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Balkan countries in Drina River Basin


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This paper aimed to point out not only the main sources of water pollution in the Drina River basin but also the inevitability and importance of an integrative transboundary solution to water management issues, thus maintaining good quality surface and underground water in the context of overall environmental protection and health. This paper did qualitative research on the existing water protection situation and made a top-bottom analysis, ranging from European to national, regional, and local levels, using geospatial and geosystemic differentiation analysis methods of spatial-temporal contents. It was concluded that bilateral cooperation agreements between countries in the basin should be reached to eliminate the causes of water pollution and possibly restore water quality.
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Acadlore Transactions on Geosciences
Water Resources Protection and Water Management Framework in
Western Balkan Countries in Drina River Basin
Vidomir Obradovic1, Ana Vulevic2*
1 University of Tourism and Hotel Management, 89101 Trebinje, Federation Bosnia and Hercegovina
2 Department for Urbanism and Architecture, Institute of Transportation CIP, 11000 Belgrade, Serbia
* Correspondence: Ana Vulevic (
Received: 01-02-2023
Revised: 02-05-2023
Accepted: 03-03-2023
Citation: V. Obradovic and A. Vulevic, Water resources protection and water management framework in
western Balkan countries in Drina River Basin,” Acadlore Trans. Geosci., vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 24-32, 2023.
© 2023 by the authors. Licensee Acadlore Publishing Services Limited, Hong Kong. This article can be downloaded for free, and
reused and quoted with a citation of the original published version, under the CC BY 4.0 license.
Abstract: This paper aimed to point out not only the main sources of water pollution in the Drina River basin, but
also the inevitability and importance of an integrative transboundary solution to water management issues, thus
maintaining good quality surface and underground water in the context of overall environmental protection and
health. This paper did qualitative research of existing water protection situation and made a top-bottom analysis,
ranging from European to national, regional, and local levels, using geospatial and geosystemic differentiation
analysis methods of spatial-temporal contents. It was concluded that bilateral cooperation agreements between
countries in the basin should be reached to eliminate the causes of water pollution and possibly restore water
Keywords: Drina River; Ecology; Water resources protection; Waste; Water management; Western Balkan
1. Introduction
Natural processes occurred on Earth on a global scale without limits on borders or regions. When access to
drinking water is becoming one of the most important issues today, integrated water management is one of the
tools of sustainable development and environmental protection. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the
World Bank (WB) supported the Drina River Basin Management Project (WBDRBM) in the Western Balkans
within the framework of integrated water resources management (IWRM) and management of global climate
processes in coastal countries, namely, Montenegro, the Federation Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of
Srpska and the Republic of Serbia. Due to transboundary obstacles in water protection in the basin, it is necessary
to prevent, control and reduce water pollution. This paper proposed the inevitability and importance of an
integrative transboundary solution to water management issues, thus ensuring ecologically sound and rational
water management, conservation of water resources and environmental protection.
2. Literature Review
Drina River basin has great potential, such as preserved natural environment, specific series of natural conditions
(terrain, climate, water, protected natural resources, diverse living world, etc.), surface and underground water,
hydropower, drinking water supply, irrigation, forest vegetation, which all together require specific protection
treatment. Due to special and natural values, the Drina River basin was protected by the most important activities
and actions in the past [1-4].
Regardless of measures and protection activities implemented, the pressure on use of natural resources increased
because of both significant changes in space and legislative changes in planning, construction and environmental
protection. Water resources primarily involve clean water. With the aim of sustainable water use, flood mitigation
and environmental management, the World Bank initiated the project "Support to the Water Resources
Management in the Drina River Basin", which covered three states in the basin, namely, Bosnia and Herzegovina
(Federation BiH and the Republic of Srpska), Montenegro and the Republic of Serbia. Natural pollution sources
in the Drina basin inevitably affect degradation of natural environment and increase of the amount of floating
wastes [1-7]. The concept of the hydrographical basin as an instrument for water resource management has made
its mark internationally over the past fifty years and the development potential of transboundary river basins and
lakes has emerged as a cornerstone for international cooperation. The principle of international freshwater
management addresses problems related to water resources and services through an integrated approach that
considers a basin as a single management and planning unit. As a matter of fact, integrated water resource
management is also an instrument of trans frontier co-operation, promoting dialogue and creating common
interests among each basin’s coriparian states, linking a number of vital activities within an international basin
The Drina River basin, its riverbed and hydroelectric power plants on the longitudinal flow profile have
generated a variety of wastes. In order to improve and protect the environment, environmental protection needs to
take proper waste management into consideration, because such wastes can cause adverse effects and change the
physical, chemical and biological properties of the environment, resulting in water, air and soil pollution. An
important goal is to reduce the source and amount of wastes, which occurs in the technological process, and recycle
them as raw materials or energy, thus improving environmental protection along with economic effect [8-13].
In the Drina River basin, a large number of ores and deep pit mines have disturbed the aesthetic environment
and initiated far-reaching and complex degradation processes. A significant proportion of environmental
degradation is underdeveloped urban dumps, landfills in rural settlements and along riverbeds, and traffic roads.
Special geological structure leads to active landslides, which get worse with anthropogenic influence, such as
heavy exploitation of forests and unplanned construction of technical and social infrastructure [11].
Water flows with no political boundaries, which significantly limits the management scope made possible by
institutional frontiers. Moreover, the complex physical, political and human interactions within international river
basins make the management of these shared water systems particularly difficult [4-7].
This paper aimed to indicate the importance of timely water resources management, thus meeting the needs of
present population without threatening future generations.
It is necessary to prevent, control and reduce water pollution, which can cause transboundary impact. That is,
use of transboundary water should ensure ecologically sound and rational water management, conservation of
water resources and environmental protection [4-6].
3. Methodology
When developing the possibility of shared transboundary water protection and management in the Drina
hydrographical basin, this paper did qualitative research of existing water protection situation and made a top-
bottom analysis, ranging from European to national, regional, and local levels, using geospatial and geosystemic
differentiation analysis methods of spatial-temporal contents, thus becoming part of water integrated strategy
management in the Drina River basin. Information is mainly from European and national documents, studies,
reports, communications, legislation, and institutions' websites.
4. Results
4.1 Natural Conditions
4.1.1 Hydrology
The Drina River is a tributary of the Sava River, which is the largest tributary of the Danube River when flowing
near Sremska Raca and provides the largest volume of water for the Danube River which drains into the Black Sea
The Drina River basin has an area of 19,680 km2 and covers three neighbouring states, Montenegro, BiH and
Serbia. The Drina and its tributaries Tara and Piva, originate in the high karst area in central Dinarides, i.e., Scepan
field. The Drina River belongs to the Black Sea basin and flows from south to north with many tributaries, such
as Sutjeska, Bistrica, Prača, Drinjača and Janja, which are large tributaries on the left, and Ćehotina, Lim, Rzav,
Ljuboviđa and Jadar, which are large tributaries on the right [8].
Water regime of the Drina River belongs to snow-rain regimes. The river reaches the maximum water level in
April and the second largest water level in December. Large flows are caused by the passage of upper flows
through high mountains of the Dinarides, which are characterized by heavy precipitation and snow melting. Before
dams were constructed, the Drina was known for its occasionally extremely high-water level, which once reached
9500 m³/s in the middle course. There are three hydropower plants (HE) on the Drina, Višegrad, BajinaBašta and
Zvornik. The division of territory within the Drina River Basin (DRB) and the geographical determination is shown
in Figure 1 [8].
Figure 1. The hydrographic network of the Drina River Basin
Source: Support to Water Resources Management in the Drina River Basin crust [8]
4.1.2 Geology
Characterized by a block tectonic structure, the Drina basin is composed of three large and numerous small
blocks and separated by fault cracks. The largest part lies in central Dinarides, which are made of Paleozoic and
Mesozoic rocks. Only the Podrinje mountains Cer and Majevica belong to the inner Dinarides, where Paleozoic
and Triassic rocks are mostly covered by Neogene and Quaternary sediments. The geological composition consists
of Paleozoic slates, granites, andesites and gabbros. The basin has Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous limestones
and dolomites, probably because of the tectonic evolution of this area, which is represented by blocks of the
continental crust [1, 8].
4.2 Water Quality and Pollution
Excluding anthropogenic influence, water in nature is not completely pure. According to the longitudinal and
deep-water profile, water contains various mineral and radioactive substances, microorganisms, and dissolved
gases. Watercourses transport significant amount of suspended particles and floating layers with energy.
Atmospheric water in nature is the pollution source of acid and yellow rain. Wastes in the Drina River basin can
be divided into:
- floating surface (plastic, rubber, wood, animal waste);
- suspended waste (soaked containers made of wood, rubber and plastic);
- precipitated mobile layer at the bottom of the flow (a mixture of various types of soaked waste related to
Natural pollution sources in the Drina basin have inevitably aggravated natural environment and increased the
amount of floating waste [12]. Soil erosion affects the genesis of waste and causes accumulation of suspended
materials and formation of sludge. Denudation processes destroy and reduce surface humus and vegetation cover,
which reduces water quality and increases the amount of silt. As a result of intense rainfall, water overflows from
riverbeds, resulting in deposition and movement of sediments, and reduction of volume of lake reservoirs at
hydroelectric power plants. Precipitation washes off artificial fertilizers and pesticides, while pronounced heat of
the sun loosens the vegetation cover, which reduces the amount of water, changes its chemical composition and
introduces new pollution. The orographic characteristics of the Drina basin are favorable to the formation of river
sediments and the direct introduction of floating waste, as well as the winds that carry different types of waste into
the river flow. Biodegradable natural material, which causes deposits to accumulate on shores and hydroelectric
power plants, does not have a negative impact on the environment. Soil erosion and material transport are natural
phenomena and are beyond anthropogenic influence, which can be positive or negative.
Anthropogenic factors creating floating waste are mainly caused by technological development, which has a
pronounced human influence on environmental degradation. Sources of anthropogenic pollution in the Drina River
basin include landfills, metallurgy, energy, chemical industry, extraction and processing of mineral raw materials,
agriculture, and roads. The coastal zone is a place of waste disposal due to people's wrong habits [12].
During the spring and autumn floods, the coastal area is flooded, and wastewater reaches the river's watercourses
and is disposed of on natural or artificial obstacles. Due to the increase of water level, garbage is dumped on the
trees along the coast. In the Drina River basin, some landfills do not meet sanitary conditions and exceed ecological
standards, though they are located in the coastal area in the city center. Peoples carelessness has caused some
"wild" landfills. For example, landfill Šekovići is a few kilometers upstream from the urban settlement on the
Drinjača riverbank, whose waste ended up on the streets of the city and on the highway in the floods of 2014.
Tons of garbage and waste float along the Drina River bed all the way to the dam near Visegrad, creating a large
garbage island. Natural landscapes and straits have become landfills of plastic, bags, wooden assortments, rusty
barrels and bottles. Floating waste has been found in the watercourse at all levels, with the largest amount in lake
reservoirs near hydroelectric power plants. Heavy and dirty waste moves to the bottom and settles there, and the
waste visible is only part of the waste. In the reservoirs of hydroelectric power plants, part of the waste remains
on the surface, part remains at the bottom, part goes over the spillway over the power plant and continues to move,
and part is cleaned. These cycles are repeated periodically. When the waste is removed from the water, it involves
its proper disposal. Natural environment of the watershed is most threatened by anthropogenic influence, where
human ignorance damages the overall biodiversity and hinders sustainable development as well as touristic
valorization of numerous natural and anthropogenic values. Floating surface visible waste is shown in Figure 2 is
only part of the current state of the amount of waste [12].
Figure 2. Tons of waste dumped in poorly regulated riverside landfills or directly into waterways, ending up
accumulating behind a garbage barrier in the Drina River. (AP Photo: Armin Dugut)
If water is used to supply households, the sources must be specially monitored, and special water supply
protection zones defined and established. Major polluters along the Drina River are concentrated, with industrial
plants and urban units discharging and collecting pollutants in one place. Such concentric waste consists of:
- municipal pollution sources: atmospheric and fecal water, technological and sanitary water insufficiently
purified by the main collectors come into the river, which are the main recipient for waste;
- industrial pollution sources: numerous different industrial facilities along the Drina River discharge polluted
water, such as mine and smelter of non-ferrous metals in Zajača, antimony mine in Stolice, Bauxite mine in
Milici, alumina factory in Zvornik, lead and zinc mine in Sasama, numerous facilities in the food industry,
and wood stocks releasing poisonous phenol;
- agricultural pollution sources: rinsing of mineral fertilizers and various pesticides in agricultural production
leads to increased concentration of nitrogen, potassium and pathogenic microorganisms, resulting in algae
- pollution sources of solid waste dumps: numerous wild dumps on the right and left bank of the Drina River
create floating waste.
According to Republica Srpska’s legislative acts (SG RS, No. 50/06), which are largely consistent with that of
the Republic of Serbia, the ecological status of surface water is determined by three groups of quality indicators,
biological, hydro morphological and physical-chemical status. The ecological status of natural (unchanged) water
bodies is classified as: excellent (I), good (II), moderate (III), weak (IV) and poor (class V). The chemical status
of water bodies is assessed based on monitoring results and dividied into two types, good status or having not
reached good status. Industrial production reduced during and after the war between 1992-1995, which was
favorable to improving water quality. According to several studies, which were related to ecological and chemical
status of water, the water quality in the Drina River Basin was defined as moderate or good quality status.
Quantity of collected floating waste in the accumulation in Visegrad is shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3. Quantity of collected floating waste on the accumulation in Visegrad (m³)
Source: Study - Technoeconomic analysis of floating waste management in the economy Drina-Lim hydroelectric power plant, EPS Serbia,
Belgrade, 2015 [9]
4.2.1 Analysis of positive experience in preventing environmental damage
The EPS Serbia study systematically analyzed positive world experience in the following areas [9]:
- prevention of waste generation;
- prevention of waste transport;
- extraction of waste from accumulation and river flow;
- storage of collected waste;
- waste disposal.
Floating waste of natural origin is dominant in developed countries. Due to low standards and lack of
infrastructure for storage, disposal or recycling, the waste of anthropogenic origin is dominant in developing
countries. Prevention measures for waste transportation involve directing waste to suitable and accessible places
for collection and preventing waste disposal at potentially suitable sites where the waste stops, such as
hydroelectric power plants, bridges, locks and islands. Obstacles for collecting waste are set at places that are
adapted to the geomorphological characteristics of the flow. The obstacles should meet technological conditions
and neither prevent the normal course of flow nor interfere with navigation. The most common obstacles include
floating and fixed dams, cages, nets, switches and retarders. Waste is also collected by dedicated vessels. Floating
waste is extracted from water with specialized mechanical cleaners, such as hydraulic, rope and chain cleaners.
According to the integrated water resources management report by state institutions of the Republic of Serbia,
Montenegro and BiH, it is important to make investments in hydroelectric infrastructure and make an
environmental protection plan at the same time. As a separate segment, it is compulsory to protect the environment
from water pollution. Destructive elements for the catchment area include flood waves, eruption of underground
waters, troughs, erosion, and debris materials, which must be eliminated by timely regulation of riverbeds,
estimation of changes in flow and climate analysis. Thus, the priority task is to ensure "environmentally acceptable
flow", which implies the flow necessary to maintain water quality does not endanger the ecosystems in the river
basin. Such an approach and basin state are a positive basis for meeting the social needs, which can manifest itself
in order to develop ecotourism [12].
4.3 Transboundary Obstacles in Water Protection
Water protection implies analysis of sediment management, i.e., monitoring ecologically acceptable water flow
and quality. The problem is that the monitoring methodologies of water quality are not consistent in all countries
Sediment monitoring in the Drina basin is therefore rated as poor, with a small number of measuring stations.
Some countries even have no sediment monitoring. It is necessary to increase the number of those stations.
Ecologically acceptable flow (EPP) is considered as the minimum water flow necessary to maintain the health
of river and ecosystem, i.e., environmental protection. The methodologies proposed in Bosnia and Herzegovina,
Montenegro and Serbia are used to calculate the minimum ecologically acceptable flow based on hydrological
data (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Minimum environmental flow (EF) hydrological methods of countries in the DRB
Source: Support to water resources management in the Drina River basin project Roof Report [8]
This paper proposed to harmonize the values and methods applied in the entire Drina basin [8].
Water quality of the Drina River is the best on the profile near Bajina Bašta, compared with three downstream
profiles (Ljubovija, Jelav and Badovinci, with only Badovinci profile measured in recent years) measured by the
RHMZ, based on the Report on Water Quality in 2006 and the Status of Surface Waters of Serbia in 2015 and
2016, as well as measurements in the previous period.
In generally, water quality of the Drina River in the first decade of the 21st century was class II on the Bajina
Bašta and Ljubovija profile, which is the required class for this river. However, the water quality was class II/III
in Jelav and Badovina, which was worse [13].
In the period 2015-2016, the situation was similar. Water quality of the Drina River was good and better near
Bajina Bašta, which was better than that in Badovina downstream, where the water quality was moderate and
threatened due to increased chemical and organic pollution.
The watercourse had moderate organic pollution according to saprobiological tests of water quality on the
profiles of Bajina Bašta and Badovinci, and earlier on that of Ljubovija and Jelav. During the test periods, it was
observed that silicate algae was the biggest pollution. The saprobity index moved within the β-mesosaprob zone,
i.e. water quality was class II, except in the spring period. Water quality was class I/II on the Bajina Bašta profile.
Assessment of ecological status/potential of watercourses based on physical and chemical elements of quality
Drina and Sava water area, in 2015 and 2016, are shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Assessment of ecological status/potential of watercourses based on physical and chemical elements of
quality in 2015 and 2016
Drina River; Sava Water Area; 177.25 km from estuary, basin area 14,797 km2;
water quality testing since 1967
Bajina Bašta
good and better
good and better
Source: Status of surface waters of Serbia in 2015 and 2016 - Ministry of Environmental Protection - Environmental Protection Agency 2018
The water quality meets requirements and is good based on a comparative analysis of SWQI4 index.
Water quality of reservoirs - The Bajina Bašta reservoir belongs to the group of priority reservoirs in Serbia
where the RHMZ tested water quality.
Water was sampled in the Bajina Bašta reservoir by the RHMZ near the dam at three points with different depth,
namely, A-1 (0.5m), A-2 (12.0m), A-3 (25.0m), and at three points with different depth in the middle of the lake,
namely, B-1 (0.5m), B-2 (6.0m), B-3 (12.0m) [13].
According to the physical and chemical analysis results of water samples, a low value of water oxygen saturation
(oxygen deficit) was found in point A-3 (class III), while elevated concentration of dangerous and harmful
substances was not registered.
Groundwater quality endangerment in the researched area is caused by groundwater abstraction, such as springs
and well water, mostly by local people on a much smaller scale for commercial facilities. Due to the small
population and the small number of households in this area, we cannot talk about the problem of over-pumping
threatened by a large population. However, this is a special problem of "wild" capturing water sources, because
there is no registered data. The terrain is made of rocks with different hydrogeological properties, and the pollution
conditions of the subterranean areas are also different.
Groundwater pollution is mainly caused by inadequate treatment of septic tanks in all rural settlements and
liquid and solid waste from livestock farms, illegal depositing waste in river valleys, mineral fertilizers in
agriculture, as well as illegal construction. Most settlements have permeable (absorbent) septic tanks, while newer
buildings have air-tight sanitary septic tanks that are periodically cleaned.
Solid waste is disposed by individual sector in immediate vicinity of homesteads and in garbage pits. Most local
people often bury dead animals in unorganized land areas. There is a problem in the choice of these locations,
because it is not guided, and vulnerability of the substrate is not sufficiently considered. That is, decomposition of
these wastes and their infiltration through storm water may contaminate groundwater. Uncontrolled escrow waste
in the vicinity of watercourses also pollutes underground water resources. Formation of landfills in river valleys
represents a direct danger to sensitive aquifers in salluvial plains [13].
Due to lack of information on the amount of fertilizers used in agriculture, it is assumed that the quantity is not
large and cannot significantly endanger underground water.
Considering geological structure of the terrain, and good quality and reserves of groundwater, special water
sources protection regimes are required in order to preserve this state.
Water quality classification in the Drina basin is shown in Table 2. The methodology used to determine the
ecological and chemical status of water bodies in Serbia is formulated in the Rulebook on ecological and chemical
status parameters, quantitative status of surface waters and chemical and quantitative status parameters of
groundwater (Official Gazette of RS, No. 74/11) [13].
Water classification in the three countries obviously needs to be harmonized in order to form consistent status
of surface waters in the basin.
Table 2. Comparison of water quality classification in legislations of three countries
Ecological status of surface
water and ecological potential
of highly modified water
bodies (HMWB) is classified
based on physico-chemical and
microbiological indicators
Class I to V (excellent to poor)
Since 2014, classification
consistent with EU Directives
Classification based on permissible
values of physicochemical and
biological indicators according to the
purpose of water usage:
- Water used for drinking and food
production (Class A, A1, A2 and A3)
- Water for fish and shell
production (Class S, W and C)
- Bathing water (Class K1 and
Chemical status is categorized
as good or having not achieved
good status, based on the
content of priority, priority
hazardous and
other pollutants.
Five classes of water quality status (I to V)
based on physicochemical, microbiological and
hydro morphological parameters, which is not
completely consistent with EU directives.
Water quality categorization:
Class I: A1, S, K1
Class II: A2, K2, C
Class III: A3
Overall status/potential is
classified as the worse.
Source: Support to Water Resources Management in the Drina River Basin [8]
4.3.1 Transboundary collaboration
It is necessary for the three countries to develop and implement the Joint Water Management Project of the
Drina Basin, namely, Republic of Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Republic of Srpska and Federation BiH),
and Montenegro. Despite the three countries are signatories to the most important multilateral agreements of water
resources management, they have large insurmountable disagreements, which requires time to harmonize the
adopted strategic plans and methodologies used for common water resources. Although the three countries do not
have bilateral agreements to regulate issues concerning water resources management, they have started bilateral
cooperation. The multilateral agreements include the Helsinki Convention on the Protection and Use of
Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes and the Sofia Convention on the Protection and Sustainable
Use of the Danube River, the Espoo Convention and the Aarhus Convention, as well as the agreement on the Sava
River basin, which are different in status [1-8].
In addition, due to unpredictability of consequences of climate change, water resources management tasks need
to be better organized to take prevention measures and respond in emergency situations and more intensive
cooperation between competent institutions is required. The priority is to harmonize strategic documents in the
field of spatial planning and water management. It is necessary to take into account the harmonization of
differences in planning the use of hydropower potential. Use of existing potentials must also be regulated by
5. Conclusions
Taking into account sustainable water use and environmental management and the support from the World Bank
for more efficient water management in the DRB, it is necessary to start or intensify activities to reach bilateral
cooperation agreements between countries in the basin, thus achieving and maintaining good surface and
underground water quality, eliminating the causes of pollution and possibly restoring water quality [1-3, 5, 6, 8].
Surface and underground water contamination may be reduced by developing a municipal wastewater collection
and purification system. Pollution caused by industrial activities can possibly be reduced with better wastewater
treatment technology.
Water pollution reduction requires the planning for urban wastewater collection system and wastewater
treatment plants. If pollution caused by industrial activities is reduced, this may improve wastewater treatment,
restore solid waste landfills, better manage solid wastes, and completely comply with adopted laws.
In addition, management of the Drina River basin should ensure several important areas are still ecologically
intact, some of which are part of Natura 2000. Complete Drina River basin is a challenging task and effectiveness
of adopted measures largely depends on cross-border and regional cooperation, individual harmonization from
local to national level, and additional harmonization of certain national priorities in the Drina River basin [8, 14-
Data Availability
The data used to support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon request.
Chapter number 3.2. of this article is part of Article published in Zbornik-Smederevo-ekoloski-grad-2018.pdf
Third ecological conference with international participation, 2018, Authors: Obradović, V., and Vulević A. 2018.
Management of floating waste on the Drina River and possibilities elimination of negative consequences for
tourism valorization, University of Belgrade - Faculty of Geography, Zbornik-Smederevo-ekoloski-grad-2018.pdf
Third ecological conference with international participation,
Conflicts of Interest
The authors declare no conflict of interest.
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