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Big lakes in good condition, coastal waters in poor condition

Long-term progress:
Human activity has modified most aquatic environments in Finland. Only around 30% of the lake surface area and 20% of rivers have a high ecological status.
Short-term progress:
No major change between the assessments of 2008 and 2013. The status of rivers has improved somewhat, whereas that of lakes and coastal waters has deteriorated. Changes in status are mainly due to changes in criteria.
Progress in relation to targets:
The aim is to achieve good or high status for all waters. Originally, this target was supposed to be met as early as 2015.

Rivers, lakes and coastal waters in ecological status categories in 2013

Ecological status categories.
The calculation for rivers is based on river length and for lakes and coastal waters on surface area. Source: SYKE, ELY Centers and Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute. 2013.

Surface waters by ecological status in Finland 2013

Surface waters by ecological status.
Source: The Assessment of the ecological status of Finland’s surface waters 2013. SYKE, ELY Centers and Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute. 2013. Map: National Land Survey of Finland, permit number 7/MML/12.

Eutrophication a major problem

The ecological status of lakes and rivers in Northern Finland, and big lakes throughout the country, is mainly good or high, whereas many small lakes in Southern Finland suffer from eutrophication.

High nutrient concentrations are also degrading the status of rivers. The state of rivers is further affected by hydropower systems and other constructions. Almost all of Finland's major rivers flowing into the Baltic Sea have been altered in this way and their original migrant fish populations are extinct. The aim of the first stage of the Fish Passage Strategy adopted in 2012 is to restore fish passages past 55 dams on 20 watercourses.

On the coast, not a single sea area is of high status. In particular, the status of the Archipelago Sea and the Gulf of Finland is alarming. However, the status of the easternmost part of the Gulf of Finland has improved in recent years, thanks to water protection measures and more efficient wastewater treatment in St. Petersburg in particular.

In October 2013, the Baltic Marine Environment Commission (HELCOM)'s ministerial meeting agreed on strict country-specific targets for reducing the quantities of nutrients into the Baltic Sea. These targets are to be met by 2021. Finland's targets for nitrogen and phosphorus reduction were approximately doubled from previous levels. In order to attain these targets, nutrient run-off must be reduced more efficiently, particularly in agriculture.

A long way to go to achieve ‘good’ status in all water bodies

The 2013 ecological assessment of surface waters accords a good or high status to 85% of the surface area of Finnish lakes, and 65% of rivers. Only a quarter of coastal waters achieved the same status.

A similar status assessment is performed in all EU countries. The Water Framework Directive of the EU aims to achieve at least a good status for all waters by 2015. This goal has already been compromised for Finland and other countries. A new target is under preparation for a number of water bodies for either 2021 or 2027.

The previous survey, the first ever, was completed in 2008. Between the two surveys, the share of rivers achieving at least a good status has increased from 51% to 65%. This improvement is mainly due to changes in the criteria for various categories and, to a minor extent, the improved state of rivers.

Of the total surface area of lakes, 88% achieved a good or high status in 2008. In the 2013 survey, the proportion of such lakes slightly decreased to 85%. This change is mainly due to the inclusion in the 2013 survey of more small lakes than before, which are more susceptible to eutrophication than large lakes.

No coastal areas achieved a high status, while the proportion of those with a good status decreased from 36% to 25% between the two surveys. This change is due to changes in criteria, since the 2008 survey was based on preliminary criteria that have since been adjusted and integrated.

New water resources management plans

The ecological assessment of surface waters provides a basis for water resources management plans and helps to direct water protection measures.

Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment are preparing new water resources management plans for 2016–2021. Draft plans will be published in October 2014 and left open for comments for six months. Final approval of the plans will occur at the end of 2015.

The aim of water resources management plans is to achieve at least good status for all waters.


  • The Assessment of the ecological status of Finland’s surface waters 2013. Finnish Environment Institute, ELY Centers and Finnish Game and Fisheries Research Institute. 2013.


Published 2015-11-16 at 14:28, updated 2021-02-02 at 13:44