any existing technological solution.” Mr Wen, Shenzhen Environmental Engineering and Science Center  

Source: Hungarian Investment and Trade Angency, (HITA), “The Hungarian Water and Sanitation Industry in the 21st century”, 2013.

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