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Estonia is part of:
Baltic States · Europe & CIS · Northern Europe ·
Water Basins of Estonia:
Gauja · Lake Peipsi · Narva · Parnu · Salaca ·
Facts & Figures edit
Capital Tallinn
Neighbouring Countries Latvia, Russia
Total Area 45,226 km2
  - Water 2,015 km2 (4.46%) / 446 m2/ha
  - Land 43,211 km2
Coastline 3,794 km
Population 1,329,697 (29 inhab./km2)
HDIA 0.871 (2007)
Gini CoefficientA 35.8 (1995)
Nominal GDPB $25,210 million
GDP (PPP) Per CapitaB $21,900
National UN Presence UNDP
Land UseC
  - Cultivated Land 5,358 km2 (12.4%)
     - Arable 5,207 km2 (12.05%)
     - Permanent Crops 151 km2 (0.35%)
     - Irrigated 40 km2
  - Non cultivated 169,140 km2 (87.6%)
Average Annual RainfallD 626 mm
Renewable Water ResourcesE 21.1 km3
Water WithdrawalsF 0.158 km3/yr
  - For Agricultural Use 5%
  - For Domestic Use 57%
  - For Industrial Use 38%
  - Per Capita 116 m3
Population with safe access to
  - Improved Water Source 100%
     - Urban population 100%
     - Rural population 99%
  - Improved Sanitation 97%
     - Urban population 97%
     - Rural population 96%
References & Remarks
A UNDP Human Development Report
B CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia
C CIA World Factbook Country Profiles
D Aquastat - FAO's Information System on Water and Agriculture
E CIA World Factbook
F Earthtrends

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Country Profile: Climate, Geography, Socio-Economic Context

Estonia, located on the Baltic Sea and Gulf of Finland, is bordered on the south by Latvia and on the east by the Russian Federation. It is a flat country, with plains along the coastline and uplands, and many lakes in the southeast. Its population of 1.3 million (2007) is dispersed across an area of 45,227 km². There are over 1,500 islands and islets, two of which, Saaremaa and Hiiumaa, are big enough to be considered counties. Although the life expectancy is over 70, the population is steadily declining due to a low birth rate.

Climate Chnage - Some Warming Expected

Several studies have been carried out to estimate the effect of climate change on water management. Statistical evidence suggests that annual mean air temperature increased during the second half of the 20th century by 1.0 to 1.7°C at various locations in Estonia. The greatest warming has been observed in the south-east (Võru) and the lowest in the north-west (Ristna).

The warming effect has not been equally distributed throughout the seasons: the most significant changes have occurred during the first five months of the year, with that in March being the most significant. Over the last 50 years, the average monthly temperature in March has risen by between 3 and 5°C. The models for climate change suggest that winters will be milder, leading to a more rapid snow-melt, an earlier spring with reduced runoff an extension of the dry period in summer and a likely increase in autumn precipitation. Especially in dry periods, these variations might cause significant water deficit in rivers fed by groundwater. So far, however, the results lie well within normal observed climatic variations (JRC, 2005).

Analysis of data from 1949 to 2004 shows that the number of days with sea ice has decreased significantly at all monitoring stations except those on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. The most substantial decrease was observed at the westernmost stations on the Baltic coast (Jaagus, 2006). Some models indicate winters could be icefree by the end of the 21st century, even in the Gulf of Finland (HELCOM, 2007). The shortening of the period of ice cover, together with increased frequency of winter storms, will have a strong impact on coastal ecosystems. The most marked coastal changes in Estonia have resulted from a combination of big storms, high sea levels induced by storm surges, ice-free seas and unfrozen sediment.

An extremely strong storm like Gudrun in January 2005 could cause substantially larger changes to the depositional shores in western Estonia than all the storms over the entire preceding 10 to 15 years (Kont et al., 2003). On the other hand, Estonia is not likely to be seriously affected by global sea level rise, which would be counteracted by uplifting caused by tectonic movement.

Country Profile: Water Bodies and Resources

Estonia’s annual average surface water availability is 12 billion m3 and the groundwater potential is 3.2 billion m3. The rivers are characterized by short flow distances and low flow rates. Only 10 rivers are longer than 100 km. The longest is the Võhandu (162 km) and the largest is the Narva, with a catchment area of 56,200 km2, only about one-third of which is within Estonia. Of Estonia’s approximately 1,200 lakes, half have a surface area of less than 0.03 km2. The largest, Lake Peipsi, covering some 3,500 km2, is the fourth largest lake in Europe. It was the subject of in-depth case studies in the first and second editions of the World Water Development Report (UN-WWAP, 2003; UNESCO-WWAP, 2006).

Water consumption has decreased significantly since Estonia regained its independence in 1992 (Figure 3.2). For a quick comparison, combined water use in 2006 was half that of 1992. Between 1992 and 2007, agricultural water consumption decreased by almost a factor of seven, and the average price of water increased nearly 25 times.


Daily per capita water consumption fell from 188 litres in 1992 to 90 litres in 2007 (Figure 3.3). The main reasons for the abrupt decrease in overall water use were the introduction of a water use charge, an increased unit price, the closure of a pulp factory in the capital, Tallin, adoption of water saving technology in industry, and reductions in numbers of livestock and in agricultural production after the system of collective farms collapsed. Groundwater resources are used mainly for municipal water supply and to some extent in industrial processes. In line with the price increase and deployment of water saving technology, groundwater consumption decreased by one-third from 1992 and amounted to 50 million m3 in 2006.

Reductions in agricultural area, animal husbandry and certain industrial activities have resulted in a decreased contaminant load and a general improvement in surface and groundwater quality. At the same time, Estonia’s economic indices have improved. The unemployment rate has been halved since 2000 and GDP has more than doubled since 1995. Better water management through increased efficiency in water use in all sectors has enabled Estonia to achieve a strong decoupling of water use and economic output, which in turn has helped boost the economy.

Thermal power plants burning oil shale account for 92% of the country’s electricity production. Until recently, about 90% of overall surface water extraction was used for cooling these plants at the main power generation complex in Narva. However, thanks to reduced electricity demand, the use of water saving technology and a substantial increase in the water extraction charge, the rate of abstraction has decreased by half. The share of renewable forms of energy, including hydropower, has been minimal, accounting for about 1.7% of total electricity production in 2006. But, as required by the European Union (EU) accession agreement, Estonia has undertaken to raise the share of renewables to 5.1% by 2010. Thus, significant growth in this energy subsector is expected, especially for wind turbines.

Country Profile: Legal and Institutional Environment

The Water Act is the main law establishing the regulatory framework of water resource management in Estonia. It takes an integrated water resources management approach, and states that while the main responsibility for the use and protection of water resources lies with the central government, local governments have the authority to take temporary measures within their jurisdictions, if necessary, regarding the use of water resources.

Water management issues in Estonia are dealt with under several plans of differing time scales. Long term goals and objectives, up to 2030, are set forth in the Estonian National Environmental Strategy. The Estonian National Environmental Action Plan for 2007–2013 contains detailed actions to achieve the short and medium term goals.

As a member of the European Union, Estonia bases its water management planning on the guidelines of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) and other EU directives regulating the use and protection of water resources and the environment. As the WFD requires, water management is based on management plans compiled for eight river basin subdistricts forming three main river basin districts. Compiling the plans is a complex process. It includes general characterization of the districts, identification of pressures, the setting of monitoring standards for assessment of the status of surface and groundwater resources, establishment of environmental objectives, identification of the measures necessary to bring water bodies to ‘good’ status and to supply the population with drinking water of good quality, and procedures for reporting back to the European Commission. The Minister of the Environment established a Commission on Water Resource Management to coordinate and supervise water management planning. The commission includes representatives of relevant ministries, along with scientists and other experts. Subbasin water management plans are overseen by working groups that include representatives of the Ministry of the Environment and of county environment services, along with relevant experts. Working groups, established by a decree of the Minister of the Environment, coordinate the implementation and updating of the management plans. Representatives of other relevant stakeholders can participate in the meetings on cases in which they have an interest.

In achieving the WFD objectives, water supply and sanitation development plans have a very important role. Upon accession to the EU, Estonia undertook to ensure by the end of 2010 that the appropriate wastewater collection and treatment was in place for all wastewater collection areas whose waste load was more than 2,000 population equivalents, and, by the end of 2013, that all communities of more than 50 people were supplied with safe drinking water.

Country Profile: Water Sector Coordination

See Sector coordination sub-page for detailed description

Country Profile: Trends in Water Use, Management and Sanitation

Country Profile: Challenges and Opportunities


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Projects and Case Studies

Projects in or about Estonia

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Who is Who

People working in Estonia
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See also

External Resources

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