Water protection targets for 2015
© Jouko Lehmuskallio
The Finnish Government approved November 2006 a new set of national Water Protection Policy Outlines to 2015 in a decision-in-principle that also defines measures needed to improve water quality.
Aiming to achieve good water quality by 2015
The new outlines define needs and objectives for the period until 2015, aiming:
- to reduce the nutrient loads that cause eutrophication
- to reduce the risks caused by hazardous substances
- to protect groundwater bodies
- to protect aquatic biodiversity
- to restore ecologically damaged water bodies
Eutrophication the primary problem
The Government's decision-in-principle particularly stresses the need to combat eutrophication, which is the most serious ecological problem today facing Finland's inland waters and the Baltic Sea. Nutrient inputs into water bodies from all kinds of human activities must be reduced, but the greatest need for reductions concerns diffuse loads, especially from agriculture. Agricultural nutrient releases still account for more than half of all the nutrient discharges into water bodies, in spite of recent reductions in the use of fertilizers, the widespread establishment of buffer zones, and the adoption of farming practices that reduce erosion.
Eutrophication is the consequence of decades of excessive nutrient loads. Nutrient releases must be considerably reduced from their present levels in order to restore the natural ecological balance to water bodies, Such water protection measures will need to be carried out for decades, as excess nutrients have also been accumulating over time in soils and sediments.
Targeting agricultural emissions
The key objective in the Government decision-in-principle is that nutrient loads entering water bodies from agriculture should be reduced by a third by 2015 compared to their levels over the period 2001-2005, and halved over a longer timescale.
In planning the measures needed to reach these targets, due consideration must be given to the productivity and economic viability of agriculture. Research must be intensified to help identify new cost-effective water protection measures. Water protection measures carried out by farmers on a voluntary basis should be favoured where possible.
The new agri-environmental subsidies programme, which commences in the beginning of 2007, will not in itself improve the situation sufficiently, although it will help to promote the recovery of manure and the establishment of buffer zones and wetlands. It is important that such subsidies should be targeted more effectively than in the past.
There is also an urgent need to identify new water protection measures through co-operation between different administrative sectors. Policies on water protection, agriculture, energy, climate and financial instruments must be more closely linked in future to ensure that environmental, economic and social impacts are all fully accounted for. The new water protection programme mentions various opportunities such as the cultivation of energy crops that have lower impacts on water bodies, and the use of biogas from manure in energy production. Possible improvements in legislation and financial instruments should also be assessed.
Nitrogen removal to be intensified
Municipal wastewater treatment must be further improved wherever wastewater is released into water bodies that are suffering from eutrophication. More investments must be made in the repair and maintenance of ageing sewerage networks and treatment plants.
Nitrogen removal rates must be improved to ensure that at least 70% of all nitrogen is removed in treatment plants dealing with wastewater from areas with more than 10,000 inhabitants. This measure particularly aims to protect sensitive marine waters in the Gulf of Finland and around SW Finland.
In spite of intensified water protection measures, fish farms still release significant nutrient loads, especially in the Archipelago Sea. These loads must be further reduced through controls on the location of fish farms, improved feeding methods, and intensified water protection measures in land-based fish farms. New environmental objectives to be defined jointly together with the fish farming industry on a voluntary basis will complement existing policy instruments. Catching coarse fish in the waters around fish farms could also help to reduce nutrient loads.
Social impacts also considered
The Water Protection Policy Outlines to 2015 have been drawn up in close co-operation with different stakeholder groups, accounting for the social and economic impacts of its measures, as well as their environmental effects.
The new programme will facilitate the preparation of regional river basin management plans to be drawn up by 2009 based on the EU Water Framework Directive. These regional plans will give more detailed consideration to local factors and the need for water protection measures in each river basin.
The water protection outlines will also support the EU marine strategy, and the preparation and implementation of a joint action plan for the protection of the Baltic Sea by the coastal states.