Envelope 3/2013

December 2013

The ecological status of Finland’s large lakes is good but the coastal waters are in a poor condition

The ecological assessment of the status of Finnish waters has been updated. This assessment, conducted by the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, shows that 85% of the surface area of our lakes and 65% of that of our rivers is in good or excellent condition (status is good or high). On the other hand, as much as three fourths of the surface area of Finnish coastal waters is in poorer condition. The most significant problem is the eutrophication of waters.

Regional differences are significant

Regional differences in the status of waters are considerable. The ecological status of large lakes and especially of waters in Northern Finland is, for the most part, good or high. However, small lakes are suffering from eutrophication. 
None of the water areas in coastal regions has high status. The conditions of the Archipelago Sea and of the Gulf of Finland are especially worrying. The status of the easternmost part of the Gulf of Finland has, however, improved, thanks to water protection measures, especially enhanced wastewater treatment in Saint Petersburg. The status of coastal waters has deteriorated in some parts of the northern region of the Bay of Bothnia and the river mouths of the Gulf of Bothnia.

Eutrophication is the most significant problem

In Finland, over half of the nutrient load that is responsible for eutrophying of waters comes from agriculture. Where nitrogen is concerned, communities are still significant contributors to the environmental load. Sparsely populated areas contribute significantly to the phosphorus load. Waterway construction also impairs the status of river waters. Almost all of Finland’s rivers that flow into the Baltic Sea have human construction, and the original migratory fish stocks have become extinct.

Changes in water bodies are slow to develop

So little time has passed since the previous ecological status assessment, in 2008, that changes are difficult to detect. The classification of 300 water bodies’ status had improved, while the classification of 304 had deteriorated. However, classifications in the two assessments are not directly comparable between the previous classification and this one, since more material was collected for the new classification, and classification criteria were harmonised with those of Finland’s neighbouring countries.
Genuine improvement of the ecological status of a water body may take years even when the load is clearly lower.

The ecological status of surface waters was assessed by the ELY Centres

Information on the status of waters was collected by ELY Centres (Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment) and, with respect to fish, by the Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute. The status and risk assessments for groundwater were completed this spring.
Biological quality is the main element reviewed in the ecological status classification. The status of plankton algae, diatoms, aquatic flora, zoobenthos, and fish in a waterbody is compared to conditions in which human activity has not affected the biota. The less the human impact, the better the ecological status. In addition to biological parameters, the assessment takes into account other physical and hydromorphological parameters of water (e.g., nutrients, visibility, pH, and migration obstructions) affecting its quality.

The goal is good ecological status throughout Europe’s waters

The goal is good ecological water status throughout the EU by 2015. A similar status assessment will be made in all EU countries.
This work has been particularly challenging in Finland, because of the large number of water bodies; in fact, some waters have still not been classified. All coastal waters have been assessed, but only 87% of the surface area of lakes has been classified and 60% of the total length of rivers.

Long-term water protection work continues

Finland has taken a long-term approach to water protection. The ecological status classification now completed provides further information on waters that require water protection measures. Comprehensive, catchment-oriented water resource management planning will continue under the charge of ELY Centres. Draft water resource management plans will be presented early next year. Marine environment management action plans and flood risk management plans will be heard simultaneously.

Text: Katri Haatainen & Sari Mitikka
Image: Jouko Lehmuskallio

Further information:

Back to the newsletter