Freshwater - National Responses (Finland)

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Freshwater - National Responses
Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 21 Mar 2015


Water protection[1]

Water policies have been based on long-term-strategies. Three national water protection programmes identifying targets, measures and instruments have been prepared since the beginning of the 1970s. In November 2006, the Government adopted a new set of national Water Protection Policy Outlines to 2015.


The EU Water Framework Directive, enacted in 2000, gives guidelines for water management policy for many years to come. In Finland an act on organising river basin management planning was adopted in 2004. The objective of the river basin management plans is to achieve a good state of surface waters and groundwater by the end of 2015. The first river basin management plans are due to be completed by 2009.

Groundwater protection[2]

Groundwater is protected through legislation prohibiting the pollution and altering of aquifers. Where activities potentially harmful to groundwater are placed in areas important or suitable for water supply, special attention is paid to their not affecting the groundwater, and the environmental permit decision will lay down the relevant conditions. As a rule, such activities are preferentially placed outside groundwater areas. Groundwater protection is also taken into account in other permit decisions, such as for land extraction or other industrial activities, and it is a common element in environmental impact assessments of projects. The environmental permit authorities may also establish a buffer zone around a groundwater extraction site.


In addition, it has recently become customary for local authorities and waterworks to voluntarily draw up protection plans to ensure good quality and quantity of groundwater.


Land use planning may also considerably improve the protection of groundwater; therefore, groundwater areas are taken into account in the placing of various activities and in the pertinent plan regulations. According to the Water Act, land use planning should be taken into account when a permit is granted for water management projects.


National legislation[3]

The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) (60/2000) sets the framework and objectives for water protection in Finland. The Act on the Organisation of River Basin Management forms part of Finland's ongoing implementation of this Directive. (This act is available only in Finnish and Swedish.)


The two main laws in Finland for the protection of groundwater are the Water Act and the Environmental Protection Act. A good chemical state of groundwater is safeguarded by means of the prohibition against groundwater pollution laid down in Section 8 of the Environmental Protection Act. In accordance with this regulation, no substance shall be deposited in or energy conducted to a place or handled in a way that:

·         groundwater may become hazardous to health or its quality otherwise materially deteriorate in areas important for water supply or otherwise suitable for such use;

·         groundwater on the property of another may become hazardous to health or otherwise unsuitable for usage; or

·         the said action may otherwise violate the public or private good by affecting the quality of groundwater.


The prohibition of groundwater pollution means that a permit may not be granted for an activity that does not conform to this regulation. There is also a legal obligation to remediate polluted groundwater and the polluter is held responsible. The prohibition on altering groundwater in the Water Act refers to maintaining a good quantitative state of groundwater.


The Water Act contains provisions on groundwater extraction. A permit is required if the extraction causes effects contrary to the prohibition on altering groundwater or surface water, or if the extraction amounts to at least 250 cubic metres a day. The extraction of groundwater, or other activities affecting groundwater, must not essentially harm the natural state of springs, brooks, and ponds and lakes of at most one hectare.


The environmental permit authorities may order in a permit decision that a water supply buffer zone be set up around a groundwater extraction site if this is found to be necessary for health reasons or to preserve the purity of the groundwater for other important public reasons.


In addition, the Water Services Act contains provisions on the organisation of water supply and on water supply plants and rates.


Regulation of waters[4]

Of the thousands of lakes in Finland, 310 are regulated. This usually serves several objectives such as hydropower production, flood protection, water acquisition and recreational use.


So far, Finland has sustained no major flood damages[5]. However, extreme weather events, e.g. storms and floods, are expected to become increasingly common in the future. Communities have to be protected against, for example, exceptionally large floods. The best way of preventing the creation of new risk sites in areas that may be flooded is through steering of land use and building.


In the future, flood risk management is controlled by the Directive on the assessment and management at flood risks. It requires identifying areas where significant flood risks exist. For these flood risk areas, flood maps and flood risk management will be prepared.


The guidelines for the tasks relating to the use and management of water resources are set down in the Water Resources Strategy of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The Strategy was adopted in 1999 and it extends until 2010. A set of indicators has been developed to measure and evaluate the functional efficiency and social impacts of water resources management. (See also: Water Resources Strategy, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (in Finnish)).


Organisation of river basin management

The organisation of river basin management in Finland is covered by the Act on Water Resources Management (1299/2004), the Decree on Water Resources Management (1040/2006) and the related Decree on Water Resources Management Regions (1303/2004). This legislation forms part of Finland's ongoing implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive.

·         Act on Water Resources Management (1299/2004) - Unofficial translation of the original Act, PDF format in Finlex, the Data Bank of Finnish Legislation)


Controlling water pollution and hydrological engineering

Legislation designed to prevent pollution of water bodies is included in broader environmental protection statutes that came into force in the year 2000.

·         Environmental Protection Act (86/2000) - Unofficial translation of the original Act, PDF format in Finlex, the Data Bank of Finnish Legislation

·         Environmental Protection Decree (168/200) - Unofficial translation, PDF format in Finlex, the Data Bank of Finnish Legislation

·         Decree on Substances Dangerous and Harmful to the Aquatic Environment (1022/2006) - Unofficial translation, PDF format in Finlex, the Data Bank of Finnish Legislation. The newest amendments of the Degree in 2009 are not included in this translation. The prohibition against discharges of dangerous substances is expanded to cover also groundwater when earlier this prohibition was elsewhere in the legislation.


Hydrological engineering work is controlled by the Water Act (264/1961), which comes within the administrative sphere of the Ministry of Justice.


Wastewater treatment

The treatment of wastewater from households not connected to main sewerage networks is controlled through a Government decree that sets minimum standards both for wastewater treatment, and for the design, construction, use and maintenance of treatment facilities.

·         Government Decree on Treating Domestic Wastewater in Areas Outside Sewer Networks (542/2003) - Unofficial translation, PDF format in Finlex, the Data Bank of Finnish Legislation


The treatment of wastewater from industrial facilities and municipal wastewater collection systems is covered by a Government decision.


Discharges from farms into water bodies

Finland's Nitrates Decree is based on the EU Nitrates Directive, and controls the use of nitrate fertilisers in all farms across the country.

·         Government Decree on the restriction of discharge of nitrates from agriculture into waters (931/2000) - Unofficial translation, PDF format in Finlex, the Data Bank of Finnish Legislation


Other legislation

·         Act on Water Services (119/2001) - Unofficial translation of the original Act, PDF format in Finlex, the Data Bank of Finnish Legislation

[1] Source: Water protection. Finnish Environmental Administration

[2] Source: Groundwater protection. Finnish Environmental Administration

[3] Source: Legislation on water protection. Finnish Environmental Administration

[4] Source:  Regulation of waters serves multiple objectives. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry

[5] Source:  Focus on protecting settlements. Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry


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