Drinking Peipsi can damage your health

  • 2001-04-26
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - The Peipsi Center for Transboundary Cooperation held a seminar called "Ground Water Management in the Lake Peipsi and Narva River Basin" in Tartu on April 18 and 19. Russian, Estonian and Swedish experts evaluated the situation in the basin as satisfactory.

The Peipsi center is a non-governmental organization focusing on environmental and recreation matters in the eastern part of Estonia, where Lake Peipsi, the largest lake in the Baltic states, is located. A joint Estonian-Russian water commission will use the experts' conclusions as a starting point.

Environmentalists from Estonia and elsewhere consider Lake Peipsi particularly interesting since it is the largest international lake in Europe and will soon be located on the new border of the European Union. Peipsi is the fourth largest lake in Europe with a surface area of 3,550 square kilometers, a volume of 25.1 cubic kilometers, and a large drainage basin.

During the Soviet era the lake was more heavily polluted. Intensive land use and industrial changes took place. These are still continuing in the drainage basin after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the lake has been regarded as suffering from eutrophication problems and reduced fish stocks, according to the Peipsi center's spokeswoman Gulnara Roll.

Rein Perens, the head of the hydrology department of the Estonian Institute of Geology, said the overall condition of the lake basin is satisfactory. "Over the last few years several projects were realized thanks to European Union funds, and the work is ongoing," said Perens.

He added that the trilateral cooperation between Sweden, Estonia and Russia environmental experts is well developed.

A number of suggestions for the proposed water commission were introduced at the seminar, including creating united databases of water monitoring results and hydrological maps.

Varvara Paal, a spokeswoman of the Pskov region's administration in Russia, said the lake is a key factor in the water resources of the Pskov region. "But related infrastructure, such as tourism and recreation, is poorly developed, and the fish resources are being exploited," she said.

According to the Pskov regional administration, there were no surveys on water quality in the lake from 1991 to 2000 so it is impossible to say if pollution in the lake has decreased. Last year's analysis showed that the water in the lake conforms to Russian classification as "polluted."

However, this year's probe stated the water is "moderately polluted," which notes a slight improvement.

Paal said the improvement was probably due to new sewage disposal equipment in the city of Pskov, a decrease in the quantity of industrial waste and the less-active usage of mineral fertilizers.

In Estonia, the national monitoring program for water quality in rivers and water discharge covers eight rivers, or almost 90 percent of the total drainage area of the lake, and the sampling frequency is normally monthly, said Roll.

"In Russia, the corresponding program includes only two rivers (the Velikaya and the Gdovka). The sampling frequency for nitrogen and phosphorus is low in the Russian rivers monitored, with only two to six samples per year. This makes the estimation of the water from the Russian part of the drainage basin very uncertain," she said.

As to the main sources of pollution in the lake, less than 10 percent of the nitrogen load from rivers originates from waste water from urban areas and enterprises. From 55 percent to 80 percent of the load originates from agricultural sources and approximately 15 percent to 30 percent from forests and other diffuse sources, according to Peipsi center statistics.

The two largest cities in the basin, Pskov and Tartu, are also the two largest sources of pollution in the drainage area. Discharges there are responsible for 20 percent to 30 percent of the total phosphorus load in the lake. Agricultural sources are responsible for about 40 percent in Estonian rivers and 70 percent in Russian rivers.

Eda Andresmaa of the Estonian Environment Ministry's water department is convinced that one of the most important tasks in the management of the Peipsi and Narva basin is the establishment of unified water standards in Estonia and Russia.

"For instance, the standards in drinking water are relatively different in both countries," said Andresmaa. She added that the environment monitoring techniques need unification, and that the seminar in Tartu was the first step in organizing that.

Perens said it is up to every state to set its own standards for the quality of drinking water and that Estonia would have to make its standards EU-compatible in the near future.

"There is practically no need to establish single drinking water standards with Russia. Instead we should unify the monitoring methods," he said.

Paal admitted the Russian standards regarding drinking water differ from the European ones. "But our specialists from the natural resources committee think it is necessary because the water from the lake flows toward Europe anyway," said Paal.