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Restoration of the water regime of the Kurtna lakes damaged by oil shale extraction


Kurtna järvestiku Maa-ameti kaart Image: Maa-ameti kaardirakendus

The project will restore the water regime of the Kurtna Lake District, raising the water level of lakes affected by water abstraction, restoring typical lake biota, and achieving good ecological status of the lakes.

Ida-Viru County continues to be influenced by its specific industrial background – the mining and processing of oil shale and other mineral resources. Water bodies under the influence of the oil shale industry are predominantly in poor or bad condition, including the Kurtna lakes. The most direct impact comes from the pumping and drainage of water from mines and quarries, which affects the quantity and quality of both surface water and groundwater.

Major negative human impacts on the lakes started already in the last century with the opening of the Ahtme, Viru, and Estonia mines. There is a scarcity of clean water resources in the area due to the groundwater regime having been disturbed by mining activities, and the Kurtna-Vasavere water intake in the middle of the lake basin, which supplies drinking water to the Kohtla-Järve districts of Ahtme, Järve, Kukruse, and Oru and the City of Jõhvi, has a significant impact on the water levels of lakes around the water intake. The water levels in the Kurtna lakes have been fluctuating and declining for decades, threatening the lakes and their biota and potentially leading to the eventual loss of European Habitats Directive (FFHD) lake habitats and irreversible deterioration of the lakes.

In 2019, a study commissioned by the Environmental Board, ‘Hydrogeological and limnological study for determination of the allowed range of water level fluctuations for lakes under protection of the Habitats Directive in the Kurtna Landscape Conservation Area’, identified that the fluctuation of the water levels in the Kurtna lakes is influenced by the water discharge from the Vasavere water intake, determined the optimum water level range for the maintenance of the FFHD lake and its habitat type, and recommended the construction of a new water intake to ensure optimum water levels and improvement of the lakes.

The water regime restoration project will carry out the necessary studies to restore the water regime of the Kurtna lakes:

  • a hydrogeological study to assess groundwater resources and the establishment of groundwater resources;
  • studies to specify technical activities; 
  • a study to assess the impact of technical activities after their implementation.

Technical activities will also be carried out:

  • the construction of new boreholes within the intake and the necessary infrastructure for their operation;
  • the construction of water intake infrastructure; 
  • the removal of organic matter from the shoreline of lakes; 
  • the closing of ditches, etc.

The project will improve the living environment and make the area more attractive. The activities will be carried out under the leadership of the EIC from 2024–2029.

Kurtna järvestiku Maa-ameti kaart
Kurtna Lake District. Photo: Map application of the Land Board

The project will be financed by the Just Transition Fund.

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