Facing Water Challenges in Estonia:A WWDR3 Case Study

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Increasing prosperity, water use efficiency and close adherence to European Union requirements characterize this Baltic Sea state.


Focus Areas

Water supply and sanitation, IWRM

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

See Estonia

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Chemical contents of groundwater

Drinking water often fails to meet quality requirements due to the presence of substances such as manganese and ammonium. Although these minerals affect the sensory properties of water (taste, colour, odour), they pose no direct threat to human health. In some parts of Estonia, the groundwater also contains excessive amounts of fluorine and boron. There is an effort to regulate mineral content: drinking water purification plants are being improved, with the installation of technology to remove such minerals, and the infrastructure is being renovated where necessary.

Eutrophication of lakes

The main problem facing Estonia’s multiple lakes, including many impounded lakes, is eutrophication. Many lake ecosystems are endangered due to overgrown vegetation that significantly reduces the oxygen content in water during summer and winter, with a devastating impact on fish populations. The status of Lake Peipsi has been assessed as moderate, and that of the country’s second largest lake, Lake Võrtsjärv, as good. Studies regarding the environmental status of small lakes have revealed that out of 68 lakes, 3 were in a poor state, 17 were in moderate condition and the rest were ranked as good or very good.

Hydromorphological alteration of rivers

Due to the decrease in agricultural pollution and more efficient wastewater treatment, the water quality of Estonian rivers has improved significantly in the last 15 years. At present only a few rivers and their biota are limited by poor quality. However, additional effort is needed to improve fish migration in rivers where numerous small dams without fish passes now impede their passage.

In summary, as an EU member country endowed with sufficient water resources, Estonia does not have many water management problems. The initial economic difficulties that followed independence have been diminishing since the late 1990s and industrial production has increased in almost all branches since 2000. Although climate change scenarios point to potential alteration in the flow regimes of rivers and in recharging of groundwater reservoirs, this does not seem to pose a serious problem for socio-economic development in Estonia. Drinking water quality, sanitation and environmental protection are being handled in line with strict EU legislation.

Results and Impact

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions


See also

Jaagus, J. 2006. Trends in sea ice conditions in the Baltic Sea near the Estonian coast during the period 1949/1950-2003/2004 and their relationship to large scale atmospheric circulation. Boreal Environment Research, Vol. 11, pp. 169–183.

Joint Research Centre (JRC). 2005. Climate Change and European Water Dimension: A Report to European Water Directors. Steven J. Eisenreich, ed. European Commission-JRC, Ispra, Italy.

Helsinki Commission (HELCOM). 2007. Climate Change in the Baltic Sea Area: HELCOM Thematic Assessment in 2007. Baltic Sea Environment Proceedings, No. 111.

Kont, A., Jaagus, J. and Aunap, R. 2003. Climate change scenarios and the effect of sea-level rise for Estonia. Global and Planetary Change, Vol. 36, No. 1–2, pp. 1–15. Ministry of the Environment. Forthcoming. Estonia Case Study Report.

UNESCO-World Water Assessment Programme (UNESCO-WWAP). 2006. Lake Peipsi/Chudskoe-Pskovskoe. Water, a Shared Responsibility: The United Nations World Water Development Report 2. Paris/Oxford, UNESCO/Berghan Books. www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr/wwdr2/case_studies/pdf/lake_peips i.pdf

United Nations-World Water Assessment Programme (UN-WWAP). 2003. Lake Peipsi/Chudskoe-Pskovskoe, Estonia and the Russian Federation. Water for People, Water for Life: The United Nations World Water Development Report. Paris/Oxford, New York, UNESCO/Berghan Books. www.unesco.org/water/wwap/case_studies/peipsi_lake/peipsi_lake.pdf

External Resources

The United Nations World Water Development Report 3


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