Investing in clean Baltic Sea

The Baltic Sea is one of the world's most polluted seas. Its waters are shallow – with an average depth of just 59 metres – and they are replenished very slowly. Its catchment area is home to some 90 million people, living in 14 industrialised countries. The consequent pollution loads to the Baltic Sea, in particular nutrients, pose enormous problem that increasingly affects everyone who lives around its shores.

Cooperation between countries and cities plays important role in saving the Baltic Sea from pollution by nutrients (eutrophication). The guidelines and goals for such cooperation have been set in the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) and in the Baltic Sea Action Plan provided by HELCOM (The Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission). In this respect, PRESTO (Project on Reduction of the Eutrophication of the Baltic Sea Today) was recognized as a project with high macro-regional importance and granted a flagship status. The PRESTO was implemented on 9.6.2011 - 8.9.2014 with the funding from INTERREG IVB Baltic Sea Region Programme 2007-2013.

PRESTO project improves quality of local waters and the Baltic Sea by reducing nutrient load through transnational investments in wastewater treatment, education and awareness rising

The main focus of the project was on enhancing phosphorous removal from municipal wastewater treatment plants (wwtp). As the project result, the annual amount of phosphorus entering the Baltic Sea is reduced by app. 200 tons. This goal was reached by implementation of cost efficient investments in chemical phosphorus removal and enhanced biological treatment in three Belarussian wwtp´s (Grodno, Molodechno and Vitebsk) and feasibility studies for modern wastewater treatment and sustainable sludge handling in another three wastewater treatment plants (Lida and Baranovichi in Belarus and Daugavpils in Latvia). Furthermore, small scale investments to optimize the process in wastewater treatment plants in Kaunas (Lithuania) and Daugavpils (Latvia) were applied. Project partnership consisted of water utilities, technical universities and engineering design institutes.

To increase the awareness and technical capacities of water professionals, academic staff and politicians and to support on-going investments, project organized six training workshops and four public forums with specific thematic focuses (effects of nutrients on water ecology, advanced nutrient removal technologies, environmental policy instruments, lifelong learning of water sector). These events attracted some 1000 participants from Baltic Sea Region and Belarus. To demonstrate operational challenges and share good practices, project partners visited numerous wwtps from 6 different countries discharging their waters to the Baltic Sea (Belarus, Germany, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Russian Federation). To this end, project initiatives enabled active cooperation between four leading Belarussian universities (Belarusian National Technical University, Brest State Technical University, Polotsk State University and Belarusian State University of Transport) providing education in the field of water management and engineering. The cooperation resulted in upgrading of educational programs with the topic of advanced nutrient removal and what is even more important approximation of Belarusian regulations and standards to the EU regulations. Also, a pilot course for engineering students from Germany and Belarus was organized and resulted in students recommendations on how to enhance treatment processes at Minsk waste water treatment plant.

Cooperation that continues

The development of lifelong learning concept for wastewater sector in Belarus is continued in Union of the Baltic Cities Commission on Environment (UBC EnvCom) led project LearnWater (Building Neighbourhood Learning Facility for Water Experts) financed by Council of the Baltic Sea States and Baltic 21 supported by the Swedish Ministry of the Environment. The central among LearnWater actions is to introduce and launch the German “Neighbourhoods” concept in Belarus by conducting baseline review on current situation and implementing tailor-made for Belarus ”neighbourhood meeting”. All collected during project information will be used to evaluate how the German “Neigh-bourhoods” concept can be adjusted to Belarusian conditions and reflected in the framework paper “Life-long learning concept in Belarusian wastewater treatment sector”. Project started in 2014 will be finalized in spring 2015.

Reduction of nutrient inputs to Baltic Sea is also addressed in newly developed UBC EnvCom project called IWAMA (Interactive Water Management) co-funded by Seed Money Facility of the European Union. The main objective of IWAMA is to reduce nutrient loads from municipal wastewater treatment plants through combining high quality lifelong learning and knowledge transfer with investments in energy efficiency and sludge management. In addition it is expected that investments will reduce the carbon foot print of treatment processes and enable more efficient use of existing resources.

Active cooperation in the framework of PRESTO project resulted in approved application of project “Pre-treatment of wastewater from food production” - “PreTreFood”. The project is funded by German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and will start on 1.3.2015. Project Lead Partner is Technical University of Berlin and partners are Belarussian National Technical University, Brest State Technical University and Polotsk State University. The main objective of the project is to exchange experiences about the management of indirect wastewater discharges from food production industries e.g. slaughter-house, dairy products, fish industries and to develop new approaches to the treatment challenges.