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PURE Final Conference was organized on 16-18 October 2012 in Gdansk, with a public seminar and site visit to Wschód sewage treatment plant and a project meeting among the partner organisations. Besides showcasing the practical achievements in Baltic Sea protection by PURE partners in Belarus, Estonia, Germany, Latvia and Poland to the almost 100 participants, the seminar included also other examples of recent forerunner sewage treatment practices from Poland as well as considerations for future work.

The Executive Secretary Monika Stankiewicz from Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission (HELCOM) opened the conference by stating that the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan provides a tool to manage excessive nutrient inputs to the sea: the pollution reduction scheme and nutrient reduction targets. Upgrading of urban waste water treatment to stricter HELCOM standards is among the fastest and simplest ways to achieve concrete results in Baltic Sea protection, as municipal waste water accounts for 30% of the point source nitrogen loads and 90% of the point source phosphorus loads to the Baltic Sea. According to Ms. Stankiewicz, the PURE project highlights tangible local achievements in reducing the nutrient loading, and the project has been successful thanks to its well established networks and partnership. Ms. Stankiewicz congratulated two PURE partners of one of the concrete achievements in Baltic Sea protection in 2012: Kohtla-Järve and Szczecin waste water treatment plants were deleted from the HELCOM list of hot spots. HELCOM will continue its engagement to co-operate with local expert networks.

Finland’s ambassador to Poland Jari Vilén noted that state of the environment is recognized as important in both Finland and Poland, providing e.g. for business opportunities and this is stated also in the two countries co-operation plans. Mr. Vilén noted that Poland is located in the heart of Europe and urged the region to show leadership not only in economic growth but also in environmental issues by setting the standard high. He appealed that the participants would continue both the practical work for a cleaner sea but also the pressure on decision makers to recognize its importance.

Jan-Eric Luft (left) from Lübeck told about the PURE sludge management publication and Jan Westerberg (middle) from Mariehamn about PURE BenchMark data tool. The chair of the day, Mikhail Durkin (right) from HELCOM, was interviewed in the end of the first day. Photos: Tuuli Ojala and Lotta Ruokanen.
Jan-Eric Luft (left) from Lübeck told about the PURE sludge management publication and Jan Westerberg (middle) from Mariehamn about PURE BenchMark data tool. The chair of the day, Mikhail Durkin (right) from HELCOM, was interviewed in the end of the first day. Photos: Tuuli Ojala and Lotta Ruokanen.

Marjukka Porvari from John Nurminen Foundation, organisation responsible for preparing and coordinating the investment work in PURE, called the well-functioning wastewater treatment plants as “ Baltic Sea superheroes”, whose work requires political back up from local decision-makers as well as support from national environmental policies and permitting. Once the wastewater infrastructure is there, one should take the maximum benefit out of it and operate it in such a way that the HELCOM recommended waste water treatment levels are achieved. The investments form the basis, but the optimal results are achieved only with sufficient motivation and human capacity.

Sharing information on best practices

Hannamaria Yliruusi and Björn Grönholm from UBC Commission of environment, the lead partner of the project, wished that the Final Conference is not a final step but a start for new activities in city cooperation. The project has been a successful and courageous example in proactive concrete networking with actors from local to international governance levels.

The project PURE is financed by the Baltic Sea Region Programme and by own contribution of the partner organisations. The representative of the financing programme, Elena Kolosova, put PURE to the framework of 83 transnational projects and over EUR 200 million of financing and highlighted the project results from the programme point of view. She saw it important for the future to transfer the good practices and to apply the new knowledge. The new cluster initiative “Saving the Baltic Sea waters” with nine projects including PURE serves also this purpose. Also some glimpses of preparations of the next programming period 2014 – 2020 were shown, having stronger relationship with the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region.

Concrete actions at PURE partner waste water treatment plants

The host of the Final Conference, city of Gdansk represented by Dagmara Nagorka-Kmiecik and its water infrastructure owner, GIWK, represented by Jacek Skarbek, showed that major investments in waste water treatment facilities, e.g. modernizing of the Wschód treatment plant and closing of Zaspa treatment plant already before PURE have significantly decreased the nutrient load to the Baltic Sea. During the site visit to Wschód treatment plant (716 000 personal equivalents), the operators told that between 1978 and 1994 Gdansk beaches were closed due to pollution – however, nowadays the treatment plant is able to reach strict HELCOM recommendations in nutrient removal. Recent developments have been in the field of biogas and energy recovery from the sewage sludge, using the heat and electricity production for plant needs and even selling surplus to industrial power networks. One future prospect that was presented to the PURE partners on the course of work for good practices in sludge management is foreseen in Gdansk, as the ashes form sludge incineration are stored for possible future recovery of phosphorus for fertilizer production.

City of Gdansk reception was held in the beautiful Artus Court (left), and on 17.10. excursion the Saur Neptun Gdansk experts described their activities at the Gdansk WWTP (middle and right). Photos: Tuuli Ojala and Lotta Ruokanen.
City of Gdansk reception was held in the beautiful Artus Court (left), and on 17.10. excursion the Saur Neptun Gdansk experts described their activities at the Gdansk WWTP (middle and right). Photos: Tuuli Ojala and Lotta Ruokanen.

Riga Water (Rigas Ūdens) was presented by Māris Zviedris, the director of Daugavgriva treatment plant that treats waste waters of ca. 800 000 inhabitants. The treatment plant was designed in Soviet times and put into operation in 1990s. Major modernisation works for improving the plant performance have been conducted in 2001 and in 2012. PURE investment supports reaching continuously good results with exact sewage flow measurements, phosphorus precipitation chemical dosing and more efficient sludge removal from the process. When the current reconstruction projects have been finished, Riga Water will reach load reductions of over 100 tonnes of phosphorus and over 1800 tonnes of nitrogen annually, compared to the year 2008. After the reconstruction there are still however further plans to optimize the plant operations in the coming years. In Riga, like in many other cities due to e.g. introduction water meters and higher prices for water, there has been a strong tendency of decreasing amounts of incoming waste water and increasing concentrations of substances in it, which needs to be taken into account in the treatment process.

Belarusian municipal water company Brest Vodokanal is also an investing partner of PURE. Belarus is not a coastal state of the Baltic Sea, but part of the country is located on the watershed of the sea. Brest is located by river Bug discharging to river Vistula and into the Baltic Sea. Sergei Sats presented besides project PURE other international projects with Danish and Polish co-financing to improve the Soviet era sewage treatment plant that also receives high-nutrient sewage from food industry. There are plans for a major renovation and expansion in Brest plant in the near future. In the technical audit of PURE done in 2010, the introduction of chemical precipitation of phosphorus was identified as the most cost-effective way to fastly cut down the phosphorus loading with the available project funding. Because of some administrative challenges, sudden changes in the economic situation of Belarus and technical details, the investment has been delayed and PURE had been was granted with an extension period of 6 months (until June 2013) to finalise the investment in Brest. Chemical storing and dosing station co-financed by PURE is being built in old, unused pre-aeration basins. Also new online and laboratory analysis equipment of phosphate and total phosphorus are purchased to optimize the treatment process.

Entsorgungsbetriebe (EBL) Lübeck from Germany represents the advanced practices in waste water treatment. The waste water treatment in northern Germany has been improved already since late 1980s, and Jan-Eric Luft told that nowadays the treated sewage of Lübeck clearly outperform the strict HELCOM recommended levels in biological oxygen demand, phosphorus and nitrogen. In PURE project EBL Lübeck has had important role in sustainable sludge management activities, making among others a significant contribution to the PURE publication on sustainable sludge management.

Good examples from Poland and international financing prospects

Ryszard Rydzynski from PURE project partner water company of Szczecin, ZWiK, presented major EU cohesion fund investment programs that have been implemented for Szczecin water infrastructure during the last decade. Two waste water treatment plants, Pomorzany and Zdroje, serve the city of almost 400 000 inhabitants by the river Oder and 60 km from the Baltic Sea coastline. Szczecin has nowadays a modern wastewater treatment infrastructure with advanced sludge treatment processes that serve as one example of significant advancements in wastewater treatment in Poland in the recent years.

Incoming sewage (left), aeration basin (middle) and clarifiers (right) at GIWK treatment plant. Photos: Lotta Ruokanen.
Incoming sewage (left), aeration basin (middle) and clarifiers (right) at GIWK treatment plant. Photos: Lotta Ruokanen.

And example of waste water treatment in smaller municipalities in Poland was given by Janusz Sobolewski from Słupsk waterworks. Słupsk has a newly established treatment plant that serves several smaller municipalities and has also improved the sewerage system in the region, for example eliminated old inefficient septic tank systems with a project, financed by the municipalities and EU cohesion funds. The phosphorus removal efficiency fulfills HELCOM recommendations and since 2010 all of the sludge is composted for agricultural use. The Poland’s biggest city Warsaw, in turn, treats major part of its 1.7 million inhabitants’ sewage since June 2012 in the modernized and considerably extended, country’s biggest treatment plant Czajka. The impressive installations presented by Karolina Skalska-Jozefowicz include now e.g. 9 screens, 6 primary settling tanks, 10 lines of biological treatment with nutrient removal and 20 secondary clarifiers – not to mention the sludge management processes that are equally vast. The treatment results fulfill HELCOM recommendations for biological oxygen demand, phosphorus and nitrogen removal. Under construction is still an extension of the sewage collector from the other side of the Vistula river.

Poland’s ambitious National Programme for Municipal Waste Water Treatment for reaching EU directive requirements was presented by Ewa Malinowska from the regional water management board of Gdansk. The programme has been running since 2003 and its importance for the Baltic Sea is significant , given the fact that half of the whole population around the Baltic Sea watershed lives in Poland. Hundreds of new treatment plants have been built and even more modernized. However, reaching for stricter HELCOM recommendations in nutrient removal have not yet been the aim of the programme. Also European Investment Bank’s Marco Beros presented impressive amount of figures on investments, construction works and resources spent on improving the waste water treatment in the Baltic Sea countries during last 20 years. EUR 26 billion of loans have been granted during the past 10 years to water management, including almost 290 major projects in whole Europe. EIB loans were one contributor e.g. in the recent big improvements in St. Petersburg sewage treatment.EU Commission is signatory of HELCOM’s Baltic Sea Action Plan and EIB as EU’s Bank is therefore committed to support Helsinki Convention objectives. However, until now HELCOM recommendations have not been required from projects to be financed.

Beyond PURE – motivating for further voluntary commitments, backed by national and international programmes

Jan Westerberg from Mariehamn town presented one of the PURE outcomes, internet-based BenchMark data tool for municipalities and water companies. Its purpose is to share the best performance results of sewage treatment in the region, alongside with an opportunity for local actors to voluntarily update their own data whenever there is a need to. The role of municipalities was emphasized for their prioritizing and city planning responsibilities. In his conclusions the chair of the day, Mikhail Durkin from HELCOM wondered, how soon there will be applications coming to remove Warsaw’s Czajka and Riga’s Daugavgriva from the HELCOM hot spots list. He presented the HELCOM Ministerial Meeting 2013 preparations in perspective of municipal sewage treatment, and confirmed that local know-how, commitment and experience are crucial for achieving HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan aims. He proposed that, from the perspective of the presentations and discussions of the conference, the HELCOM level in nutrient removal could be set as the national target in Poland and also to EIB funding terms and conditions. Mr. Durkin also reminded that the Baltic Sea region is after all one of the most prosperous regions in Europe, and that there is an opportunity to demonstrate and export good practices to other regions.

Sewage sludge in Gdansk is digested (left), dewatered and transported (middle) to the incineration (right). Photos: Lotta Ruokanen.
Sewage sludge in Gdansk is digested (left), dewatered and transported (middle) to the incineration (right). Photos: Lotta Ruokanen.