The Baltic Sea is not a healthy sea right now, making it a priority issue for the countries around its shores. The WaterNets.ru collaborative project has been launched with a view to accelerating the process of improving water quality.
“The project’s primary objective is to draw up a local action programme to improve water quality,” says Olga Shadura, International Training Programme Administrator at ICLD.
The project also aims to develop the Water Users Partnership (WUP) network, which is made up of ordinary residents, fishermen, households with single house wastewater treatment and disposal systems, farmers, land owners, and industries – all of whom are affected by the water quality in the Kaliningrad region’s drainage basin.
The newly launched WaterNets.ru project is designed to forge links between the Swedish stakeholders and Kaliningrad.
Why is a regional partnership important?
“The Baltic links our regions together – everything we do locally has an impact on the Baltic. By cooperating with other regions, we can learn – or teach – a variety of methods of improving the environment in the Baltic region,” says Tobias Facchini of the Kalmar County Regional Federation, who is the Project Manager for WaterNets.ru.
Water flows across municipal boundaries, regional boundaries – and national boundaries. The idea behind the project is to monitor the water along its entire course.
“All of the area’s stakeholders affect the same water, so we are keen to work with them. We either affect or are affected by the water,” says Tobias Facchini.
The project, which is being financed by ICLD, is scheduled to run until 2018 and cooperation is taking place at both regional and municipal level.
Can you tell us about the project activities to date?
“We held a kick-off in April and our first partnership meeting in Västervik on 26 and 27 June. We invited the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, who explained to our Russian colleagues how they coordinate water-related issues at national level, while the Kalmar County Regional Federation spoke about its regional work with water issues, and Västervik highlighted the municipal approach and talked both about their factors for success and how their Water Council works,” says Tobias Facchini.
Kaliningrad has an extensive programme of work in schools, which is not the case in Sweden. Västervik is, however, home to the Naturum living natural history museum, which works with schools to teach children more about water and the Baltic Sea.
“We’ve talked about how we can develop this partnership so that we learn from one another. For our part, it’s important to think forward – the project offers an opportunity to strengthen our network links with Kaliningrad, and to develop new projects,” says Tobias Facchini.
The first partnership meeting in Sweden included a visit to an organic farm in Västervik, where the animals range freely in wetlands and pasture land. This was an eye-opening experience for the delegation from Kaliningrad, where large herds of cattle are kept indoors in stalls.
“It was inspirational, seeing Kalmar’s and Västervik’s big picture approach to water management work, and visiting an organic farm that uses a unique technology to improve the water quality without lowering the tempo of the agricultural production,” says Ekaterina Latysheva, the Russian Project Coordinator from the EKAT-Kaliningrad environmental institute.
What do you and your colleagues think about the Water Users Partnership concept?
“It’s a unique and effective platform for cooperation with different stakeholders on issues in a drainage basin. It allows different voices to be heard, which in turn, ensures that the most appropriate decisions are taken. There will, of course, be some difficulties, but we are convinced that dialogue can resolve the majority of issues. The most important thing is getting started on the work.”
Tobias Facchini has high hopes – and expectations – of the partnership:
“We want to develop the WUP concept, both in Russia and in Sweden, in order to bring together local individuals and organisations who have the know-how and expertise on how things work at a local level. This is a concept we believe in, and it’s also a very democratic way of working, because we’re working directly with the people affected,” says Tobias Facchini.
A project has a start date and an end date. But for the Baltic Sea and the people who live along its shores, there is no time to waste – or to wait.
“Our hope is that the WUP network in Kaliningrad will live on after the project comes to an end. There are huge benefits to be gained from cooperating on these issues, so we hope that they will keep the network alive, even if it is in a slightly different format,” says Tobias Facchini.
FACTS & FIGURES
WaterNets.ru is a partnership project between the Kalmar County Regional Federation, Västervik municipality, and Kaliningrad, where the Guryevsk municipality is involved, along with the region as a whole and the EKAT-Kaliningrad research institute.
The project was launched on 1 April 2017 and will run until the end of 2018.
The primary aim of the project is to draw up local action programmes to improve water quality.
Kaliningrad has scheduled a meeting for late September to decide on structuring the network in their area.