Estonia and Latvia work together for sustainable and clean water in the cross-border Gauja/Koiva river basin

Latvia and Estonia have taken joint actions to enhance the management of the Gauja/Koiva river basin. Scientific and research institutes from Latvia and Estonia, ministries of the environment, municipalities and NGOs worked together to ensure that the water resources are managed in a way that protects human health and the environment.

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People involved in clean-up activity at the transboundary river Vaidava as part of an EU-funded project. © Kristina Veidemane People involved in clean-up activity at the transboundary river Vaidava as part of an EU-funded project. © Kristina Veidemane

" The project was an opportunity for scientists of Latvia and Estonia to carry out joint investigations into cross-border waters. The outdoor activities to free the river from fallen trees and garbage and to restore river for fish spawning with the help of anglers, local inhabitants, NGOs and scientists were positively evaluated by those who were involved. "

Juris Aigars, Latvian Institute of Aquatic Ecology

The overall objective of the Gauja/Koiva project was to enhance the management of shared surface and groundwater resources by the development of a joint river-basin management plan for the transboundary river-basin district. The river basin is shared between Estonia and Latvia and, while a majority of the basin lies in Latvia, the waters flow into the Gulf of Riga, where – due to stream directions – the waters from Latvia are brought to Estonian coasts, then to the open Baltic. It has therefore been essential to work together.

The close scientific co-operation between Estonian and Latvian scientists helped to establish a common classification system to monitor the biodiversity and overall environmental health of the river and associated lakes. With the correct data, countries can co-operate in an informed way on how to manage this resource and what actions are necessary to improve and maintain this valuable resource in a joint and cost-effective way.

Activities included the creation of joint GIS and maps, investigations into the ecosystem of transboundary lakes and streams, the creation of joint methodologies for assessing the environmental pressure on water bodies and a joint approach to economic analysis. A central part of the project was to strengthen public involvement in the management process.

Public engagement

River basins are the natural geographical and hydrological units that work together irrespective of national boundaries; in short, what happens at a river’s source in one country can have a major impact on another.

The project involved the general public including businessmen, fishermen, young people, environmental activists and those interested in promoting tourism. The project’s outreach activities improved knowledge of the water system and local biodiversity.

The project also coincided with growing environmental awareness in the region. Local inhabitants on both sides of border got the chance to share their views and offered to volunteer during cross-border public events. The project developed an informative website, as well as providing printed brochures and information stands. The educational materials have been widely used by schools and in public spaces.

The European Union encourages public involvement in water management for two main reasons. Firstly, decisions on the most appropriate measures and use of river-basin resources involve balancing the interests of different groups – it is essential that citizens should be able to scrutinise these decisions. Secondly, by involving citizens, interested parties and NGOs, such projects will help to ensure that public and private actors keep to their commitments.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “Towards joint management of the transboundary Gauja/Koiva river basin district” is EUR 865 585, with the EU’s European Regional Development Fund contributing EUR 718 435 through the “Estonia - Latvia” Operational Programme for the 2007-2013 programming period.

Draft date