Kaliningrad wastewater treatment plant. Photo: Dimitrijs Alehins
On 7 June 2017, Kaliningrad in Russia inaugurated its wastewater treatment plant. This is very good news for the Baltic Sea, say experts, because until very recently, this city of almost half a million people was pouring 150,000 cubic metres of raw sewage into the sea every day. What has been in the making for more than forty years is now up and running.
Kaliningrad, a harbour city of 460,000 inhabitants, is Russia’s westernmost outpost in southern Baltic, clamped between Lithuania and Poland. Until recently, it treated its sewage with technologies installed in 1928, so it is no wonder that annually the city released about 300 tonnes of phosphorus into the sea in the years preceding the opening of the new plant—approximately the same as discharges of phosphorus from Sweden, which has twenty times the population of Kaliningrad.
Equipped with state-of-the-art technologies, the new wastewater treatment plant is big enough to treat all of the city’s effluent. Although this environmental breakthrough in the southern Baltic is not passing without hiccups, adequate sludge treatment is still not in place, the plant operator, Vodokanal Kaliningrad, promises that the missing technological units are being tested, and the handling and disposal of wastewater sludge will be solved in the next few months.
Somewhat longer time will be needed to seal off discharge points that are not yet connected to the central sewer. Run-off from approximately 10% of the city’s population is not delivered to the new wastewater plant directly but is treated through septic tanks emptied into the sewerage network or through local treatment.
Since October 2016, the plant was showing excellent figures for nutrient removal: BOD (biological oxygen demand) at 2 mg/l, phosphorus at 0.21 mg/l and nitrogen at 9.8 mg/l, according to the monitoring data provided by Vodokanal Kaliningrad. This was even better than recommended by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission HELCOM.
“Removing nutrients is essential to combating the eutrophication that kills life in the Baltic Sea. You could say that this is the whole point of investing in a very costly, high-tech, modern wastewater treatment plant”, says Anna Tufvesson, Programme Manager in charge of the Swedish contribution to the project at the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
Part of a larger investment programme
Opening the wastewater treatment plant is part of the Kaliningrad Water and Environmental Services Rehabilitation investment programme. Another major component of the programme is the reconstruction and extension of the Eastern Waterworks, which supplies drinking water to the city (the project is incomplete), as well as a number of other environmental improvements.
The total cost of the Kaliningrad Water and Environmental Services Rehabilitation programme is estimated at USD 130 million, of which USD 70 million has been financed from international sources.
This amount includes grants from Sida, the Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership Fund, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency and the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation NEFCO, as well as loans from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Nordic Investment Bank.
Forty years of delays and new starts
The first attempts to build a wastewater treatment plant to replace the pre-war facility happened back in the mid-1970s, but the construction project ground to a halt fifteen years later with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 1996, the project resumed as a large-scale environmental upgrade investment programme with a preliminary study that became the basis for an international financing package. The project and plan was approved by the Russian authorities in 2002. As was requested by the Russian authorities, the loans from international financial institutions were allocated to the drinking water part of the investment programme. However, a condition has always been that the wastewater treatment plant is in operation and complies with the HELCOM recommendations.
Ms Tufvesson reflects on the project’s history:
“The approval of the new plant’s final design took several years, which also meant that the project costs increased. But once the general contractor was found, we were all hopeful—and the Russian authorities approved the initial plan—that the wastewater plant be completed in 2011 or a year later, which the international financiers thought was more realistic.”
In 2014, however, the plant was still unfinished, and the construction froze when the general contractor went bust. A new contractor that took over a year later opened the plant, still with minor defects, in December 2015.
One pollution hotspot less
Ms Tufvesson is happy that the plant is finally in operation. The new wastewater treatment plant eliminates a major pollution hotspot that has been, like few others, responsible for the dire state of the Baltic marine environment.
“A wastewater treatment plant in Kaliningrad is very good news and an undeniably major step towards a healthier Baltic Sea. As a result, the marine ecosystems of the sea will be much better protected against eutrophication and hazardous substances”, says Ms Tufvesson.
Operating at its full capacity, the Kaliningrad wastewater treatment plant will cut the BOD by 7,300 tonnes a year reduce discharges of phosphorus by 273 tonnes (both already achieved) and nitrogen by 1,400 tonnes.
“The launch of wastewater treatment in Kaliningrad indeed provides a great deal of relief for the Baltic Sea and all of us around it. It will not take too long before the positive impact of the Kaliningrad wastewater treatment plant is noticed”, says Anders Finnson, Environmental Advisor at the Swedish Water & Wastewater Association, about the inauguration.
“The most critical problems are the inflow of phosphorus and hazardous chemicals used in the Baltic Sea catchment area. The past two decades have been a tremendous success story for the Baltic Sea, as much new wastewater treatment capacity has been built in the Baltic countries, Poland and Russia, as well the upgrading of the plants in Sweden. The new wastewater treatment plants in St Petersburg remove about 90% of the phosphorus, which is really, really good. There is still need for additional smaller plants in Poland and Russia, but we see the situation improving steadily”, says Mr Finnson.
Programme Manager, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)
Anna has been in charge of the Swedish contribution to the wastewater treatment project in Kaliningrad.
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