Latvia: Practical methods to manage small rivers; ecosystem approaches applied (#412)
The Venta River lies in north-western Lithuania and western Latvia. The river with a length of 346 km is a salmon spawning site with the main spawning and nursery habitat areas situated in the middle part of the river below the Ventas Rumba waterfall. It is flowing into the Baltic Sea at Ventspils in Latvia, the source of Venta River is near Kuršėnai in the Lithuanian Šiauliai County.
Another river is the Vitrupe, which is typical a medium size river entering into the Baltic Sea at Gulf of Riga and has a length of 36 km totally accessible by salmon. The salmon and sea trout spawning and nursery habitat areas are situated in the lower and middle part of the river. There are no artificial migration obstacles, but there is one natural waterfall that only allows species that are good swimmers. These rivers belong to the Natura 2000 network and were designated as a nature protection reserves “Ventas ieleja” (the river Venta valley), “Ventas un Skerveļa ieleja”and “Vitrupes ieleja” (Valley of Vitrupe).
The issue in these two catchments is a discharge of untreated wastewater and other pollutants from industries coupled with run offs from agricultural fields. These cause pollution and the end result being eutrophication of the Baltic Sea. Addressing point sources is rather simple, but expensive since it involves expensive construction of waste water treatment plants to prevent discharge of untreated wastewater from industries and households to the surface waters. On the other hand, diffuse sources that are mainly originating from agricultural fields require cost effective landscaping measures. Such measures are unpopular among farmers. It involves setting up buffer zones around streams and rivers, leaving a ill practice of cleaning up farm machinery in streams and establishment of settling ditches before streams to mention a few.
In 2011, GWP Latvia and its NGO partner Daugavas Savieniba developed a new guideline for practical management of water streams. The guideline is the first attempt in Latvia explaining practical methods of river basin management. It addresses major problems of Latvian streams such as pollution by nitrogen and phosphorus, sedimentation, deterioration of buffer zones around streams and others. It also provides examples of innovative yet traditional methods tested during previous projects including “Place a Stone in the Stream” initiative utilizing stones to mitigate climate change. This is intended to ensure the survival of aquatic species threatened by lack of oxygen due to higher water temperature. Well placed stones slow down water flow and create favorable living conditions for the aquatic life (water fauna and flora).
The main intervention of GWP Latvia and its partners involved a training of volunteers to carry out practical works to limit algae overgrowth, remove sediment and wooden debris and improve potential spawning sites for salmon, sea trout and lampreys. The project team organized a training for river managers and voluntary river keepers followed by activities to improve hydro-morphological and biological functions of the Venta and Vitrupe Rivers.
Now, there are many volunteers involved in river restoration who are inspired by the guideline and plan to continue their work during 2012 in cooperation with local municipalities and schools.
The guideline specifically addresses the following:
• Control of eutrophication or great increase of phytoplankton in streams
• Removal of wooden debris in streams and their management
• Improvement of riparian zone functionality which is an interface between land and a river or streams
• Management of sedimentation processes
• Improvement of river self purifying capacity
• Construction of riffle areas in rivers to increase levels of oxygen proposed through innovative approach „Place a Stone in the Stream
• Improve structure and change use of adjacent landscape
• Increase diversity of aquatic habitats through installment of stone structures.
The guideline gives practical steps for river management activities on different scales, embracing both low cost local activities as well as medium scale multipurpose projects. In the future, one of the proposals is to establish a tradition of Great Cleanup Day to involve local people, volunteers and water managers in cleaning local streams and raise awareness on water issues.
Cleaning of small rivers is a simple and cost efficient technique for restoration of biological diversity which is a great opportunity to involve volunteers at the local level. The Guideline also provides a framework for river management and restoration and encourages joint efforts for implementation of activities as an inevitable part of integrated water resources management. In Latvia, the Guideline is intended to be used in school curricula for lessons of nature sciences.
The approach of cleaning small rivers brings more life into streams, more fish and birds and results in larger biological diversity improving the landscape which is more attractive not only for tourists but also for local people and fishermen.
Maris Ozolins: email@example.com
GWP Latvia and Daugavas Savieniba (NGO)
The Manual (in Latvian language) is available here