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A healthier Baltic Sea with improved wastewater treatment

Updated: 30 May 2017

Now, the last of the discharge from major cities along the Baltic Sea is being corrected, including wastewater from the cities of Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg and several smaller towns in Russia. In total, Sweden has supported more than 30 water and wastewater projects in the Baltic Sea Region since the 1990s.

In the years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, work to reduce the extensive discharge of polluted wastewater into the Baltic Sea from Russia, Poland and the Baltic States was started. The Baltic States cooperative organisation HELCOM identified 118 (later to become over 160) Hot Spots, places from which discharge was especially serious and was in need of corrective measures. Three fourths of these have now been corrected, but a few major ones still remain, including the Russian city of Kaliningrad with nearly 500 000 inhabitants, which previously lacked wastewater treatment facilities.

“Right now, the last of the major discharges into the Baltic Sea are being cleaned. In most of the cases, it concerns projects that were begun over ten years ago. Already, there is a noticeable improvement in the quality of the water in the Gulf of Finland compared to only a few years ago,” explains Lars Eklund who has worked for over twenty years with water and environmental projects in the Baltic Sea Region at Sida.

Both technical and organisational reforms

Swedish support has been given for investments in technical equipment and for the renovation and development of outdated water and wastewater companies. In these activities, Sweden has collaborated with, among others, financiers such as the European development bank EBRD, the Nordic investment bank NIB and the Nordic finance institute NEFCO. Several Swedish municipalities have also been involved.

“At present, no new collaborations are being prepared with the authorities in Russia; instead, this is a project that was initiated when the situation was different. We must not forget that there is a strong self-interest in being involved in wastewater treatment facilities in Russia as we contribute to a better environment in the Baltic Sea, which is something that to the highest degree benefits the people of Sweden,” says Lars Eklund.

The Neva project in St. Petersburg is the third largest water and wastewater project in St. Petersburg. Now, a new collector has been commissioned to address hundreds of direct discharges from both industrial and residential areas, wastewater that previously was discharged directly out into the Neva River and subsequently poured into the Gulf of Finland. At the same time, the northern treatment plant is upgraded to comply with HELCOM standard. According to the plans, the wastewater treatment facility will be inaugurated in summer 2017.

The project in Kaliningrad has been drawn out, with the planning and designing having been started fifteen years ago. Kaliningrad has approximately 500 000 inhabitants and only one old water treatment facility from the 1940s. When the facility is operational, it will mean an enormous improvement in the waters of the south-eastern area of the Baltic Sea.

Water treatment facility in Belarus

Sweden is also financing a number of water treatment facilities in Belarus. Previously, there has been a certain amount of cleaning. While Belarus does not lie along the Baltic Sea, many of the cities belongs to the Baltic Sea catchment area. In total, thirteen projects are being conducted in Belarus, expected to be finished in 2019. As a complement to this, Sida also supports a network of local organisations that work with water issues in Belarus.

“It concerns technically complex projects, where several different financiers are involved,” explains Anna Tufvesson, working with water issues at Sida.

Swedish companies are at the forefront when it comes to water treatment, and a large portion of the contract has, following negotiations, gone to Swedish companies, both consultants and equipment suppliers.

“It is not our task to promote Swedish companies, but we can still note that, in the case of Kaliningrad, the returns to Sweden have actually been greater than the funding we have provided for the project’s execution,” continues Anna Tufvesson.

That said, not all the discharge problems in the Baltic Sea will have been solved. The threat, today comes from agriculture and animal factories in Poland and Russia, a more diffuse discharge that cannot be solved with a bigger water treatment facility, but rather requires stiffer demands on the operators. Besides, there is actually a large Swedish source of discharge that still needs to be remedied - industrial discharge into the Dala River.

Page owner: Department for Europe and Latin America

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