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Case Study – Istra Region


Rovinj sits along the coast of the Istrian peninsula and has beautiful venetian architecture, beaches, cafes, and culture (Figure 1). Once a long part of the Republic of Venice (1283-1797AD), Rovinj has Croatian and Italian written into its Town Statute.  Rovinj developed economically under the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy by developing industries in theatre, tobacco, wax, glass, and fisheries. This all in addition to building a hospital, founding the Institute of Marine Biology, as well as a railway system (Paliaga, 2018).  Tourism began in earnest in the 1970’s and has grown into the main economic power of Rovinj.  

While the population of Croatia has been decreasing from 4.4 million people in 2001 to 4.1 million people in 2016, Rovinj has seen a stable population size.  Growing steadily from 14,234 in 2001 to 14,451 people in 2016 (Croatian Bureau of Statistics, 2018). Increases of 2000-2500 seasonal workers occur to handle tourist influx.  In 2016, 490,000 tourists stayed overnight in Rovinj, stressing the wastewater treatment capabilities (Garaca, 2017). With the influx of tourists occuring during the summer months the City of Rovinj, the European Union, and the Croatian Government are working to create a wastewater solution which will preserve the drinking and recreational waters which the city currently enjoys.

At a meeting with the Mayor of Rovinj, Marco Paliaga, and marine researcher, Paolo Paliaga, Virginia Tech students were able to learn about the difficulty that Rovinj is facing with wastewater capture and management.  The town is pursuing a plan that will tackle this issue, by creating a new wastewater treatment facility and working to update existing sewage infrastructure.


Figure 1. Rovinj harbor

Case study location

Rovinj is located on the Istrian peninsula (Figure 2), situated in the north-west portion of the Adriatic Sea. The Istrian peninsula is surrounded by the sea, and the northern border consists of a line between Miljski Bay (Muggia), next to the town of Rijeka (Istra, 2018).  Rovinj has coastal recreation activities, fishing, tourism trades, small agriculture and industrial economies.


Figure 2. The Town of Rovinj (Source: Organe SMileTM, 2018) .


Exhibit 1. Tourism video of Rovinj Source: Rovinj Tourism Board, 2016


The town of Rovinj is a popular tourist destination during the summer months of the year when its population increases for up to 25000 seasonal employees and thousands of visitors (Palagia 2018). Many tourists flock from Europe to enjoy the coastal climate and scenery, exerting a large pressure on the infrastructure of the otherwise small town of 15,000 permanent residents (Garaca 2017). This case study is looking at the impact that tourism has on the existing and proposed sewer system and infrastructure, and strategies the city is taking to respond to the increase in visitors and sewage. The town is aiming to modernize their current system and deal with the aging infrastructure, an issue prevalent in many coastal Croatian towns.



Sector Motivation Influence
  • European Union
  • Croatian Parliament and Government
  • Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy
  • Hrvatske vode (Croatian Waters)
  • Regional/local governments
  • European Union motivated to set standards to achieve more consistent water quality across all member states
  • Ministry and Croatian Waters motivated to follow the standards set by EU and implement regulations
  • Local governments motivated to construct wastewater treatment facilities
  • Standards set by EU create push to follow policies in order to get any funding
  • Localities emphasize cultural heritage in order to bring in money from State government

Beginning in 1990, Croatian water began to be considered a public good and must be protected by means of regulation and policy through Croatia’s government. Water management is split under three institutions; Croatian Parliament and Government of the Republic of Croatia, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy, and Hrvatske vode (Croatian Waters). Along with these stakeholders, local and regional governments follow the Communal Management Act in order to set standards for water supply, water treatment and the management of wastewater (Paliaga, 2018). These standards set goals for local companies to work towards while taking into consideration the regional needs. Furthermore, there is the Croatian commitment to the European Union (EU) and the goals set forth in the Europa Strategy 2020. Rovinj is currently utilizing EU funding in order to work towards these goals by using the money to aid in a variety of repairs and new facilities to help deal with wastewater treatment (EU 2018). With these fixes and updates Rovinj aims to create a higher quality of water for its inhabitants and visitors, rather than focusing on quantity/volume of water available (Paliaga, 2018).  


Figure 3. The Mayor’s office in the Town of Rovinj where the stakeholder meeting was held with the 2018 IFE students.


Sector Motivation Influence

  • Tourism & related sectors
  • Tobacco Industry
  • Food Industry
  • Fishing/Canning
  • To attract wealthier tourists and ensure desired number of visitors in and outside the peak season
  • Export products to neighboring  countries to make desired profit
  • Utilize the environmental resources for income generation and growth
  • Most of the profit in town is related to tourism– employment and other income opportunities generated
  • Staying competitive on the global market
  • Providing jobs to local residents and non-seasonal employment

Business stakeholders in Rovinj are varied among different industries. The Rovinj economy is built off of tourism and its related trades, various food industries and tobacco industry. Adris is the largest business in Rovinj and is involved in the tobacco industry, tourism and hotels, the food industry and insurance (Adris Group, 2018). Tourism in Rovinj has been growing since the 1970’s, making it one of the top coastal destination in Croatia. Because of this, tourism accounts for a total of 80 percent of Rovinj’s GDP, making the town dependent on its continued growth. Currently there are 12 hotels, 3 resorts, and 8 campsites in Rovinj, along with a constant push for larger marinas to accommodate larger and a higher number of boats (Paliaga, 2018). The high tourism influx in this small town creates a high amount of waste in a short amount of time,  stressing infrastructure and municipalities that are only accustomed to the local population level (Runko, 2012). For example, In 2016, 490,000 tourists stayed in Rovinj, placing stress on incomplete wastewater treatment capabilities and overloading the system (Garaca, 2017). In order to increase tourist numbers and lessen pressure on wastewater systems in the future, repairs and an increase in size of facilities is necessary to continue economic growth in the town.

Civil Society

Sector Motivation Influence
Civil Society

  • Local Population
  • Tourists
  • Want clean drinking water
  • Want clean recreational areas
  • Want to be connected to sewage/wastewater system
  • Demand for ideal vacation spots/has set of expectations for water quality for recreational use
  • Leaching from septic tanks pollutes the water

The local population and tourists of Rovinj expect clean drinking water and wastewater via pipe system that conducts it to the treatment facility, separate from the environment. Wastewater is expected to be treated before being discharged back into the sea at sufficient distance from the coast and water currents. For now, even with an incomplete wastewater treatment facility and sewage system the town of Rovinj has sanitary drinking water and clean coastal recreation water (EU Water 2010). Since the network is incomplete, many houses and businesses are left on a septic system and do not have piped access to wastewater treatment facility. This set-up is inadequate for many since septic tanks are constructed inadequately, and are poorly designed,  threatening to leach raw human waste into the karst geology of the region (Runko, 2012). Septic leaching can cause severe impacts on both human and environmental health, with some areas reporting high levels of fecal bacteria from the wastewater outfalls (Paliaga et al., 2018). Tourists and local population vote with their money, making the civil society a very important stakeholder in the decision-making process.

rovinjboats touristscoast

Figure 4-5. Figure 4 highlights a harbor in Rovinj where businesses thrive, while figure 5 shows tourists enjoying the Adriatic coast and its pristine water.


           In response to increased tourism and its effect on water supply and management, Rovinj is in a position like many other coastal communities in Croatia. In every strategy addressing water supply and management issues, Rovinj must not only consider the role of various stakeholders and the country’s stance on water as a public resource, but also the overall philosophy towards the environmental improvements.

Perhaps influenced by former cultural and political frameworks, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy and Hrvatske Vode believe it is largely the responsibility of the government to provide the means for proper management of water resources; any non-compliance with environmental standards is not the fault of an individual or a business if the means to comply were not provided. (Paliaga, 2018) Accordingly, Rovinj is hesitant to fine or force company’s that might be polluting to “clean up their act,” which many in the United States might assume would be the natural consequence. (Paliaga, 2018) This places a great deal of financial burden on municipalities and counties to provide the necessary infrastructure to properly handle water use and waste.

Due to a lack of local funding, a reliance on European Union dollars, and a relationship with a Hrvatske Vode overseeing all new projects, Rovinj is working to make improvements within a relatively new geopolitical landscape. One such project is the design and construction of a new wastewater treatment plant to serve up to 63,000 people. (Depurazione Acque Rovinj-Rovingo, 2018) Rovinj’s existing strategy for handling wastewater, which utilizes a treatment plant built in 1984, is already over capacity. With an added strain on local infrastructure resulting from an influx of tourism combined with new EU standards for water supply and management, the city undoubtedly finds itself in great need for a new wastewater treatment plant. (Ravlić & Precali, 2005) However, all bids received by Rovinj were higher than EU funding allowed. Rovinj is still hoping to complete the project despite the setbacks.

Overall, according to the Mayor of Rovinj, the relationship between the city and Hrvatske Vode is a good one, which is important considering they are the sole governmental agency responsible for approving any and all new projects. Just as one might expect with any bureaucratic governmental agency, however, it’s not always easy getting the proper attention from decision-makers to see projects through. It may be difficult to implement the projects due to varying priorities and approaches to problem solving between different agencies and over-arching governmental groups.

Rovinj’s Mayor, Marco Paliaga, on the other hand, feels that he has found an approach that works. In reference to their relationship with Hrvatske Vode, Mayor Paliage says “you have to be persistent” and keep making the projects a priority. (Paliaga, 2018) So far it seems that persistence has paid off. In September of 2017, work on the construction and repair of Rovinj’s sewage network began, which was financed by EU funds through the Operational Programme Competitiveness and Cohesion. Between September 2017 and June 2018 a total of 9870 meters of network was constructed.

Although working with Hrvatske Vode is an important component of solving water-related issues for communities across Croatia, there are many other strategies that Rovinj has begun implementing. Considering tourism significantly impact demand (and therefore treatment) for water, the city of Rovinj is seeking to reduce the volume of units available for tourism and instead focus on increasing quality. Part of this strategy entails a stronger focus on star-ratings that hotels receive; the hope is that the seasonal demand for water and water treatment will be reduced yet the local economy will remain healthy and strong. (Paliaga, 2018)

The Mayor of Rovinj also works closely with a colleague at the Ruđer Bošković Institute by monitoring human and other impacts to the coastline to inform decisions and its impact on tourism and human and environmental health. There are some pollution concerns pertaining to certain local industries in Rovinj and its potential ongoing impacts on the locality. “Fecal and industrial pollution can be quite severe within some Croatian harbors and in the vicinity of wastewater outfalls.” (Paliaga, Budiša, Precali, Smodlaka, Marić & Radolović, n.d.) There are a whole host of other issues facing the northern Adriatic, including eutrophication, hypoxia-anoxia, mucilage events, sewage pollution, hydrocarbons, heavy metal pollution, issues relating to vessel transport and ballast waters, marine litter and microplastic pollution, habitat degradation and invasive species. However, although these issues do exist, for the time being the Institute feels that the “sanitary quality of waters in the areas used for swimming and recreation are in 98% of cases excellent.” (Paliaga, Budiša, Precali, Smodlaka, Marić & Radolović, n.d.)

System approach

rovinjsystems map

Figure 6. Rovinj systems infographic, leading with Rovinj’s economy and how its activities influence the environment and society/governance, followed by how societies/governmental activities influence the environment and the economy, and finally how the environment connects and influences society/government and the economy.

Rovinj’s economic power house derives from the hotel and tourism industry, with smaller economic mainstay industries like tobacco, small scale fishing/agriculture, sardine factory, camping, and a computer/electronic supply company supplying steady economic contributions (Paliaga et al., 2018).  Other economic activities that are not located in Rovinj but are interconnected are the supply of electrical power to the region via the coal Plomin power plant, oil extraction platforms that occur in the northern Adriatic, and cruise/industrial ships which travel to/near Rovinj. These industries and activities impact society and the environment collectively and in specific ways.

Within the northern Adriatic, cruise and industrial ships release grey (sink, shower, cleaning) wastewater and introduce invasive species through the release of their ballast waters (Caric 2010).  The oil extraction platforms directly release hydrocarbons and heavy metals into the marine environment as well. Due to its coal burning, the Plomin power plant pollutes the environment via greenhouse gases which contribute to global climate change (HEP 2016).     

Small scale agricultural runoff occurs because farmers do not have wastewater infrastructure to connect to; the same can be said for industrial activities.  This agricultural and industrial runoff contributes to eutrophication events from the increased supply of nutrients. Heavy metals entering coastal waters via industrial discharges and runoff can biomagnify within the marine environment and potentially reach toxic levels to humans in fish and other marine life that humans consume (EU Water, 2010).

Historically, Rovinj and the Istrian peninsula society have used septic systems to capture their wastewater that can leach into the karst landscape and pollute the lakes/rivers and coastal waters.  Human sewage, which threatens human health and can contribute to eutrophication events, will increase as tourism increases (Runko, 2012). Tourism increases due to positive feedback from previous tourist or marketing, leading to an increasing tourist loop with a side effect of increased wastewater.  This is where society and governance come into play. The importance of completing wastewater infrastructure will hopefully allow the capture of wastewater within the area leading to continued sanitary coastal recreation and drinking water. Rovinj’s motivation to complete this task stems not only from the intrinsic value of drinking and recreational waters but because it clean water is valued by the Croatian government and the European Union (EU).

The Croatian Constitution states that water must be specially protected as a public good and to be regulated by the law.  Water management is split under three institutions; Croatian Parliament and Government of the Republic of Croatia, the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy, and Hrvatske Vode (Croatian Waters).  Under the above managing branches, regional self-governing groups have formed as a local public company which work towards the goals stated by the three managing branches, along with specific needs of the region (Paliaga, 2018).  

On top of the above bureaucratic organization is Croatia’s commitment to the European Union’s common goals of the Europa Strategy 2020.  Rovinj’s regional public water company is working to fulfill those goals with help from EU funding.

EU funds are being invested into expanding the current wastewater infrastructure in order to meet the commitments.  These funds are dedicated to many avenues but have an economic impact by providing construction work for local Rovinjians.  Construction plans via the EU funding/planning are currently underway to create a unified wastewater system for the city of Rovinj (Paliaga, 2018).

The City of Rovinj draws an increasing amount of tourists yearly not only because of the picturesque cityscape and culture, but because of the bounty found in the surrounding natural environment.  With twenty-two islands and 2300 protected hectares of land surrounding the city proper, tourists and locals enjoy running, horse back riding, sailing, diving, and biking (Istria Tourist Board, 2018).

Rovinj’s environment, economy, and society are elaborated above. They all exist within the encompassing global climate.  If climate change is not curbed by human efforts Rovinj will potentially suffer saltwater intrusion into its fresh water sources, less rain/snow fall to refresh lakes/rivers which will also lessen the amount of water available for industry/agriculture, destruction of historical buildings to greater storm intensity/frequency and erosion, increase in summer temperatures which will push tourists further north to more hospital vacationing venues (Baric, Ante, Branka, Grbec, & Danijela Bogner, 2008).  



  • Local and regional self governing units have established communal companies that organize public communal services in accordance with the provisions of the communal management act, including water supply, treatment, and management of wastewater. This potentially cuts down on the demand for EU funding and long wait times for projects to be completed. By combining resources and efforts, multiple communities can improve infrastructure and therefore see environmental and human health benefits.
  • By adding Rovinj residents onto the wastewater sewage line rather than leaving them on septic, not only is leaching being reduced throughout the region but there is general satisfaction in the decreased hassle of having their septic tank pumped. This also keeps tankers and cars out of harm’s way while carrying waste from the pumped location to the disposal site.  
  • With increasing wastewater capture, Rovinj will be able to handle a larger influx of tourist without a potential negative impact on their drinking/recreational water systems.  This increase in tourism will contribute to the local and state economies.


  • Constructing a local wastewater treatment plant will be able to handle the demand incurred from local residents, businesses and tourists. This will potentially curb pollution issues seen in Valdibora Bay as fecal and industrial pollution can be severe within croatian harbors and in the vicinity of wastewater outfalls.
  • Increasing the quality of accommodations in Rovinj while reducing the volume of units available for tourists could potentially reduce demand for water and water treatment. This could allow for more water for agriculture, industry, local residents and the environment.
  • By planning to build on the wastewater treatment plant in stages according to the influx of residents and increasing tourists to Rovinj, the town could create a sustainable method of utilizing funding and workload throughout the construction timeline.
  • By constructing and burying sewage lines there is potential for leaks in the region. As flooding continues to become a larger threat the lines should be carefully placed out of a potentially flooded area. Plans should be in place for any necessary funding to fix leaks and damage to any sewage pipes.


As with any municipality across the globe, there are many uncertainties that could dramatically shift not only Rovinj’s current course of action in regards to water issues, but even the context and it’s players as well. For example, shifts in political leadership could force an entirely new agenda that does not recognize or appreciate many of the issues outlined in this study. Equally as significant could be a change in the availability of EU funds to support the direction in which Rovinj is headed. Lack of funding could not only halt the physical progress of constructing new infrastructure, but it could also change political and public support for any measures taken for water-related issues.

Perhaps most significant would be unexpected changes in tourist trends–either a significant decrease or a significant increase. Considering the economic impact tourism has on Rovinj, a significant decrease could not only spell disaster for the local economy, but it could also make the case for the EU or other governing bodies that improving infrastructure in Rovinj would no longer be a priority. A significant increase in tourism could push Rovinj’s already lacking infrastructure to become entirely irrelevant, causing major pollution and damage to the local water supply.

Environmentally, climate change and pollution from neighboring communities are major unknowns. Rovinj would be at risk if major changes in the climate begin altering water supply or sea levels. Changes in climate could affect the city’s water supply and the agricultural and fishing industries (Baric, Grbec, & Bogner, 2008). Equally as significant could be increased pollution in the Adriatic sea, which could come from neighboring countries,  communities and cruise ships (Perić, Komadina, & Račić, 2016). Increased pollution could impact air and water quality as well as the already fragile biodiversity in the local ecosystem (Gabric, 2015).


Water management in Rovinj is a big topic with a lot of moving parts. There are multiple stakeholders in play when discussing what is to be done and what should be done in order to address issues the Town of Rovinj faces. There are a variety of ways to address water management and money is a big issue in dictating what can actually be done.  In order to create a water management system that can support the Town’s future needs, these potential unknowns Such as the potential impacts of future floods, climate change, and tourism trends need to be accounted for.. This holistic and long-term approach will help ensure a water management system that will last through any of these changes. The Town of Rovinj has highly-motivated leadership, public support, and sufficient revenues that will help resolve these pressures and ensure that the coastal town will continue to be successful for years to come.


We would like to thank professor Anamaria for her time and guidance on our project and our classmates at Virginia tech who offer their support and ideas. We’d also like to thank the Mayor of Rovinj, Marco Paliaga, and marine researcher, Paolo Paliaga who gave amazing presentations and took the time to answer questions, offering a viewpoint into the issues that the Town of Rovinj faces and how they aim to solve them.


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