Facing Water Challenges in the Vuoksa Water Basin: A WWDR3 Case Study

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Through concerted efforts, water quality has been significantly improved in the basin since the 1970s, when large amounts of untreated industrial waste were being dumped into waterways. Today, both the water quality and the environmental status are much better. However, increasing industrial activities in the Russian Federation may pose a renewed risk of some degradation.


Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

Water Management and Transboundary Cooperation

As a member of the European Union, Finland bases its water resource policies on the Water Framework Directive. In the Russian Federation, the 2006 Water Code sets the framework for all water-related legislation. The integrated water resources management approach has been adopted in both countries. Thus they consider the river basin as the basic unit in planning and management, while ensuring that different water uses are taken into consideration. Sustainability of water resources and stakeholder participation in decisionmaking are also viewed as important principles in water policy. While public participation in decision-making is well organized in Finland, there are implementation problems in the Russian Federation. In addition, overlap in the responsibilities of various Russian Federation administrative bodies has complicated the process by hindering inter-agency cooperation on environmental protection and natural resources management.

Regarding management of shared waters, since its establishment in 1964 the Finnish-Russian Commission on the use of transboundary watercourses has played a significant role in the Vuoksi River basin. The commission’s co-chairs are representatives of the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Russian Federation Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. With three working groups – on the use of water resources, on fisheries and on water quality and monitoring – the commission monitors activities that could affect transboundary waters and assesses the compensation required in the event of damage caused by either party.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

Reducing Water Pollution

Reducing water pollution: The pulp and paper industry is responsible for most of the organic and nutrient pollution in the Vuoksa River basin, whereas the mining, chemical and metal industries generally release considerable amounts of heavy metals into the river. Initial measures to treat industrial wastewater were taken in the 1960s and such action continued into the 1970s. As a result, industrial effluents have significantly decreased and water quality in the river has improved. For example, the loading of suspended solids and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) in the Finnish part of the river has declined by 90% since the early 1970s (Figure 3.4). A major metal processing plant situated on the banks of the Vuoksa River on the Finnish side has adopted the ISO 14001 environmental management system (Ovako, 2008). Overall, while some minor industries and enterprises still do not treat their wastewater, most others have quite efficient wastewater treatment systems. As a result, not only has water quality improved, but valuable fish species have been observed returning to the river.

In the Russian Federation, the total point-source load into the Vuoksa River in 2006 was estimated at 1.4 tonnes/day (t/d) of suspended solids, 1.4 t/d of BOD, 0.47 t/d of nitrogen and 0.12 t/d of phosphorus (Finnish- Russian Commission, 2007). In general, for Russia, the sharpest decrease in Vuoksa River pollution came during the 1990s recession. In recent years the pollution load has started to increase again.

In the Russian part of the basin, about 73 million m3 of wastewater is produced per year. Of this, 13 million m3 is cooling water. The rest is treated in the wastewater treatment plants of large industrial enterprises (VUOKSIAGAIN, 2006). The Russian Federation requires permits and environmental impact assessments for actions that could negatively affect water resources or ecosystems. In addition, one objective in the Long Term Development Strategy for Water Economics is to rationalize industrial water use over a 20 year period.

Mitigating floods and droughts through joint action

The natural discharge in the Vuoksa River is usually large enough to provide water for all users. If exceptionally high floods or intense droughts are forecast, however, the flow is regulated, under the Discharge Rule for Lake Saimaa and the Vuoksa River, to alleviate socio-economic damage.

Administered by the Finnish-Russian Commission, the Discharge Rule is an effective allocation mechanism that takes the interest of both countries into account. Decisions about changes in the discharge are jointly taken, and the damage one country may suffer as a result is compensated by the other. The Discharge Rule has been successfully applied since it came into force in 1991. Flood peaks have been lowered six times since then and low water levels in Lake Saimaa normalized three times. The key reason for these adjustments is to prevent flood damage to industrial facilities situated on the shores of Lake Saimaa. During two of the floods, discharge control caused a deficit in hydropower production on the Russian side. In accordance with the Discharge Rule, Finland paid the Russian Federation the agreed compensation for this damage.


Even in years when rainfall is below average, the water potential of the Vuoksi River basin is large enough to meet all water demand without significant problems. The main concerns have been the increasing human impact on water quality and the need to regulate the flow regime. Water quality has improved remarkably since the 1970s, creating better conditions for the use and protection of the water resources. In cases of severe floods and droughts, the flow regime can be (and has been) adjusted through cooperation based on the needs of all communities involved. Since the end of the 1990s recession, the region’s economy has been improving. It will be critical for sustainable practices to be adopted, especially in the part of the basin that lies in the Russian Federation: such action can crucially affect overall water quality in the basin in the years to come.

Results and Impact

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions


See also

Carter, T. R. (ed.). 2007. Assessing the Adaptive Capacity of the Finnish Environment and Society under a Changing Climate: FINADAPT, Summary for Policy Makers/Suomen kyky sopeutua ilmastonmuutokseen: FINADAPT, Yhteenveto päättäjille. Finnish Environment Institute, Helsinki. http://www.ymparisto.fi/download.asp?contentid=64914&lan=EN (Finnish Environment 1/2007, in Finnish and English, accessed December 2008.)

Federal Service of Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet). 2005. Strategic prediction for the period of up to 2010- 2015 of climate change expected in Russia and its impact on sectors of the Russian national economy. Moscow, Roshydromet. wmc.meteoinfo.ru/media/climate/Strategic%20prediction_2015.pdf (Accessed December 2008.)

Finnish Environment Institute/Center for Transboundary Cooperation. 2008. Vuoksi River Basin Case Study Report. Helsinki/St Petersburg, Finnish Environment Institute/Center for Transboundary Cooperation. (Draft). Finnish Meteorological Institute. 2006. Climatological statistics for the normal period 1971-2000. http://www.fmi.fi/weather/climate_6.html (Accessed December 2008.)

Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. 2005. Finland’s National Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change. Helsinki, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. http://www.mmm.fi/attachments/5enfdAPe1/5kghLfz0d/Files/CurrentFil e/MMMjulkaisu2005_1a.pdf). (Accessed December 2008.)

Finnish-Russian Commission. 2007. Venäjän ryhmän ilmoitus vuonna 2006- 2007 suoritetuista toimenpiteistä rajavesistöjen veden laadun suojelemiseksi likaantumiselta. [Official report of the Russian group concerning water protection measurements made in 2006-2007.] Helsinki, Joint Finnish- Russian Commission on the Utilization of Frontier Waters. (Minutes of 45. meeting, appendix 5. 28.-29.8.2007.)

Kondratyev, S., Ignatyeva, N., Grineva, E., Smirnova, L. and Wirkkala, R.-S. 2007. Phosphorus load on the Vuoksi River and its catchment – preliminary analysis. Laita, M. (ed.), Water Management and Assessment of Ecological Status in Transboundary River Basins. (Reports of the Finnish Environment Institute 32/2007.)

Ministry of Economic Development and Trade of the Russian Federation. 2006. Complex Plan of Actions to Implement in the Russian Federation of the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. http://www.economy.gov.ru/wps/wcm/connect/economylib/mert/welco me_eng/pressservice/eventschronicle/doc1116234296469 (Accessed December 2008.)

Mitikka. S., Wirkkala, R.-S. and Räike, A. 2004. Transboundary waters between Finland and Russia – key issues in water protection. Timmerman, J. G., Behrens, H. W. A., Bernardini, F., Daler, D., Ross, Ph. and van Ruiten, C. J. M. (eds.), Proceedings: Monitoring Tailor-Made IV. International workshop on information on sustainable water management, from local to global levels. St Michielsgestel, Netherlands, September. Ovako. 2008. Environment certificates. http://www.ovako.com/index.asp?r=578 (Accessed December 2008.)

Pöyry, J. and Toivonen, H. 2005. Climate change adaptation and biological diversity. Helsinki, Finnish Environment Institute. www.ymparisto.fi/download.asp?contentid=45300&lan=en (Finnish Environment Institute Mimeographs 333/FINADAPT Working Paper 3, accessed December 2008.)

External Resources

The United Nations World Water Development Report 3


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