EU to grant Estonia €40 million to upgrade storm water management systems

Flooding in Tallinn.
Flooding in Tallinn. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The European Union is providing Estonian water companies and municipalities with grants totaling €25 million to replace existing drainage systems with ones that are more efficient and environmentally friendly. The vulnerable regions will receive an additional €14 million.

Existing storm water management systems were designed to accommodate previous climatic conditions.

"Climate change projections indicate that extreme and intense rainfall will increase in frequency in the future, which could result in flooding," Olav Ojala, advisor to the ministry of the environment's water division, said.

This water flow in storm water systems tends to overflow, resulting in inundation. It causes problems on the streets and parking lots. "We must urgently repair storm water systems that are no longer operational," Ojala said.

In the most vulnerable coastal and river regions, as well as in urban areas where compacted soils make drainage more difficult, it is necessary to construct natural drainage systems such as ditches and infiltration strips.

"They will then redirect a portion of the water away from the pipe and into the ground. Alternately, water could be directed into a system that delays water flow, such as a ditch or ditch from which water flows out later," Ojala explained.

Moreover, combined sewerage systems, i.e. those in which rainwater and wastewater move concurrently, must be converted to separate systems, as the combined sewer systems cannot handle the unexpected downpour.

"These systems are equipped with storm water overflows that discharge any water that does not fit directly into the inlet. It also mixes with the sewage in such pipelines. This poses an environmental risk," Ojala said.

Local authorities and water companies can apply for EU support.

Raili Kärmas, chief executive officer of the Estonian Waterworks Association (EVEL), said that natural drainage systems lower water companies' costs. This also results in reduced water expenses.

"During drought years, rainwater harvesting techniques, depending on the nature-based system, could be used to utilize rainwater for free, which is both economically and environmentally beneficial for the consumer," Kärmas added.

However, both Kärmas and Ojala said that the support is not sufficient to cover the whole of Estonia. "It is estimated that about €12.5 million will be required to reconstruct the systems in Tartu only. Obviously, the amounts are much higher in Tallinn. It is impossible to replace all of the systems at once but it is important that we address these investments annually," Kärmas said.


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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