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BSR WATER cooperation culminating at the final conference

24 September, 2021 - 15:15

The BSR WATER Final Conference was held online on 15-16 September. Gathering ca. 140 experts, decision-makers and practitioners from different countries across the Baltic Sea, the event was filled with interesting presentations as well as insightful panel discussions related to smart water management in the region. During the conference, the attendees also had the opportunity to actively engage in discussions, visiting a virtual exhibition on BSR WATER’s different outputs, and networking with each other.

The conference marked the end of a 3-year-platform project led by the Union of the Baltic Cities Sustainable Cities Commission and funded by Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme. BSR WATER provided a platform for exchanging knowledge, experiences and best practices for practitioners and decision-makers in the region. It also significantly contributed to the regional policy dialogue by developing recommendations around the topics of stormwater management, nutrient recycling and hazardous substances. The platform synthesised in its cooperation the results and experiences of 7 contributing projects: IWAMA, BEST, iWater, Reviving Baltic Resilience, Manure Standards, VillageWaters and CliPLivE. The BSR WATER resulted in 111 examples of smart water operation, 8 innovative approaches to the water cycle, over 40 events, and it has reached out to more than 6000 practitioners and decision-makers in BSR. The main output ensuring that the cooperation can live on after the platform’s closure is the Baltic Smart Water Hub, an online portal, which enables the exchange of practical experiences and promotion of local achievements.

Setting the scene and diving into the resource-efficiency of the wastewater treatment sector

As the hosts and facilitators of the event, it was the City of Turku and UBC Sustainable Cities Commission that had the pleasure of opening the conference. In his speech, the Head of SCC Secretariat Björn Grönholm congratulated BSR WATER for being able to exchange knowledge and continue the work despite the challenging circumstances caused by COVID-19. The importance of close cooperation and high ambition were strongly highlighted in the speeches of other guests as well: Trudy Higgins from the European Commission agreed that platforms like BSR WATER have an important role in policy making not only on regional level but on European level. Natalia Tretiakova from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation, Anna Hernberg from the Ministry of the Environment in Finland and Lotta Ruokanen from HELCOM also extended their congratulations on the BSR WATER achievements, especially its ability to provide a unique platform for strengthening the dialogue between different stakeholders in the region.

With the platform cooperation established along several large water topics, the two-day-programme was divided into four different sessions. The first session focused on shifting wastewater treatment to the resource recovery model. As the introduction from Anna Hernberg, EUSBSR PA Nutri set the regional scene, the presentation from HELCOM followed, with the updates on the Baltic Sea Action Plan and the vision for the HELCOM Regional Nutrient Recycling Strategy being the focal points of Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky’s presentation. Sustainable and efficient nutrient recycling is not only an important part of reducing the eutrophication in the Baltic Sea – it can also increase the resource efficiency of the regional water sector and create viable business opportunities. The challenge is however that sewage sludge often contains harmful substances, which can pose a risk for human health. Taavo Tenno from the University of Tartu targeted this challenge in his presentation on how nutrients could be safely and sustainably recycled from the wastewater, introducing different solutions to phosphorus recovery, depending on the size of the wastewater plant. The publication “Palette of solutions for nutrient recycling in the BSR” is one of the main outputs of the BSR WATER platform and a key contribution to the development of the Nutrient Recycling Strategy.

Resource efficiency in wastewater treatment can be reached through various means, depending on the plant's specifics and interests – and so the session also emphasized the opportunities for recovering energy and other valuable compounds from wastewater. Matthias Barjenbruch from the Technische Uniersität Berlin noted that there is great energy potential in water management, and demonstrated several examples on how WWTPs could improve their energy efficiency either by decreasing energy usage or by increasing energy production. Efficiency was also the key term in Dmitri Troshenko’s (SUE “Vodokanal of St. Petersburg”) presentation on how St. Petersburg, the biggest water consumer in the region, has managed to improve the eco-efficiency of water management by installing modern technologies and raising awareness on the topic. The line of presentations culminated with Markus Raudkivi from the University of Tartu presenting the holistic approach to resource efficiency in another output of BSR WATER: the “Guidelines of on integrated model for Water-Sludge-Energy cooperation”, the publication showing how WWTPs can increase the re-use opportunities at different points of the water cycle and thus meet the challenges and emerging needs caused by the climate change.

The presentations were followed by a lively panel discussion where experts from Finland, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands discussed the resource aspect of wastewater treatment: the challenges and possibilities that come with it. The panel, moderated by Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, involved water operators and companies developing or applying technologies raising WWTPs’ resource efficiency: Kati Blomberg (Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority), Pim de Jager (AQUACARE), Lise Karstenskov Hughes (Aarhus Vand A/S), Jouko Tuomi (Turku Region Wastewater Ltd.), Pär Larshans (Ragn-Sells), Erkan Yalcin (TerraNova Energy GmbH). The panellists agreed that the legislation is crucial to not only regulate the actions and future goals of the WWTPs but also to create a market for recycled products such as fertilizers and energy for both larger and smaller businesses. Innovations are naturally seen very important in this process as well, and every plant should strive to become energy neutral, if not energy positive, in the future.

Site visits, but virtually

The in-depth expert discussions of the morning were balanced with a virtual trip around the Baltic Sea visiting different examples of urban climate adaptation. The tour started in St. Petersburg with the citizen-engaging Clean Beach campaign, launched together with Tallinn, Helsinki and Turku. Svetlana Tochanskaya (SC “Mineral”) emphasized that the campaign aimed to not only clean the coastal territories, but also strengthen youth involvement and cooperation as well as to improve the ecological culture of the citizens, also taking into consideration the HELCOM Marine Litter Action Plan. Up next was the City of Riga with Nika Kotoviča presenting the examples of green infrastructure-based solutions, highlighting integrated and holistic stormwater management approach in the city. The tour continued to Gdansk and Magda Kasprzyk from Gdansk University of Technology showcasing several nature-based solutions for stormwater management.

Moving clockwise further, the tours from Germany, Finland and the Netherlands brought the nutrient recycling innovations from the BONUS RETURN project already introduced in the previous session. The virtual trip went full circle, ending in St. Petersburg with the presentation of the flood prevention facility complex.

Safety from both upstream and downstream

The second conference day launched the discussion on hazardous substances, moderated by Eva Iveroth from EUSBSR PA Hazards. This overarching topic included the goals to prevent pollution, reduce the use of hazardous substances and to mitigate and remediate existing contamination. The topic was presented from both the regional policy level and transnational cooperation solutions.

When outlining the HELCOM action on micropollutants in effluent of wastewater treatment plants, Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky highlighted the input from two projects: BSR WATER platform and CWPharma project. The session further brought even more projects that have addressed the issue of hazardous substances in municipal and industrial wastewater stream, introducing their recommendations for the industrial side of the cooperation (project BEST: Anna Saarentaus, John Nurminen Foundation), technical solutions for f.ex. purifying leachate from PFAS (Reviving Baltic Resilience project: Anna Sorelius, NSR AB) and recommendations to mitigate input of pharmaceuticals to the Baltic Sea (CWPharma project: Noora Perkola, SYKE). Up-stream measures were demonstrated as well through the achievements of the NonHazCity project, presented by Heidrun Fammler from the Baltic Environmental Forum, as this project targeted municipalities and public procurement measures, as well as private households, raising awareness and providing training.

The panel brought all the presenters in the discussion, which emphasized that action is key and that hazardous substances need to be acknowledged and controlled at every point of the management cycle. Not all hazardous substances can be targeted at the same time with current technology, magnifying the importance of new innovations and the need to improve the information flow. All parties noted challenges with sharing data, causing unnecessary delays and costs in operations. The agreement was also reached on the importance of reassessing environmental permits as well as making eco-labeled products obligatory for public procurement – the topics that should be improved as a joint effort in the region.

Blue-green infrastructure improving climate resilience

Adaptation to climate change by proper management of stormwater systems was the theme of the last session, moderated by Magdalena Gajewska, Gdansk University of Technology, who stressed the importance of sharing common goals and a common strategy, which was further emphasized by other presenters. Valdur Lahtvee from the Council of the Baltic Sea States showcased the new EU Climate Adaptation Strategy and explained how the CBSS facilitates climate policy dialogue in the Baltic Sea Region, engaging various stakeholders and supporting capacity building on achieving low-carbon and resilient region through projects such as iWater. This was followed by a presentation by Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky presenting HELCOM’s recommendations on reduction of discharges from urban areas by the proper management of storm water systems, which, in its revised form, now highlights prioritising the integrated approach. The input in the review of this recommendation was another great achievement of BSR WATER, being based on the accumulated knowledge and experiences through the partner organisations’ work and the transnational projects implemented in the region.

Further in the session, Nika Kotoviča introduced the BSR WATER output “Policy recommendations for implementing the integrated stormwater management in the BSR” which include both the practical recommendations for introducing a holistic approach to stormwater management in a city, and the legislative overview for the whole region.

Other sustainable stormwater management examples highlighted strategies and solutions for extreme weather events in Gdansk (Ryszard Gajewski, Gdansk Water company), nature-based solutions and tools implemented in Helsinki (Kajsa Rosqvist, City of Helsinki) and Turku (Kristiina Karppi, City of Turku), as well as similar solutions implemented in Moscow’s urban planning (Aleksey Sayanov, Landscape Engineers Guild).

The cooperation continues

Closing the conference, two presentations highlighted the potentials of future cooperation. Elena Kolosova from the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme shed a light on future funding possibilities explaining the programme’s focus on putting in practice innovative, water-smart and climate neutral solutions through transnational cooperation for the benefit of citizens across the Baltic Sea Region.

At the same time, another BSR WATER output – the Baltic Smart Water Hub portal – launched to disseminated further the local achievements and successful project outputs, continues its work even after the platform’s end. Mariia Andreeva from the UBC Sustainable Cities Commission emphasized that the Hub is supported by the Commission and will continue aiding experts and decision-makers in making an informed decision and promoting local excellence.

Improving the state of the Baltic Sea is our common goal, which no country or single actor can do on its own. Whilst the platform itself now comes to an end, over these three intensive years BSR WATER has shown how fruitful and powerful transnational cooperation on the environmental matters can be. The project has significantly shaped the regional policies and recommendations on water-related issues, demonstrating a unique example of an effective, goal-oriented and strong science-policy link. And, of course, the extensive cooperations and established connections around the Baltic Sea will continue for years to come in the joint effort to achieve this shared common goal.

Presentations

Opening session

Greetings from the European Commission
Trudy Higgins, Directorate General for Environment Marine Environment and Water Industry

Greetings from the HELCOM
Lotta Ruokanen, Professional Secretary

BSR WATER project introduction
Agnieszka Ilola, Project Coordinator, UBC Sustainable Cities Commission
 

Session 1: Shifting wastewater treatment to the resource recovery model

Introduction to the topic
Anna Hernberg, PA Nutri, EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

Platform contribution to the development of the regional nutrient recycling policy                 
Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, HELCOM                      

Solutions for safe and sustainable nutrient recycling from wastewater
Taavo Tenno, University of Tartu

Recovering energy and other valuable compounds from wastewater
Matthias Barjenbruch, Berlin University of Technology

Experience in improving water management and resource-saving efficiency
Dmitry Troshenko, SUE “Vodokanal of St.Petersburg”

Present vs Future: traditional wastewater treatment plant or water resource recovery facility?
Markus Raudkivi, University of Tartu
 

Session 2: Virtual tours around the Baltic Sea

International Clean Beach campaign for citizens, St. Petersburg (video)
Svetlana Tochanskaya, State Company “Mineral”

Green infrastructure-based stormwater solutions in Riga in dry weather and after a storm event (video)
Nika Kotovica, Riga City Council

Nature-based solutions for stormwater management in Gdansk (PDF) (videos)
Magda Kasprzyk, Gdansk University of Technology

Innovative technologies in nutrient recycling from Germany, Finland and the Netherlands from BONUS RETURN project (PDF) (video)
 

Session 3: Hazardous substances in municipal and industrial stream

Introduction to the topic
Eva Iveroth, PA Hazards, EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region

Platform inputs to HELCOM action on micropollutants in effluent of wastewater treatment
Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, HELCOM

Policy recommendations and pilots on industrial wastewater treatment – BEST project results
Anna Saarentaus, John Nurminen Foundation, Kajsa Rosqvist, City of Helsinki

Removal of perfluorinated alkylated substances (PFAS) from municipal landfill leachate – RBR project results
Anna Sorelius, NSR AB, Sweden

Recommendations to mitigate input of pharmaceuticals – CWPharma project results
Noora Perkola, The Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)

Source-directed measures addressing non-essential uses of hazardous substances – NonHazCity project results
Heidrun Fammler, Baltic Environmental Forum
 

Session 4: Adapting to the climate change by the proper management of storm water systems

Climate mitigation and adaptation goals of the EU Strategy for Baltic Sea Region
Valdur Lahtvee, Council of the Baltic Sea States Secretariat

Platform inputs to revision of HELCOM Recommendation 23/5 Reduction of discharges from urban areas by the proper management of storm water systems
Dmitry Frank-Kamenetsky, HELCOM

How to increase the ISWM uptake in the Baltic Sea Region – recommendations and concrete examples from Riga
Nika Kotoviča, Riga City Council

Storm water management and planning tools
Kajsa Rosqvist, City of Helsinki

Regulating green efficiency as part of climate resilient urban planning
Kristina Karppi, City of Turku

Preparing for extreme weather events with smart blue-green infrastructure in Gdansk
Ryszard Gajewski, Gdansk Water company

Integrating nature-based solutions into the urban planning in Russia
Aleksey Sayanov, Landscape Engineers Guild Moscow

 

Final session: Future cooperation

Future funding opportunities
Elena Kolosova, Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme

Baltic Smart Water Hub: concrete water solutions, expertise exchange and future cooperation
Mariia Andreeva, UBC Sustainable Cities Commission