The citizens’ association “ZA Drinking Fountains” was registered on May 3, 2015. The association emerged from the need to transform an informal group of citizens dealing with the issue of drying up public artesian fountains in the city into an organized association, due to the extensive scope of actions and communication with relevant services, ministries, and institutions at all levels.
The mission and goals of our organization are as follows:
- Improvement and protection of the environment and water resources, with a special emphasis on the protection and preservation of artesian fountains in Zaječar.
- Education of citizens, especially children and youth, about the importance of preserving and protecting the environment.
- Public advocacy for changing habits and adherence to all legal provisions regarding the use, exploitation, and conservation of natural resources.
- Public promotion of applied ecology and good ecological practices.
- Sustainable development.
- Alerting the public and relevant authorities and institutions in case of ecological accidents and violations of laws in the exploitation of natural resources by legal and natural persons, as well as in other areas of social life.
- Promotion of a healthy lifestyle and healthy habits.
- Organization of humanitarian and socially responsible actions.
Zaječar is a city with more than 40 active public artesian fountains, making it unique in Europe and the world for the richness of clean drinking water that the majority of its inhabitants have been using for generations. This natural resource is of invaluable importance to public health as it involves exceptionally high-quality artesian water. The significance of artesian fountains is reflected in their deep roots in tradition and way of life (many are over 100 years old), and they represent an alternative source of water supply capable of meeting the drinking water needs of the entire city (60 thousand inhabitants).
In early 2015, the artesian fountains began to dry up. In just a few months, five fountains in the center of Zaječar stopped flowing. This prompted the citizens of Zaječar to organize and gather around the dried-up fountains. On March 8, 2015, they held the first protest rally and started signing a petition for the protection of artesian fountains. It soon became apparent that the causes of the drying up were artesian wells and the thermal pump of a private hotel located in the city center. The hotel owners, in violation of regulations and legal procedures, had seized artesian water to heat and cool a 4,000-square-meter business space. This marked the beginning of the struggle between private and public interests, a battle in which ordinary people stood on one side, and the private interests of hotel owners were protected by the relevant inspection of the Ministry of Mining and Energy, as well as the then-mayor of Zaječar. Despite seeming like citizens had no chance against the system, local tycoons, and politicians, they did not give up. In defense of their artesian fountains, they showed perseverance and consistency worthy of admiration. Pointing out the pollution and drying up of the fountains, the people of Zaječar protested, organized a charity city race for fountain protection, curated an exhibition of fountain photos throughout history, filmed an investigative documentary called “Kap,” composed and publicly performed songs about the fountains… In simple terms, thousands of Zaječar residents contributed, each according to their personal skills and knowledge.
After more than two years of persistent protests, street performances, and dozens of media releases, the bureaucratic system was set in motion, and the competent services and authorities began to enforce the law. As soon as the hotel heating system was turned off, the fountains started flowing again, and in early 2017, the Ministry of Mining and Energy ordered the closure of the disputed artesian well of the private hotel. Shortly thereafter, in October 2017, the Basic Public Prosecutor’s Office in Zaječar initiated the first criminal proceedings in the history of our judiciary against the owners and directors of the hotel for the criminal offense of “damage to a natural good.”
A turning point was the broadcast of the investigative documentary film “Kap” (produced in collaboration with our association and the TV production Za media) on RTS, T1 television, and the Za media portal, which was followed by reactions from the relevant ministry and prosecutor’s office. It is a critically acclaimed documentary for investigative work in the field of environmental protection.
In early 2018, the City of Zaječar recognized the importance of preserving and protecting artesian fountains and signed an agreement with our association for the preservation, legalization, revitalization, and protection of public artesian fountains in Zaječar. The agreement outlines joint activities between the City of Zaječar and the “ZA Drinking Fountains” Association, as well as sources of funding for the next 4 years. During this period, all set goals, described as the complete reconstruction, revitalization, and protection of all artesian fountains in the Zaječar area, will be achieved. Shortly after, Heineken Company Ltd. Serbia joined the agreement as a full partner and patron, and its implementation was supported by the Ministry of Mining and Energy, as well as the Ministry of Environmental Protection.