Transboundary management of the Narva River Basin

Posted on 2.07.2019

Another exchange of experience for the Dniester project team

Briefly on the Narva River Basin and the Lake Peipus

The main water bodies on the border of Estonia and Russia are Lake Peipus (Lake Peipsi), including Pihkva and Lämmijärv, as well as the Narva River and its reservoir. The good condition of this basin is especially important for both countries due to its direct influence on the Gulf of Finland in the eastern part of the Baltic Sea.

Lake Peipus, with an area of 3,500 km², is the largest transboundary lake in Europe. Slightly less than a half of the lake is located in Estonia. The Narva River, in turn, presents a 77-km water border line between the Leningrad region (Russia) and the Estonian cities of Narva and Narva-Jõesuu. The reservoir is of great importance energy-wise because of the hydro and thermal power plants built on its shores.

The main problems of the basin are water pollution and dryness of a part of the Narva’s riverbed. Both parties understand the vital importance of wastewater treatment and diffuse pollution control, especially given the fish richness of Lake Peipus. It is important to note that despite the high loads in 2008-2018, the Tartu treatment system continues to prove its effectiveness and maintains nitrogen and phosphorus levels at an acceptable level.

The problem of a dry riverbed is also actively discussed by the parties of transboundary cooperation. A dam on the Narva River divides the river into three parts, which has led to the formation of a dry channel on the Estonian side. For now, the problem is under consideration by the parties due to various economic, historical and legal reasons.


Hydrological regime of the rivers

The Estonian Environmental Protection Agency has been using the SWAT model to forecast runoff and water level based on hydrological data from the Narva River since 1920.

The Narva River ranks first in terms of water flow volume. Spring floods are mainly formed by melting snow, and for most rivers this occurs simultaneously from March to April, with the exception of rivers with highly regulated flows – Narva and Emajõgi. Summer low water usually begins in mid-June and ends in mid-September or early October, but the Narva and Emajõga rivers are again an exception. The winter and summer minimum runoff values are almost the same.

There is enough water in Estonia due to the climatic conditions and the small population. Fresh water is available both from underground and surface water bodies.


How is transboundary basin management carried out?

The main governing body is the international Russian-Estonian Commission for the Protection and Rational Use of Transboundary Waters (Peipsi Commission), established on the basis of the 1997 Agreement between the Government of the Russian Federation and the Government of the Republic of Estonia on cooperation in the field of protection and rational use of transboundary waters.

The Peipsi Commission is also guided by the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (1992), the Policy Guidance Note on the Benefits of Transboundary Water Cooperation: Identification, Assessment and Communication (2015) and the following principles:

  • if there is a common interest in the problem, a general solution can be found;
  • the need to seek benefits from transboundary cooperation (environmental, economic, diplomatic).

At the moment, the Estonian side suggests updating the 1997 Agreement to control water bodies in accordance with the basin principle, but the issue requires additional negotiations between the parties.


Is there a difference between the work of the Dniester Commission and the Peipsi Commission?


The Peipsi Commission has specialists from some public agencies that are not represented in the Dniester Commission.

In particular, the Commission includes representatives of such bodies:

  • Ministry of the Environment;
  • Ministry of the Economy;
  • Regional Environmental Office;
  • Environmental Inspectorate – to ensure control over compliance with the implementation of decisions made by the commission;
  • Police and Border Guard Department.


Photo: Meeting at the Estonian Environmental Protection Agency.

Left to right: Peeter  Ennet, Chief Specialist, Data Management Department, Environmental Protection Agency; Lara Podkuiko, Adviser of the Water Resources Department of the Ministry of the Environment of Estonia; Olexandr Tarasenko, Head of the Department for Coordination of International Projects and Deputy Director of the Department of Strategies and European Integration of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine; Mariana Codreanu, Acting Head of the Water Resources Management Department, Agency “Apele Moldovei”; Harry Liiv, Vice-Chancellor of the Ministry of the Environment of Estonia; Jaak Rohtsalu, Deputy Director of the Environmental Protection Agency; Аnna Põrh, Chief Specialist, Department of Hydrology, Environmental Protection Agency; Mari Sepp, Head of the Department for Analysis of Environmental Information of the Environmental Protection Agency; Nadejda Mazur, National Project Coordinator of the GEF Dniester project in Moldova.


The Peipsi Commission does not have an official website, unlike the Dniester Commission.

In Estonia, all information on the work of the Peipsi Commission is published on the website of the Estonian Ministry of the Environment in Estonian (+ Russian versions of the protocols).

The Russian side posts news about the meetings of the Peipsi Commission on the website of the Neva-Ladoga Basin Administration.

All communication is organized in the state languages of the participating countries with translation.



Each party plans the budget separately. The Estonian model envisages a special budget from the Ministry of the Environment to ensure that the work is carried out.


Joint management plan

In 2006-2008, the GEF project developed a joint management plan. But due to issues of joint budgeting, each side works according to its own plan and reports on the activities included in these plans.



Monitoring is carried out on the basis of a monitoring program drawn up by a working group and approved by the Peipsi Commission. The monitoring program is drawn up for three years.

It is particularly interesting that since 2013 the countries have regularly participated in comparative trials and exchanged internal (national) data. In accordance with international standards, criteria for assessing the coincidence of results were developed (EN ISO / IEC 17043: 2010, Conformity assessment- general requirements for proficiency testing).

Photo: laboratory of the Center for Environmental Research (Tartu).


Settlement of HPP Issues

During the Soviet era, the Narva hydroelectric complex of PJSC TGK-1 was built on the Narva River, and it is managed by the Russian Federation. The regulation of the reservoir regimes is carried out according to the rules for the operation of the reservoir established by the latter. The participants of the trip learned several interesting facts:

  • the level of water fluctuations in the reservoir within 10 cm is reflected in the Operating Rules and agreed by the Estonian side with the Russian Federation. Despite the fact that the Operating Rules are an internal document of the Russian Federation, the party actively interacts with Estonian specialists and regularly exchanges information on reaching the maximum water level or on the facts of floating islands;
  • expeditionary works are carried out jointly on the gates on the reservoir (questions of cleaning or lifting); Estonia, on its side, has raised the coast, leveled the surfaces, beveled the slopes;
  • Estonia maintains order on its half of the dam, as it physically belongs to Estonia;
  • exchange of experience between technical specialists is carried out;
  • the issue of ecological runoff is also jointly agreed (e.g., for eel habitats).


A bit more useful information

Below you can check out several Peipsi Commission documents for a better understanding of collaboration:

  1. «Transboundary Collaboration Overview»;
  2. «Promising areas of scientific and applied research»;

This trip was carried out as part of an experience exchange tour for specialists and participants of the Dniester project of the Global Environmental Facility, which is being implemented by the UNDP and the OSCE, with the support of the UNECE. The secretaries of the Dniester Commission took part in the exchange:

  • Mariana Codreanu, Acting Head of the Water Resources Management Department, Agency “Apele Moldovei”, Secretary of the Moldovan part of the Dniester Commission,‎;
  • Olexandr Tarasenko, Head of the Department for Coordination of International Projects and Deputy Director of the Department of Strategies and European Integration of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine, Secretary of the Ukrainian part of the Dniester Commission,;
  • Nadejda Mazur, National Project Coordinator of the GEF Dniester project in Moldova,


If you have any additional questions about the specifics of the Peipsi Commission or other results of the study trip of the Dniester project team, please contact any of the representatives of the Secretariat of the Dniester Commission.

You can find the results of the study visit to Australia here