River Basin and Wastewater Management

The problem

River Basin and Wastewater Management

Most of the water quality problems in the Baltic Sea originate upstream from the thousands of water ways in the catchment area. Some 25% of the nutrient load in the Baltic Sea comes from waste water and upstream sources of pollution – not only from farms, but also from households and ports. According to CCB´s estimates potential losses from 22 million tons of fertilisers handled in the Baltic ports annually may account up to several thousand tons of directly bioavailable nitrogen and phosphorus.

As other point sources for nutrients, nonconventional animal husbandry is not properly regulated at EU or Baltic level, both in terms of nutrient losses management, as well as animal welfare. Meanwhile, on the BSR level potential environmental impacts are significant, as e.g. in Sweden number of horses is higher than dairy cattle, in Finland fur production generates waterborne phosphorus and nitrogen inputs comparable to fish-farming, and mink fur production has impacts that are up to 28 higher than textiles, including climate change, eutrophication and toxic emissions.

Significant gaps were identified in joint management of transboundary basins and in addition, 3 major transboundary Baltic river basins – Daugava (Russia/Belarus/Latvia), Nemunas (Russia/Belarus/Lithuania/Poland) and Vistula (Ukraine/Poland/Belarus) – jointly discharging 30% of all nutrient load to the sea, still lack efficient joint basin management that hampers solving common challenges, e.g. floods protection, conservation of migratory species or reduction of pollution inputs. Cross-border public participation in joint water management, addressing those challenges from the civil society perspective, can build a ground for potential inter-governmental dialogue and for establishing joint management bodies.

The Goal

We aim at reaching GES (Good Environmental/Ecological Status) of rivers draining to the Baltic Sea as having an immense importance for reducing pollutions inputs, as well as for conservation of biodiversity. We want to ensure a good supply of clean drinking water to all inhabitants in the Baltic Sea Region and to develop systems for an ecologically sustainable production and handling of waste water.

How is CCB working with this issue?

CCB promotes the full implementation of the HELCOM recommendations for small to medium sized sources of wastewater, related to municipal wastewater treatment and on-site wastewater treatment of single-family homes, small businesses and settlements. CCB re-enforced its activities to focus on integrated river basin management and EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), as well as the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) to reach Good Environmental/Ecological Status (GES). 

As major Baltic river catchment (e.g. Vistula, Nemunas, Daugava, Odra, Narva, Neva and Tornio) are transboundary and in many cases start from upstream non-EU states (Russia, Belarus and Ukraine) it is fundamental a joint management of transboundary basins both between Member States and even more – with third countries. CCB works with establishment of a joint transboundary Public Advisory River Teams (PART) in order to:

  • facilitate engagement of public and civil society into decision making related to water management issues;
  • enhance capacities of public River-Watch monitoring practices to provide data and information that can be used for management purposes;
  • develop recommendations and proposals regarding state of abiotic and biotic components of river basins.

CCB´s interactive map of public river monitoring – www.watercontrol.by – has been further developed to support and visualize the results of public monitoring of water quality in wells and to detect hot spots of agricultural pollution.

A draft report, including a map, of potential sources of nutrient inputs from ports handling fertilisers in the Baltic Sea was further updated. The aim of the new report “Concept Best Available Technologies & Techniques: Bulk Fertilizer Handling” is to further the necessary discussion for port improvements for handling fertilizers in Baltic Sea ports. To that intention, CCB encourages industry development of best practices in an open innovation setting, with learning shared among peer organizations.

Moreover, CCB undertakes River Watch programme – started in 1995 –  to promote the development of Sustainable River Basin Management Plans including environmental education, school projects and public awareness in all countries of the Baltic Sea Region.

What can the countries do together?

Joint action should focus on the application of sustainable, ecologically-oriented solutions for wastewater treatment, with a high degree of nutrient recycling.

What can each country do?

  • Develop national programmes for the implementation of the HELCOM agreement on wastewater management and water savings as the saving of water instead of wasting it is the most effective way to avoid water pollution problems;
  • Promote the use of sustainable wastewater technologies, including nutrient recycling approaches that are particularly suitable for the treatment of wastewater from small to medium sized sources.

What can you do?

  • Be aware in your everyday life of the need to save water and make sure you save as much water as possible;
  • If it is feasible then you can introduce new toilet system in your home or at your workplace that includes direct nutrient recycling to farmland;
  • You can also try to convince your municipality of the importance of eco-technological solution, including the use of natural systems e.g. constructed wetlands.
The Baltic Shadow Plan: for the future of the Baltic Sea

This shadow plan presents NGO requests to HELCOM for the Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) update. The Baltic Sea Action Plan (BSAP) adopted in 2007, by the Helsinki Convention, had the goal to restore the Baltic marine environment to a good ecological status by...

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Blue Manifesto – The Roadmap to a Healthy Ocean in 2030

More than 100 environmental organisations, led by Seas At Risk, BirdLife Europe, ClientEarth, Oceana, Surfrider Foundation Europe and WWF launched the “Blue Manifesto”. The rescue plan lays out concrete actions which must be delivered by set dates in order to turn the tide on...

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See all CCB Publications about River Basin and Wastewater Management in Publications.



September 5, 2019

CCB joined the Ocean Call for G7

We have joined and signed the Ocean Call, which carries the voice and the commitments of more than 50 organizations mobilized for the ocean alongside Surfrider Foundation Europe.

Following the G7 Summit, the Ocean Call will also be staged at the United Nations Climate Change Summit in New York in September, at the COP 25 in Chile in December and finally at the COP 15 on Biodiversity in China in 2020.

Read the full declaration here.

March 6, 2019

Real actions, not ´realistic´ wishes – a recipe for an updated Baltic Sea Action plan

On 6-7 March high-level representatives met at the 40th Meeting of the Helsinki Commission. On this occasion, CCB was grateful to share the concerns of civil society organizations and almost a million individual members of CCB´s network around the Baltic Sea. Our concerns were (and are) connected with continuous and increasing violations of the fundamental principles and provisions of the Helsinki Convention:

  • Precautionary principle and science-based management;
  • Transparency, trust and sharing information to minimize transboundary impacts;
  • Joint measures for reaching joint goals, instead of prioritising actions of “overriding national interest”.

Read the full CCB´s statement here.


March 5, 2018

Joint NGO letter to ministers about HELCOM BSAP

A joint NGO letter from CCB, Oceana and WWF to the minsters of environment concerning the progress towards BSAP goals in 2021. This letter was sent as part of the Ministerial meeting in HELCOM, 6th of March 2018:  Joint Letter to ministers on BSAP WWF Oceana CCB


February 28, 2017

To reach the SDGs globally the Baltic-wide actions need to be implemented first!

logo_2rToday, high-level representatives of the HELCOM Contracting Parties will meet in Helsinki to discuss how the Baltic Sea Region can contribute to the global goals on the conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources by 2030. Actions related to eutrophication, marine litter and climate change will be given special focus in the discussions.

On behalf of environmentally concerned citizens of the Baltic Sea catchment, Coalition Clean Baltic would like to share some input to this work and bring to the attention of regional decision-makers the urgent needs to be addressed in order to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, (SDGs) and, even more importantly, to save the Baltic Sea from further deterioration.

Read the full statement here.







October 4, 2016

Joint position of environmental NGOs on internal loading in the Baltic Sea


WWF, Sweden




04 October 2016, Uppsala/Stockholm

Joint position of environmental NGOs on internal loading in the Baltic Sea

Environmental Ministers and High-Level representatives from HELCOM Contracting Parties at their meeting in Copenhagen in 2013, inter alia

  • agreed to fully implement the 2007 Baltic Sea Action Plan by 2021 and to step up efforts for further strengthened implementation of the BSAP
  • acknowledged that environmental deterioration such as oxygen depletion is increasingly affecting marine life by e.g. accelerating eutrophication through increasing the internal loading;
  • supported development of environmentally sound approaches to remove the nutrients before they enter inland waters and the sea, and to address the internal loading, in coastal areas and semi-enclosed lagoons, as well as in the open sea;

The issue of internal loading was brought up to HELCOM’s agenda with the assumption that most of the reductions on land (both at point and diffuse sources) have been already achieved, e.g. through accomplishment of efficient sewage treatment and excess usage of fertilizer and manure in agriculture being gradually eliminated. Hence, according to the proponents, very limited, costly and constantly diminishing reductions can be achieved using conventional land-based approach, and thus interest on innovative sea-based measures that should be investigated and applied have gained traction.

NGOs strongly believe that the real reason for promoting alternative, sea-based solutions to the eutrophication problem might be tightly connected with observed poor implementation of BSAP MAI/CART commitments and lack of will to enforce stricter HELCOM requirements at national level in comparison to EU law, by some Contracting Parties/EU Member States. This recently became even more evident with several Contracting Parties questioning the MAI/CART scheme that was jointly agreed in 2007 and reviewed in 2013. Another possible reason could be the need to develop and implement ‘novel’ measures, not yet being used in current EU policies e.g. WFD or Nitrates Directive process, in order to be able to feed those into Programmes of Measures under the MSFD.

Meanwhile, cost-efficiency of already applied measures in terms of delivering good environmental status for the Baltic Sea with regards to eutrophication has been very poorly assessed – both at national or HELCOM level. So far only potential economic benefits stemming from implementation of the HELCOM BSAP measures have been evaluated. On the contrary the EU financial support mechanisms in many cases, e.g. in agriculture, cause continued high inputs of nutrients with minor consideration of environmental objectives for the marine environment.

Our understanding is strongly supported by the findings of the recent EU Court of Auditors’ report “Combating eutrophication in the Baltic Sea: further and more effective action needed” (2016), echoed by the EU Council Conclusions on the ECA’s Report, which reflected the following:

  • within 2007-2013 the EU contribution to waste water collection and treatment projects in the BSR was 4.6 billion euro from ERDF/CF, while rural development measures, including water protection measures amounted to 9.9 billion euro from EAFRD.
  • Member States’ plans for achieving HELCOM nutrient reduction targets are lacking ambition as they do not go beyond statutory EU requirements, that do not suite the Baltic-specific needs; those plans are often delayed and vary in level of enforcement, as well as based on insufficient information and lack progress monitoring; moreover HELCOM requirements on sewage treatment and agro-environment measures are not in full incorporated into national legislation in most of the Contracting Parties.
  • None of the Baltic EU MS have reached good ecological status of their surface and ground waters by 2015, as originally set under the WFD and hence reaching in time Good Environmental Status under the EU MSFD is also very questionable, again partly due to lacking coordination with the objectives and activities of the existing regional sea conventions (HELCOM)

On February 12, 2015 the seminar “Sea-based measures to reduce the effects of eutrophication” was arranged by Sweden’s Ministry of Environment, Baltic Sea Centre and Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management with the aim to review nine pilot projects and in light of these, to discuss opportunities and challenges associated with sea-based measures to reduce internal loading. During the seminar it was pointed out by many participants that the Baltic Sea ecosystem is fragile and there is a lack of knowledge about how the flora and fauna will react to these types of substantial human manipulations. Also the risks and uncertainties increase for the ecosystem when the measures applied go from small scale at the coastal level to large scale on the open seas. However, the concluding panel agreed that some offshore activities in the future might be complementary to current land-based measures to speed up the recovery of the Baltic Sea.

Putting it candidly, the internal nutrient load in the Baltic Sea means a recirculation of “old sins”, hence it is a consequence and not a cause of eutrophication. Despite pilot attempts, scientific knowledge is still lacking and vast uncertainty remains about the effectiveness of measures to reduce the internal load, especially for large-scale Baltic Sea wide application. Furthermore, the total costs of the proposed measures have not been calculated, neither any estimates of effectiveness and environmental consequences of proposed measures on the open Baltic Sea ecosystem have been produced. As currently the anoxic “dead” bottom zones extend to several national EEZs and cover an area comparable to twice the size of Denmark, the question remains who should pay for the needed EIA and investments for technical solutions addressing open sea eutrophication.

Despite no formal discussion has been held on internal load within HELCOM since the seminar, HELCOM HOD 50-2016 requested to include issues on internal load into the agenda of PRESSURE 5-2016.

Based on the above and to express the joint Baltic environmental NGOs position on the discussion, we would like to draw the attention to several important points on this issue to reflect upon:

  1. Internal load is not a cause of eutrophication, but it is a consequence of numerous years of mismanagement of nutrient inputs from the Baltic Sea catchment. According to the Baltic Eye’s policy brief “The internal phosphorus load – recycles old sins” (October 2016), the accumulated load of nutrients in the catchment is about 20 times higher than estimated load bound in bottom sediments. Hence, nutrient sources in the catchment will still need to be addressed as being the root cause of phosphorus accumulation on the sea floor.
  2. There is no evidence that the Contracting Parties have taken and implemented all relevant measures to reduce eutrophication, as agreed in HELCOM BSAP – especially from land-based sources (stricter sewage treatment and fertiliser application, nutrient recycling, etc.) and as agreed in Article 6 and Annex III of the Helsinki Convention (1992).
  3. Although positive effects of reduced land-based input could be seen in some coastal areas, there is still a need for further improvement. Measures for continued reduced supply and a more resource-efficient use of nitrogen and phosphorus have effect and are of great importance and should be a priority, not least in order to reduce eutrophication in lakes, rivers and coastal waters in the Baltic Sea Region, in meeting the WFD and MSFD requirements.
  4. Proposed sea-based measures to address internal loading have not proven to be (a) effective, (b) cost-efficient, (c) polluter-specific and (d) harmless in application at a larger scale and in longer-term perspective, hence violating two fundamental principles of the Helsinki Convention, namely precautionary and polluter-pays principle.
  5. Very few end-of-pipe solutions have appeared to be more efficient than source reduction measures. Without curbing nutrient pollution sources we will not be able to cease eutrophication cause (point and diffuse inputs) and hence tackle the consequences at sea (anoxic bottoms, internal loading).
  6. External nutrient reduction before entering the sea is the only truly effective long-term strategy to combat eutrophication. Therefore, we call upon the Governments of the Contracting Parties to follow their commitments under the HELCOM BSAP and demonstrate it with real actions, i.a. finally endorsing Country Allocated Reduction Targets by all the Contracting Parties and implementing nutrient reduction measures stipulated by the Helsinki Convention (1992) and its Annexes.
March 11, 2016

Statement at the 37th Meeting of the Helsinki Commission, 10-11 March 2016

Once again, we would like to share with you the concerns of civil society organizations and over 800,000 individual members of CCB’s network around the Baltic Sea.

Read Statement here: CCB_statement_HELCOM37_2016


November 19, 2015

Funding the EU MSFD Programs of Measures

A crucial part of the coherent implementation of the BSAP and the EU MSFD is the commitment to fund the needed measures to reach the GES targets. CCB is becoming concerned that several CPs being also EU MS have argued at different occasions, including the IG PoM and EU MSCG, that funding is a major problem for implementing the MSFD PoMs.  For a number of reasons CCB considers these claims unjustified.

Read statement here: 4-17 Funding the EU MSFD Programs of Measures_CCB

Relevant links to international NGOs working on water protection in agriculture

WWF – worldwildlife.org

Other links


River Basin management
Aija CauneEnvironmental Protection Club/VAKLatvia+371 6 266 662
Andre ZahharovEstonian Green MovementEstoniaandre.zahharov@gmail.com
Andris UrtansNorth Vidzeme Biosphere ReserveLatvia+371 407 14 08
Antanas KontautasLithuanian Green Movement/ Environmental club ZvejoneLithuania antanas.kontautas@ku.lt
Elita KalninaEnvironmental Protection Club/VAKLatvia+371 7 226 042
Gunnar NorénSenior AdvisorSweden+46 70-560 53 52
Jurate Morkvenaite PaulauskieneLithuanian Green Movement/ Environmental club ZvejoneLithuania+370 685 725 05
Lennart GladhSenior AdvisorSweden+46 702210367
Maret MerisaarEstonian Water AssociationEstonia+372 5537701
Maria StaniszewskaPolish Ecological Club / PKEPoland+48 32 231 85 91
Nina PalutskayaNeman Environment GroupBelarusninija@mail.ru
Olga SenovaFriends of the BalticRussia+7 812 428 06 58
Robertas StaponkusLithuanian Fund for NatureLithuania+370 6 9846 719
Wastewater management
Gunnar NorénSenior AdvisorSweden+46 70-560 53 52
Lennart GladhSenior AdvisorSweden+46 702210367
Maret MerisaarEstonian Water AssociationEstonia+372 5537701