It is now becoming more and more widely accepted that, due to water scarcity caused by climate change, we need to consider rainwater as a valuable natural resource. This is the aim of the LIFE in Runoff project, which highlights the legal and regulatory gaps that make stormwater management difficult – not only for public service providers and municipalities, but also for citizens.

A novel, integrated approach to stormwater management in Budapest is still a challenge. Underlying this is a complex set of problems, and to understand them we first need to understand the infrastructure that serves stormwater management. Drainage in Budapest is provided by two types of systems: combined and separated. The point of a separated system is that wastewater and rainwater run in separate channels, so that rainwater can be used (e.g. for irrigation) if it is directed to the right place. In a combined system, wastewater and stormwater are mixed, and valuable stormwater is discharged directly into wastewater treatment plants or watercourses, so it is effectively wasted.

A fundamental problem is that the stormwater drainage network is not considered a (water) utility under current legislation. Why is this a problem? This is because no service charge can be levied, and the utility does not have sufficient resources to carry out the tasks related to the stormwater drainage network (e.g. cleaning stormwater drains). In Budapest, the situation is further complicated by the fact that most of the districts would expect the Metropolitan Sewerage Works (FCSM Zrt.) to handle their stormwater, while FCSM Zrt. however, as stormwater drainage systems are not water utilities, it does not consider it its responsibility to operate them. FCSM Zrt. does not take over the operation of newly built stormwater drainage networks, but no combined network can be built under this legislation. So the main problem is that, because of the regulatory environment, no one is currently addressing stormwater management in a meaningful way.

This Gordian knot can be untied primarily by amending the law: stormwater drainage systems should be declared water utilities, which would settle the question of where and who is responsible for stormwater management, and would also solve the issue of financing. According to the Water Management Act (§ 6 of the LVII Act of 1995), the owner of the property is responsible for the treatment of rainwater falling into and remaining on the plot, but in many cases this is technically impossible due to the densely built areas and older buildings. In the case of precipitation entering the public domain from the property, the regulation may specify the proportion of the precipitation that the public service provider will be responsible for managing. Ideally, the owner would have to pay a contribution to the utility proportional to the load. This is because the drainage of rainwater falling on or flowing from public land is in the public interest and therefore a public service, and the amount of rainwater from private land is influenced by the property owners. In addition to changes to laws and regulations, it is therefore important for the public and businesses to play their part: property owners must be made aware of their responsibility and less likely to pass on the problem of stormwater drainage to the service provider, road operators or local authorities, and should try to use rainwater on their own property and locally.

(The main legislation in force concerning stormwater management is the Water Management Act 1995. LVII. tv. The Water Utility Services Act 2011. CCIX. Act; the National Urban Planning and Building Requirements Act 253/1997. (Government Decree No. 20 (XII. 20.))