Water protection programme

The programme to enhance the effectiveness of water protection, led by the Ministry of the Environment, aims to make Finland a world leader in effective water protection.

With this programme, we are taking action for the benefit of waters that will make an impact:

  • we reduce the discharge of nutrients from agriculture to waters,
  • we develop the management of water economy in agriculture and forestry,
  • we restore water bodies,
  • we develop the management of urban waters,
  • we clean up shipwrecks that are hazardous to the environment, and
  • we fund research and development.

Finland is rich in surface waters, with 187,888 lakes (more than 500 square metres in size) and tens of thousands of kilometres of rivers and streams. Almost a tenth of the country area is covered with water.

The status of most Finnish waters is good or excellent, with the exception of the coastal waters of the Baltic Sea. The law requires that the status of waters must be at least good and the status of waters must not deteriorate. Water protection is guided by water management plans and the marine strategy adopted by the Government. Eutrophication is still the greatest challenge in water protection.

In 2018 the Finnish Government decided to allocate EUR 69 million in funding to enhance water protection in 2019–2023. The programme to enhance water protection brings together the relevant actors, ensures funding for the measures and creates continuity to water protection. The programme funds the most effective measures to improve the status of waters, strengthens cooperation between the different actors and introduces new practices and methods.

The next steps after the programme period are also under preparation. The work for the benefit of waters will be even more effectively linked to the other elements of environmental policy, such as mitigating climate change, halting biodiversity loss, achieving carbon neutrality, and nutrient recycling. Water protection with a long-term perspective will be a permanent part of the activities and objectives of municipalities, companies and civil society.

Themes of the programme

Agriculture

The programme to enhance the effectiveness of water protection uses new innovative means to reduce nutrient emissions from agriculture. The measures are targeted to catchments of agricultural regions and land areas adjacent to water bodies.

Extensive gypsum treatment has been started on coastal arable lands that are critical in terms of the loading of the Baltic Sea. The spreading is carried out on application by landowners and entirely with state funding.

The Ministry of the Environment has also implemented research and development projects on the use of structural lime and fibre sludge in specific catchment areas. The impact of soil improvers on nutrient loading from agriculture is being monitored in a follow-up project in 2022–2023. A guide and other advisory material on the use and proper targeting of soil improvers have been drawn up for farmers, agricultural experts, advisers and others interested in water protection.

Restoration of waters and regional networks of experts

Regional Environment Centres have awarded government grants to support hundreds of local and regional projects to restore lakes, small water bodies and flowing waters in different parts of Finland. We also strengthen the operations of water restoration networks and promote the establishment of new ones. Through the networks we can activate various stakeholders involved in water protection and increase our expertise in restoration.

Water management in agriculture and forestry

Finland is a land of forests, fields and waters. Better water management in agriculture and forestry, including nature-based means for this, reduce loading to waters, contribute to climate change adaptation and promote biodiversity.

Instead of individual water bodies, our aim is to target water protection measures to whole catchment areas from which waters flow to the water bodies. Operating on the level of catchments enables us to take better into account the needs of both agriculture and forestry and water protection. To promote this, we support the development of catchment-based water management through pilots.

Urban waters and harmful substances

Municipalities and cities have an important role in reducing the emissions of harmful substances to waters.

Grants have been awarded to projects to improve the treatment of sewered urban wastewater, to establish the presence of harmful substances, and to reduce the levels of harmful substances in urban runoff water and sewage overflow and the harm this may cause. The programme also shares information on the presence and impacts of harmful substances and quality of urban runoff with the key stakeholders.

In the future, water management objectives must be even more closely linked to urban spatial planning.

Nutrient loading of the Baltic Sea and harmful substances

The Finnish Environment Institute is coordinating a research project that aims to improve the state of coastal waters by producing new information on the type, movement and storage of nutrient loading coming to the Archipelago Sea and on its impacts on marine ecosystems. The project is implemented in cooperation with several research institutes.

Cleanup of shipwrecks

The programme has also identified a significant new environmental risk: in the near future, shipwrecks in Finland’s territorial waters may become a source of oil spills. In the territorial waters and exclusive economic zone of Finland there are over a thousand old shipwrecks that have used oil as their fuel or have carried oil or other hazardous substances.

The Finnish Environment Institute, the Finnish Border Guard and the Finnish Navy have carried out a joint project to identify sites suitable for oil removal and to clean up shipwrecks. A background study was conducted on the responsibilities of the authorities related to oil spill cleanup operations, and a market survey was conducted on Finnish and foreign operators that could carry out an oil spill cleanup operation based on competitive tendering.

More information

Antton Keto, Programme Manager 
Ministry of the Environment, Department of the Natural Environment 0295250148  


Jenni Jäänheimo, Senior Specialist 
Ministry of the Environment, Department of the Natural Environment, Water resources and marine protection 0295250349  


Sini Olin, Senior Specialist 
Ministry of the Environment, Department of the Natural Environment, Water resources and marine protection 0295250248