Digging out the ditches

:: Sunday, March 20, 2016

Last spring Rio Sava was faced with a dilemma. The 3D seismic survey was due to start in April but much of the proposed drilling site was underwater after two particularly wet winters.

It’s not unusual for the Jadar valley to flood and local farmers are used to waiting for their fields to drain before they plant their crops. But in 2015 it seemed there was nowhere for the water to go.

Richard Storrie, the General Manager of Rio Sava thought there must be a solution. "It just took someone to come in from the outside and start asking questions," he says.

It turned out that there was a system for draining the water; a network of ditches that had been maintained in the days when Serbia had been part of Yugoslavia but had been neglected for many years. Now, they had become overgrown and, since the catastrophic flooding in 2014, clogged with debris.

Vladislav Eric, one of Rio Sava’s senior geologists, started talking to the local people, the city of Loznica authorities, and other stakeholders to work out how the ditches could be cleared. As part of this effort he had to track down the owners of both banks of the ditches. There were around 80 of them and the response from them all was overwhelmingly positive. "They knew clearing the ditches would help them," says Eric, "but most of them didn’t have the time or the money to hire the machinery so they were very open to helping us as much as possible."

For some local people, that meant getting out and digging up the bushes and trees that were blocking the channel. For others, it meant providing the workers with baskets and food and drink. "Draining the fields was in everyone’s interests," says Storrie. "We started the ball rolling but it was a team effort to actually get the work done."

The ditch-clearing operation took nearly a month. By mid-May, around three and a half kilometers had been cleared, and the fields were sufficiently drained for the farmers to plant their corn seed and for the 3D seismic survey to go ahead.

Only one field was left un-drained because it was too wet to access safely. Instead, it was left to dry out during the summer and the team returned to clear the channel in November.

Now that the heavy work of clearing these ditches has been done, it will be up to the local community and city authorities to keep them maintained. For Vesna Ciprus, head of community relations at Rio Sava, this is the real meaning of sustainability. "It’s not about us just coming in once and draining the land so we can get on with our 3D seismic survey. It’s about helping communities come up with their own long-term solutions to problems."