Tallinn city government wants to alter law on bathing water pollution

Stroomi rand beach in Tallinn, one of the hotspots for high levels of seawater pollution in a zone designated for public bathing.
Stroomi rand beach in Tallinn, one of the hotspots for high levels of seawater pollution in a zone designated for public bathing. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Tallinn City Government wants bacterial levels in waste water to be measured in wastewater, as well as in bathing water at the various designated swimming zones in the capital, in the hopes that this will help improve water quality.

Spokespersons from the environment ministry and the capital's main water supplier have called the proposals unrealistic, however.

Deputy Mayor of Tallinn Vladimir Svet (Center) requested in a letter sent to the Ministry of the Environment that the relevant legislation, the Water Act, be amended. Levels of intestinal enterococci and colibacter microorganisms in wastewater, subsequently discharged into the sea or other large bodies of water, would be measured in that wastewater, under the proposal.

At present, these bacterial levels are only measured in water in swimming zones.

The city hopes that with the change, the problem of poor bathing water quality will be addressed; according to the city's authorities , the level of bacteria in Tallinn's bathing sites remains constantly above what is considered normal, leading to the suspicion that this may derive from wastewater and other water flows diverted to the sea, lakes or rivers.

"We check for bacteria on the beaches, but in those places where there are – I emphasize that this is in theory - water purifiers, the only checks are for chemical substances are checked," Svet said.

"We actually have situations whereby, while there is a beach that is supposed to be clean, in that there are no outflow pipes in the immediate vicinity nor any industry whence any kind of waste could arrive, somehow this still happens," he went on.

"Even though the requirement is that sources of pollution cannot be located closer than 200m from the shoreline of a public bathing area, given the nature of the sea, wind direction etc. These [pollutant] substances can move significantly further, from what we've seen," he continued.

In any case, neither the city government nor the state have a clear picture of just how bacterial pollution occurs in bathing water, the city government says.

"In order to get a complete picture, it is necessary that the Water Act be altered so that those who have a special water use permit be required to check that there are no bacteria of any kind coming from any pipes," the statement says.

The Ministry of the Environment's water department advisor Raili Kärmas, however, finds that it is not reasonable to start amending the legislation right away, but that possible sources of pollution should first be clarified.

He said: "If we already impose a requirement on the water user, we are already assuming that that user is likely to pollute somewhere, in the course of his or her activities, but in this case, there is no overview of what kind of water [outflows] can cause this effect. First of all, whether there may be illegal connections where people have, for example, unlawfully connected their wastewater to the storm-water pipeline, needs to be identified."

 Priit Kappak, environmental and quality manager at Tallinn Vesi, which provides most of the capital's water services, told ERR that even if a maximum ceiling was set for bacteria in either wastewater (i.e. sewage) or surface run-off water from rain etc., it would not be possible to bring this to the same level as those required for bathing water, however.

"If we carry out some kind of monitoring and set limits, then it should also be studied what the normal background could be. If it is the city's goal that people could actually swim in this type of water, then, unfortunately this is not possible in an urban society," Kappak went on.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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