What's happened to Czechoslovakia?

Paul A. Hindman, P.E.
Manager, Design, Construction and Maintenance Program
Urban Drainage and Flood Control District
Denver, Colorado

Editor's Note: Paul Hindman was the recipient of a 2007 Jennings Randolph Fellowship for an exchange program with the Slovak and Czech Republics. During his visit to the Slovak Public Works Association and Czech Republic Public Works Association Joint Conference in October 2007, he investigated how the Slovak and Czech public works professionals have managed floods and how they have protected their citizens and property. He has submitted the following article reflecting his experiences and will make a presentation on his findings at the 2008 APWA Congress in New Orleans.

This is probably the most frequently asked question I receive from people when they hear I went to the Czech and Slovak Republics: "What's happened to Czechoslovakia?" The answer is Czechoslovakia no longer exists. In 1989 Czechoslovakia saw the fall of communism. This is commonly referred to as the Velvet Revolution. In 1993 the country was split into two countries, the Czech and Slovak Republics, which existed prior to the 1918 merger that followed WWI. Since 1989, both countries have adopted a capitalistic economy along with a democratic government. Both countries have fully embraced democracy and are striving under the new regime.

The purpose of my trip to the Czech and Slovak Republics was to investigate their drainage and flood control facilities and to compare and contrast them to the ones in my own organization. The Czech and Slovak region has experienced flooding since the area was inhabited in the 3rd century B.C. when the Celtic migrations occurred. As recently as 2002, a major flood occurred that caused "...flood damage totaling 73 billion koruna (2.6 billion dollars)," according to Deutsche Presse Agentur. It was reported as the "...worst flooding in Prague's 800-year history" by CNN. Following the flood, as has happened throughout their history, rebuilding occurred and "For the most part 'life is back to normal' said Terezin spokesman Roman Cervenka."

What I discovered on my travels was both expected and unexpected.

  Drop Structure on Vltava River, Prague, Czech Republic

The Expected
Water flows downhill just like it does in the United States. Public works professionals have managed the flow of stormwater by installing drop structures and bank protection in developed areas following sound engineering principles. Along waterways where development exists, the grade of the channel, river or stream has to be flattened to control the degradation of the waterway. The banks have been stabilized using rock (riprap), man-made structures made out of concrete, or a combination of both.

The Unexpected
The first thing that surprised me upon arrival to the Slovak Republic was how every car was new. I didn't observe any of the old vehicles that were sold in the country while under communistic rule. However, most of the new vehicles are compact in size, unlike in the U.S. where you find the opposite. The public works facilities are either old or new. For example, in Nove Mestro Vad N hom, Slovak Republic, we visited the public works facility for the city. As shown in the photo, the administrative offices are typical of other buildings built in the communistic era, function over aesthetics. However, in the yard of the facility is a brand new asphalt plant that was recently purchased from a German manufacturer. It rivals anything I have seen in the U.S.

Public Works administrative building, Nove Mestro Vad Nahom, Slovakia

Another surprising part of the trip was learning that all the towns and cities are run by private industry. An elected town or city council selects a private firm to provide all the public works services which, by contrast, in the U.S. are performed by public works employees. In the Slovak and Czech Republics they have completely embraced privatization. Each firm is hired for five years and their contract is extended if the council views their service as being satisfactory. A service that is not the responsibility of the local public works company is major drainage. They are required to maintain and improve the storm sewer system, but at the point that the outfall discharges into a waterway, no matter how small, the responsibility lies with the federal government. Where the local public works company has jurisdiction they take great pride in their responsibility. This was very evident by observing the manhole lids which were personalized for each town or city. One was even comical and provided a photo opportunity for tourists.

  Manhole cover, Bratislava, Slovakia

As stated earlier, the purpose of my trip to the Czech and Slovak Republics was to investigate their drainage and flood control facilities. I was not able to discuss major drainage with a representative of the federal government but I was able to observe a few examples of their work. In Trencinske Teplice, Slovakia, the main waterway historically traveled through the middle of town. During communistic rule in the 1950s, a workforce was mobilized that constructed a rock-walled channel circumventing the town on the north side. According to the current public works director, the channel has never overtopped and flooded the town. Each rock was hand placed and mortared in place.

In Prague and Bratislava, they have gone state-of-the-art and constructed a flood wall system produced by a German company. The flood wall is constructed of aluminum panels and is stored in nearby warehouses. As the Vltava and Danube Rivers rise, public works workers remove the panels from storage and install them along the river walk.

Return Trip
The trip was very enlightening and I made many new friends. Our fellow public works professionals in the Slovak and Czech Republics are working very hard to make their communities the best they can be. This is a theme that came through strongly everywhere I traveled. Also, their hospitality and zest for life is far and above anything I have experienced in the United States. Therefore, I am already planning on returning to both countries to further investigate their public works improvements and experience again their rich history.

Paul Hindman is the APWA Colorado Chapter Delegate and is a past president of the chapter. He is a past member of the national Awards Review and Congress Site Selection Committees. He can be reached at (303) 455-6277 or

Waste management and public policy in the Czech and Slovak Republics

Bill Bruce
Commissioner, Department of General Services
City of Albany, New York
2007 Jennings Randolph Fellow

Editor's Note: Bill Bruce was the recipient of a 2007 Jennings Randolph Fellowship for an exchange program with the Slovak and Czech Republics. During his visit to the Slovak Public Works Association and Czech Republic Public Works Association Joint Conference in October 2007, he studied waste management and waste disposal legislation, regulation, and practices in both countries. He has submitted the following article reflecting his experiences and will make a presentation on his findings at the 2008 APWA Congress in New Orleans.

Three APWA representatives and I started our tour of the Czech and Slovak Republics by attending the annual joint Czech and Slovak Public Works Associations conference, held this year in Slovakia. We had an opportunity at the conference to inspect equipment and vehicles on display by European vendors. One immediate difference was the percentage of vehicles and equipment that were of a very small size by American standards. However, many European streets and public places are very old with narrow streets and sidewalks, often hand-laid with small blocks of stone in decorative patterns.

Decorative sidewalks installed by hand, of small stone blocks, are common in every city center.

Landfilling is still the final disposal option for most waste. We saw the landfill outside the town of Trencinske Teplice where we attended the conference, and later the landfill for Prague, capital of the Czech Republic. Both republics are still heavily dependent on landfills. However, the per capita volume of waste generation in Europe is only half of what it is in the U.S. Also, based on European Union (EU) regulations, all member states have to reduce the landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste, with reduction targets for 2009 and 2016. During our tour of Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, we were advised that they operate a waste-to-energy facility, built just a year and a half ago. Waste-to-energy plants in Europe are subject to stringent design and operating standards, and are now more accepted by the public and less controversial than here in the U.S.—especially because waste is now identified as a renewable, locally-produced energy source, in a Europe very conscious of energy security issues as well as its dependence on foreign energy. Other new technologies such as mechanical/biological waste treatment, which we have not yet seen here in the U.S., are now operational in Europe.

Metal waste cans are still prevalent because many people heat with wood or coal and need to dispose the ashes.

In general, public policy on waste management in the EU and member states seems more advanced than here in the U.S. We are much more likely to rely on free market capitalism. Long-haul, out-of-state landfill disposal is becoming more common here in the eastern U.S. In Europe, waste management is seen more as a critical resource management issue, and regulated more like an essential service, as we typically regulate the delivery of water or electricity. Most waste management is provided by what we would call authorities, operating under rigorous state regulation. These authorities all enjoy flow control and can plan and manage their systems more effectively because of this fact. As a result of EU legislation, major appliances, including computers and electronics, have a disposal cost included in the purchase price. These funds are used by the federal governments to subsidize redemption centers for appliances and electronics, operated at the local or regional level, ensuring maximum recycling and keeping unwanted items out of landfills.

There is much we can learn from the more environmentally protective legislation, regulation and practices being applied in the European Union and its member states, whether your responsibilities involve fleet management, fuel efficiency and alternative fuels, green building design, recycling and waste management, pump efficiency in water and wastewater systems, urban forestry, energy efficiency of public buildings and facilities, or "smart" transportation projects. With the increasing emphasis on climate change, public works officials will play a critical role as environmental protection increasingly becomes a focus in public policy at the federal, state and local levels.

Bill Bruce can be reached at (518) 432-1144 or