Viimsi water shortages stand in way of housing development plans

Apartment buildings in Viimsi.
Apartment buildings in Viimsi. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

In Viimsi, scarce water resources are proving to be an obstacle to plans for the construction of new residential developments. The municipality is also considering repealing some long-standing development plans to alleviate the problem.

Last June, as Estonia experienced drought conditions, a new record for water consumption levels was set in Viimsi as residents grew concerned about the wilting lawns and bushes in their gardens.

A total of 5,266 cubic meters of drinking water was used in a single day, an amount which is only slightly above the total capacity of the local water network.

Viimsi's residents get a small proportion of their water the Tallinn water network, however most of the supply comes from local groundwater. According to Raul Vanem, head of AS Viimsi Vesi though, there is a limit to how much of this can be used.

"At some point, if this intensity (of water use) increases further, there is a risk that seawater will start to encroach into the groundwater," Vanem explained. "This means that it will become more expensive to treat the water and at some point it may become completely unusable."

Appealing for people to show restraint, should help to slightly reduce seasonal water use for irrigation purposes. However, the pressure on Viimsi's water supply is actually increasing year on year. According to a recent report, detailed plans for Viimsi's development include the construction of 1,836 new private houses and apartments, a move which would mean more than 5,000 new residents added to the current population of 22,000.

"In the last three years, there has also been a huge leap forward toward the realization of these detailed plans," said Vanem, which means that the population of the municipality could grow to the levels projected for 2030, much sooner.

Infrastructure costs increase

As a result, the water company decided last summer that it would no longer issue technical permits  for new housing developments. In other words, if someone buys a plot of land in Viimsi, for which plans to build residential buildings have not already been drawn up, they must be aware that they will not be able to use groundwater to supply property on that plot for the foreseeable near future.

However, Viimsi Mayor Illar Lemetti does not expect all available building rights to be bought up in the coming years. "We are constantly making efforts to get (additional) water resources. It is probably not going to be the case that we run out of water resources tomorrow," Lemetti said.

Raul Vanem added, that a second connection to the Tallinn water network could be up and running in April next year. If this does happen, water supplies in Viimsi will be sufficient to cover the needs of the planned housing developments. However, the next question to arise will be whether to plan a third connection.

"This is where we now need to work with the municipality to come up with the answers. The additional capacity will require a significantly larger investment than the ones we have built up to now. We also don't know exactly how large the population of the municipality will grow," said Vanem, who added that the municipality's development master plan should provide answer's to this question. During the discussions on the master plan, it has been suggested that Viimsi's population could rise as high as 30,000.

Mayor: development not just about increasing population

However, when it comes to existing water resources, there is also some room for maneuver. According to Illar Lemetti, the detailed plans are being reviewed, to see which ones have already been carried out, and which are most likely to come to fruition.

"There are around twenty (development) plans that have not been implemented, in some cases for years or even decades. We will also start discussing these with the owners to decide whether or not they actually are going to be implemented," said Lemetti. "Maybe at some point we will also get to the stage where we talk about a possible repeal."

However, all of this will take time, Lemetti said, and will be invariably linked to the master plan discussions. Lemetti doesn't believe that the municipality's development will be constrained by a lack of water resources, reiterating that people are now coming to Viimsi on the back of the plans already in place.

"However, I think that when it comes to development, we should not be talking about whether there will be more people, but rather about issues of substance. To ensure a very good living environment for all current residents. That is, when we are discussing the word 'development', I think, (we need) to take a more substantive approach," Lemetti said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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