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SOER Country

Freshwater (Montenegro)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 22 Dec 2010

The rapid and significant increase in Earth’s population and the subsequent need for water and food are factors of universal concern for water conservation. Drinking water is necessary for human life,  health and well-being.

The United Nations declared the period 2005–2015 as International Water Decade. Worldwide demand for drinking water doubles every 20 years due to the increase in population and incomes. However, the effects of pollution and climate change reduce supplies of drinking water to a similar extent.

With an average outflow of 40 l/sec/ km2 (or 19.5 km³/year) Montenegro ranks among the top 4 % of countries with the highest average outflow. Given that at least 95.3 % of Montenegro’s waterways originate in its territory, it is safe to say that water is the country’s greatest natural resources. One method that can give an objective picture of relative water wealth is the Water Competition Index which measures the amount of water available in a country as a function of population (quantity of water divided by number of persons with access to a unit volume of water).

Using this criterion, 30 425 m³/year is available to each citizen of Montenegro, which makes Montenegro one of the wealthiest countries in Europe in terms of water. Of course, these quantities are absolute. While water management considerations for specific purposes require appropriate quality, planning costs must take account of the spatial allocation of resources and time non-linearity of the natural flow of water.

At first sight Montenegro appears to have a large quantity of water available. However, although the country records high levels of precipitation, a large part of its territory (Orijen, Lovćen, Rumija and Katunska nahija) does not have enough water because it is lost in the underground karst [1].

Despite the apparent abundance of water, around 35 % of Montenegrin territory suffers from a chronic lack of water, which can only be solved by means of expensive hydraulic procedures. Around 10 % of the territory has a problem with seasonal surplus water.

The problem is caused by an inadequate infrastructure in terms of water supply. As a consequence of climatic conditions, the uncontrolled use of water, huge losses in the water supply system and inadequate infrastructure, water consumption is double that in western Europe. Moreover, there is insufficient provision for drinking water in the coastal region during the tourist season.

The uncontrolled use and pollution of water in Montenegro is harmful for its people and the natural environment. The conservation of water as a precious natural resource is the basis for a coordinated development strategy for Montenegro as an ecological state. It is also vital to respect the water, ecology and natural resources of Montenegro as irreplaceable conditions for life in the conduct of economic activity. Pollution prevention measures must be applied to ensure that water remains clean and human health, animal and plant life are protected.

[1] terrain usually characterized by barren, rocky ground, caves, sinkholes, underground rivers, and the absence of surface streams and lakes. It results from the excavating effects of underground water on massive soluble limestone.

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 08 Apr 2011

The following graphs present the pollution trends in two selected rivers, the Morača and the Ćehotina, in two selected measurement profiles as well as the pollution trends for Skadar Lake, presented on the basis of BOD5 indicators (mg/l). Morača is 99.5 km and the Ćehotina River 124.5 km long. In Montenegro, the basin of Lake Skadar has an area of 4 460 km2 and at its maximum depth the lake is  44 m.

Figure 1: Pollution trends in the Rivers Morača and Ćehotina and in Lake Skadar

Pollution trends in the Rivers Morača and Ćehotina

River: Ćehotina                                                    River: Morača

Lake Skadar

Skadar Lake

Source: Hydrological and Meteorological Service of Montenegro

Processing: Environmental Protection Agency


The status of water in Montenegro is determined by the Regulation on the Classification and Categorisation of Surface and Groundwater, in which Category I corresponds to Classes A1, S, and K1; Category II to Classes A2, C, and K2; and Category III to Class A3. Water to be used for drinking and the food industry is classified into four classes — A, A1, A2 and A3. Water to be used for fishing and shellfish farming is classified into Classes S, Š and C. Bathing water is classified into Classes K1 and K2.

Figure 2: Water class classifications for 2008

Water class classifications for 2008


It is vital to identify any contaminated water sources, given the risk that technological development may exacerbate the situation, and to implement legislative solutions to ensure that the required amount of water is available for all purposes in order to contribute to a healthy environment.

In terms of water resources, around 65–70 % of the population is provided with water through a water supply system in city centres and larger towns, while around 30 % in villages use alternative sources. The population of Montenegro is supplied with water from groundwater sources. The measures implemented for the sanitary protection of water sources used to supply the population comply with and exceed existing legal obligations. To date, legal investigations have not been carried out and the protection zones have not been determined for most water sources. At present, the precise identification and mapping of all water sources and their zones of protection is not possible. Water consumption is twice the western Europe average as the result of climatic conditions, uncontrolled use of water and significant losses in the water supply system and there is insufficient protection of drinking water in the coastal region during the tourist season.

This is of particular significance since most pollutants are found outside areas with developed collection systems and large-scale purifiers, which is why the implementation of adequate solutions for water treatment is vital for environmental protection.

The percentage of the population with access to sanitation is relatively small and most of the coverage is in areas close to town centres. Approximately 35 % of the population in urban areas are not connected to sewers. This is due to the underdevelopment of the primary and, in particular, secondary system of waste water.

A large percentage of the population use septic tanks and wells for the drainage of waste water and, in towns, where natural conditions allow, waste water is discharged directly into watercourses.

Flooding occurs around the major river systems (e.g. the Morača, Lim, Tara, Ćehotina, Ibar and Bojana rivers) and on the plains (Bar, Cetinje, Dell Matica). There is also seasonal flooding around Lake Skadar. Measures to control water flow and protect against flooding are rudimentary.

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 22 Dec 2010

Water protection measures include a set of provisions and procedures to maintain and improve water quality to the level prescribed for individual use. Water protection is monitored on the basis of the Water Act (implementing 62 % of the Water Framework Directive).

A regulation on the classification and categorisation of surface and groundwater was passed so as to ensure that ‘the marginal value of quality’ was brought into line with the terms of Directive 98/83/EC on the quality of waters intended for human consumption and Directives 75/440/EEC and 79/86/EEC.

In order to improve the situation in the field of waste water management, two strategic documents have been prepared with the support of the European Agency for Reconstruction: a master plan for  treating and removing waste water from the Montenegrin coast and Cetinje municipality and a strategic master plan for sewerage and waste water in the central and northern region of Montenegro. The master plan sets out a programme for the treatment and removal of waste water over the next 20 years, as well as suggestions for the institutional and legislative framework. The plan also includes recommendations for the improvement  of the existing sewerage network and installation of equipment for waste water treatment.

There are also plans to exploit the potential of water to improve the energy sector, as seen in the preparation of projects for the construction of four major hydropower plants and 11 smaller reservoirs along the Morača River. The construction of these hydropower plants is one of Montenegro’s most strategic projects.

Given the importance attached to tourism in Montenegro, it is vital that there is sufficient water capacity to guarantee a reliable, round-the-clock water supply to the local population and tourists alike. To tackle this problem, in 2006, the Government of Montenegro decided to build a new system for supplying water to the coast to eliminate problems with the drinking water supply. Drinking water will be brought from Skadar Lake through a new pipe network to supply all municipalities. The project is planned to be complete by 2010. One extremely important issue is the discharge and treatment of waste water without polluting  the environment, particularly since polluted rivers and coastal areas are inconsistent with high-quality tourism.


Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 22 Dec 2010

The new approach to the management of water resources imposes new obligations on Montenegro and requires amendments to the existing institutional framework and legislative basis. To this end, a national water board was established in December 2004 which has been working together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management to draw up the legislation required to implement the Water Framework Directive (WFD). Equivalent regulations are currently being prepared on drinking water safety to ensure that natural spring, stone and natural mineral water meet certain criteria. These regulations will serve to implement Council Directive 80/777/EEC, Directive 96/70/EC (which supplements the latter) and Commission Directive 2003/40/EC.

Regulations are currently being drafted to cover the detailed drinking water safety requirements under Directive 98/83/EC. The deadline for adoption of these regulations is 2010. So far, very little has been done to raise public awareness of the need to save and protect water. In 2005, the total volume of water delivered was 53 671 000 m³: 33 460 000 m³ to households, 13 165 000 m3 to businesses and 7 046 000 m³ to other consumers. Total losses were 48 195 000 m³.

The Water Act provides for the adoption of water management plans in water outflow areas. These plans include the identification of water bodies intended for water supply; a list of the priority goals for environmental protection of surface and groundwater; programmes of measures, methods and objectives for water consumption and protection and an itemisation of the significant impacts of human activities on the status of surface and groundwater. Montenegro is divided into two water areas: the Black Sea water area and the Adriatic basin water area. It therefore follows that two water area plans will be required and the deadline for their adoption is 2016. The criteria for their development are under discussion and, so far, a regulation has been prepared on the content and method of preparation of the water management plans in water areas.


Hydrological and Meteorological Service of Montenegro

Statistical Office of the Republic of Montenegro — MONSTAT

Master plan for cleaning and removing waste water from the Montenegrin coast and Cetinje municipality

Strategic master plan for sewerage and waste water in the central and northern regions of Montenegro



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