River Watch
River Watch

River Watch Network
on the Gulf of Finland Shores
Olga Senova & Vera Ovcharenko

Children of the Baltic, St.Petersburg, Russia

River Watch network in Eastern part of the Gulf of Finland region within the St.Petersburg area and Leningrad oblast was established by Children of the Baltic NGO in 1994 and unites teachers, students, schoolchildren, specialists, members of the NGOs, local environmental clubs and groups.

River Watch activists work on the rivers: Gluhovka, Karasta, Kikenka, Kovash, Lebjazhja, Luga, Lebjazhja, Sestra, Slavyanka, Strelka, Popovka, Vybja, Voronka, Tchernaya, Tyzva; on the Gostilitsy and Kipen springs, Kipen lake, Ropsha ponds, brooks of nature reserves "Kurgalsky" and "Beresovye islands", on the Gulf of Finland shores. They work in different forms: investigate water quality, observe coastal nature, organize Cleaning Up actions, organize seminars for teachers and for young activists.

On one hand River Watch activities serve for it's participants as a tool for environmental education, on the other hand results of investigations are used for educating local inhabitants, attracting attention of residents, influencing to solve the local environmental problems.

There is very unfavourable situation in St.Petetsrburg region concerning low environmental conditions of the rivers coasts and bad water quality of small rivers, which flow to the Gulf of Finland. There is no at all any approaches to river basin management both on the regional and local level and almost no public participation in the decision making on the local level.

During their investigation River Watch activists meet many alarming situations and try to change situation - by application to the local and request to solve the problems, by influencing to the local people, educating them concerning importance of the rivers in their life, importance of changing their own behavior in the everyday life concerning nature and rivers.

We'd like to show some more or less typical situations which we meet on the rivers:

1. Kipen village is situated at a distance of 27 kilometers from the South shore of the Gulf of Finland. There is a dairy farm of the stock farm "Kipen" which pour off waste-water directly to the Strelka river sources. NGO "Children of the Baltic" and local Youth environmental club "Domovjonok" addressed the official letter on this situation to the local authorities and the result was: a) administration of stock farm was fined; b) administration was recommended to switch the dairy farm to another place where no rivers and springs. In Autumn 2002 this dairy farm was closed.

2. There was a lot of illegal dump sites on the territory of collective gardening which are located on the Strelka river banks. Several of them were liquidated thanks an interaction NGO "Children of the Baltic", "Green World", Youth environmental club "Domovyonok" with local authorities in September 2002. Administration of one of the biggest collective gardening has got the directive to install the containers and arrange removing garbage to the legal dump-site. However this directive haven't executed so far.

3. Very similar situation concerning garbage was on the Karasta river on the market square in the Lomonosov town. Since 1996 Children of the Baltic organized the course of public actions "Help Karasta River" - cleaning up the river and collecting signatures about river importance and necessity to protect it. One of the results was that town administration organized cleaning up the river with technical tools and organized collecting of the garbage produced by market -people.

4. The terrible ecological situation on the Kipen lake rouses to us the special anxiety. Kipen lake is the only and favorite place for swimming and rest for inhabitants of the nearest villages. Some years ago this lake was the cleanest lake in Lomonosov district. But last time a lot of people come to the lake in summer time and leave after that a lot of rubbish. They wash their cars in the lake, crumple grass, destroy road, make bonfires, break glass bottle on the beach.

Situation was changed this year. Local business rented the lake coast and started to organize the recreation zone there, construct the beach and beach service. We are very interested in the result and wish them success. Unfortunately the problem of the cleaning up of our rivers and lakes and their coasts is not solved finally - they are mostly full of garbage and local governments have no special programs to solve this problem.

Extremely disgrace situation took place in Gorbunki village in 1999. The river-bed was changed illegally - without any permissions of Committee for Nature Protection and local authorities. Representatives of NGO "Children of the Baltic", Youth environmental club "Domovyonok" had several meetings with head of environmental department of

Lomonosov district administration and head of district sanitary inspection. They found out and explained us the formal reason - that river-bed was changed because the Strelka river in this place loops and runs very closely to the bus stop and closely to water pipeline which supply population of Gorbunki with drinking water. To not destroy the bus stop and water pipe-line the local municipals where forced to change the river bad.

This situation looks very alarming - this reason was not supported with any expertise, any documents. The changing of the river-bed was made against legal procedure without any permissions - but even when this situation was found out - nobody was punished.

Very often River Watch activists see the vegetable gardens and compost heaps on the coast, savage from the toilet cesspool to the river - but the water protecting legislation is so imperfect that absolutely no legal procedure to punish culprits and stop negative actions on the river coasts..

Summary of the problems which our River Watch network ascertained:

- ignorance and wrong people behavior concerning rivers;
- luck of river protection legislation;
- luck of legal procedures for implementation of existing nature protection legislation;
- non-understanding among authorities necessity of river basin criteria and approaches for the strategy planning and absence of such criteria and approaches in Russian theory and practice.

What we are doing to change situation?

We attract attention of youth, public and local authorites to the rivers problems by public actions in the local areas, cleaning up actions on the rivers and Gulf coasts, bike actions and bus campaigns.

We inform people about the environmental situation in the Gulf of Finland region and Baltic region in the whole, about importance of rivers for the sea ecosystem, for the human life.

We educate them on the environmental friendly lifestyle by the leaflets, booklets, video-films, publications in mass-media. We made with the support of CCB the videofilms "River of Our Hope" about Karasta river and children nature protection activity, "From Coast to Coast" about youth environmental co-operation in the Baltic-Scandinavian region, " Children from the Baltic Coast" about nature and cultural objects, including our rivers, protected by local youth groups. We distribute these films among teachers, local NGOs, involving them to the River Watch activities.

We publish information and methodical brochures for teachers, organize methodical seminars on the River Watch methods.

We establish contacts with local authorities, work in the local committees for strategy planning, participate in the public hearings, try to influence to the decision-making process concerning our rivers and drainage areas.

So, we try to work both for promotion sustainable river management and for changing public awareness, forming environment friendly people behavior concerning river protection. Unfortunately our work in the first direction is not yet very successful - we and our country in the whole are in the very beginning on this way.

Second direction - is our traditional mission. To change public awareness we involve to our River Watch network more and more local activists, teachers, schoolchildren, give them methodical support, take more small rivers under the public protection. We develop forms and methods for work with public - actions, publications, individual consultations in the St.Petersburg Public Center for Environmental Information. We develop co-operation with scientists, deputies, and all other actors, which can give their personal contribution to the rivers protection.

Cooperation in the frame of Coalition Clean Baltic, methodical exchange and developing common approaches and criteria for river protection and river basin management is important tool for saving our rivers and our common Baltic region.

Hoping for cooperation,

Olga Senova
Children of the Baltic Council chairwoman

Vera Ovtcharenko
River Watch network leader
President of Youth Environmental club Domovyenok