Bulgaria’s Environment Minister Neno Dimov was charged with mismanagement and resigned Friday over the draining of a dam reservoir that has led to severe water rationing in the western town of Pernik.
“The minister of environment has been indicted for deliberate mismanagement for authorising the use of drinking water for industrial needs, despite being repeatedly warned about the decreasing water levels at the Studena dam,” the chief prosecutor’s spokeswoman Siyka Mileva told a press conference.
Dimov was taken into custody late Thursday after prosecutors and police raided the ministry and his home over the probe into the water shortage in Pernik and the region.
Over 97,000 people there have been subjected to severe water rationing with just six hours of water a day since mid-November with no prospect of the situation improving until snows start melting in the spring.
If found guilty, Dimov risks a jail sentence of between two and eight years, the prosecutor overseeing the probe Angel Kanev told reporters.
Kanev claimed that over the past two years Dimov had ignored warnings that the reservoir was being depleted and continued to authorise water being pumped out for industrial use.
Under Bulgarian law, drinking water can only be used for industrial needs if it doesn’t cause shortages for the population.
“If the minister had performed his duties, now there would have been over seven million cubic metres of water in this reservoir, definitely enough to avoid a crisis,” Kanev said.
Different estimates show that currently there are between 2.6 and 4.5 million cubic metres of water left in the Studena reservoir, out of its total capacity of 25 million cubic metres.
Environmentalists have regularly accused Dimov of catering to the interests of big business to the detriment of environmental protection but Kanev said Friday there was no sufficient proof of corruption in this case so far.
Ever since joining the EU in 2007, Bulgaria has been subjected to criticism for failing to reform its judiciary, curb graft and put any high-level officials behind bars for corruption.
Leaks from obsolete pipe systems lead to the loss of an average 60 per cent of Bulgaria’s drinking water, utilities data show, with the losses in Pernik reaching as much as 75 per cent.