Briefly in English

Water Association of Finland is a national, independent non-governmental organization with ca. 500 members (20 corporative) broadly covering water affairs. The purpose of Water Association Finland is to increase and disseminate information on hydrology, limnology, water ecology, fishery, water supply and sewerage, hydraulic engineering, water protection, water use and water legislation. Water Association Finland was founded in 1969 to promote co-operation between different sectors of water branch and to build up and strengthen the contacts with international associations dealing with water issues. The main activities are professional seminars, study tours and publishing. Water Association Finland is a network of water professionals in Finland.

The members are informed on current issues regularly by newsletters, e-mails and www-pages. The activities of the association are lead by the board consisting of 8 members and 3 vice members. Annual general meeting is held at the end of February.

Professional activity mostly takes place in 7 divisions:

  • History division
  • Wastewater division
  • Division of international co-operation
  • Water quality division
  • Groundwater division (with regional unit for North Savo)
  • Water bodies & fisheries division
  • Water supply & sewerage division

Tasks of the divisions include following both domestic and international development, promoting co-operation between the authorities and other actors, making initiatives, and preparing regional and national events within their special branches.

National Water Day has been is celebrated annually since 1970. Since 1990s the event has been arranged on March 22, i.e. on the International World Water Day, usually in the House of the Estates in Helsinki. This annual event consists of one- or half-day seminar on a topical water-related theme, followed by evening gala where national prizes for the winning team of national Junior Water competition and for the person chosen for his/her merits with water-branch literature are awarded.

Water Association Finland is a member of International Water Association, IWA (www.iwahq.org) and European Water Association EWA (www.ewaonline.de). Water Association Finland is also a correspondent member of Water Environment Federation (www.wef.org).

Contacts

  • President – Prof. Riku Vahala: firstname.surname@aalto.fi (+358 50 5884237)
  • Secretary – Mr. Jari Koskiaho: firstname.surname@ymparisto.fi (+358 400 148823)
  • Mailing address: Water Association Finland. PO Box 721, FIN-00101 HELSINKI
  • Webmaster – Juha Leinonen

IWA Yearbook 2013

Osmo Seppälä

OUTLOOK FINLAND – Highlights of water services in Finland

Finland is a country with a population of 5.4 million, situated in Northern Europe. Finland is known as a country of forests and tens of thousands of lakes. Finland’s renewable water resources are about 108,000 million m3 per year (58,000 litres per capita per day). Only 2 per cent of the renewable water resources are being used by industry, agriculture and urban and rural water supply.

About 90 per cent of the population live in areas covered by a centralised water supply. Over 80 per cent of population have access to public sewerage systems, which are all connected to wastewater treatment plants. A bit over 60 per cent of the drinking water supplied originates from groundwater or artificial groundwater and almost 40 per cent from surface water.

Municipalities mainly responsible for water services

Water services in Finland are mainly provided by public water and sewerage utilities, which are owned by the municipalities. Most of the municipal water utilities are organised as municipal enterprises, which are semi-autonomous within the municipality. Recent trend is to organise water utilities as companies owned by municipalities. Inter- and supra-municipal cooperation is increasing, including regional water companies owned by several municipalities. There are altogether about 1,500 water utilities in Finland, of which about 1,200 are relatively small. These include water and wastewater cooperatives that provide services to only tens or hundreds of customers.

Mergers of municipalities continued in Finland. At the end of year 2012 there were altogether 336 municipalities in Finland, and the number went further down to 320 from the beginning of year 2013. Municipal mergers affect also the organisation of water services, since most of the water utilities are owned by the municipalities.

Since 2010 water services in utilities in the Helsinki metropolitan area (Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen cities) have been provided by the Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority. This is the biggest water utility in the Nordic countries, providing water and wastewater services to about 900,000 people.

Developments with regulatory and administrative framework

The old Water Act dating from 1962 was renewed and enacted in 2012. The new Water Act includes some minor revisions e.g. regarding procedures for water abstraction permits and protection of water resources. In addition, revision of the Environmental Protection Act is expected in 2013.

The Water Services Act from year 2001 is still under review. The revised act is expected to become enforced in 2013. Several changes and revisions are expected to the current act. The main responsibility for storm water management is to change from the water utilities to the municipalities. The main reason for this is that municipalities have better means of managing and affecting the increasing urban runoff as a result of climate change, for instance through land use planning and street drainage.

In connection with preparation of the new Water Services Act, a programme is underway in order to enhance water sector data and information management in Finland. By 2016 this will lead to improved availability and accessibility of water data for all stakeholders, including Finland’s water sector statistics and international reporting.

Since 2010 the Regional Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment have been responsible for supervision and control of water and sewerage services at the regional level. Regional State Administrative Agencies are the environmental permit authorities at the regional level.

High level of wastewater treatment to ensure good quality of environment

Wastewater treatment in Finland has a long history and good track records. The first activated sludge plant for municipal wastewaters was constructed already in the 1930s. Enhanced removal of nutrients from wastewater started in the 1970s. At present the average reduction rate of organic matter (BOD7) is about 97 per cent, phosphorus over 95 per cent and nitrogen about 55 per cent. These removal rates include the effect of overflows and bypasses.

In 2012 a three-party agreement was signed between the Ministry of the Environment, the Finnish Water Utilities Association (FIWA) and the Federation of Finnish Municipalities and Local Authorities (Kuntaliitto) regarding targets for reducing nutrient load (phosphorus and nitrogen) into the Finnish watercourses. The agreement is the first of its kind in Finland in water protection. Wastewater utilities are thus forerunners compared to other sectors such as industries and agriculture.

The recent decree on treatment of wastewaters outside the service areas of public water utilities – i.e. rural wastewaters – aims at enhancing treatment of wastewaters from rural agglomerations to further improve pollution control and limit eutrophication of watercourses. Implementation of this decree remains challenging though.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry together with the Ministry of the Environment prepared in 2012 a national sewerage programme. The programme provides the framework and targets to streamline state support for sewerage systems within the water management planning period until year 2016.

Challenges with operational reliability of water utilities

Unpredictable and extreme weather conditions gave challenges for water utilities. Summer and autumn 2012 were very rainy. The annual precipitation of 2012 was 10–35% higher than on average in Finland. This was positive for the water resources availability, but challenging regarding water quality. Extreme summer floods were experienced in many parts of the country. In addition there were heavy winter storms both at the end of 2011 and 2012, which caused wide electricity supply interruptions and subsequently disturbances for water supply and distribution and sewerage.

In recent years water supply sector actors in Finland have directed increasing attention to water safety and service reliability. Especially there has been concern about the condition of water and sewerage networks. It is estimated that the need for rehabilitating and renewing networks in Finland is 2–3 times the amount that has actually been rehabilitated in the past years.

National application of Water Safety Plan (WSP) concept was started in Finland. The aim is to ensure safe drinking water in all situations in Finland. A web-based WSP application will be developed for larger water utilities. It will be complemented by an appropriate application for small utilities. A similar concept of Sanitation Safety Plan (SSP) will be developed for wastewater utilities.

Finnish Water Forum provides a network for international activities

Finland has in general performed extremely well in the water sector, as evidenced by its high ranking in several water related international comparisons. However, Finland has not been able to utilise its high water sector expertise, knowledge and good performance adequately in the international fora. As a response to this challenge, Finnish Water Forum (FWF, www.finnishwaterforum.fi/en/home) was established in 2009. FWF aims at further developing the know-how and promoting national and international cooperation in order to enhance utilisation of Finnish water expertise and competitive position of the Finnish water sector actors in the international markets.

Members of Finnish Water Forum are private enterprises within the water sector, bodies of public administration, research institutes, universities, and non-profit associations. FWF promotes enhanced cooperation between water experts of the private and public sectors. At present, FWF has about 90 member organisations. The Finnish representatives in the International Water Association (IWA) – Water Association Finland and Finnish Water Utilities Association – are also members of FWF.

FWF delivers information from international water fora to its members and aims at increasing the visibility of Finnish water expertise internationally. FWF also assists members to plan and initiate water-related international projects. FWF sets high priority to development activities and through its activities contributes to efforts for reaching the millennium development goals defined by the United Nations.

About the author:
Osmo Seppälä is the Managing Director of the Finnish Water Utilities Association (FIWA).

Finnish Water Utilities Association (FIWA)

FIWA is the co-operation and member association of the Finnish water and wastewater utilities. FIWA’s member utilities cover about 90 % of water services in Finland. FIWA represents Finland in EUREAU, which is the European Federation of National Associations of Water Services.

FIWA’s main purpose is to facilitate an enabling operational environment for its member utilities and support their functions. FIWA works to safeguard and promote the interests of its member utilities and to enhance their professional skills.