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Lack of rain lowers river, lake, sea water levels

Dry weather condition in recent weeks have caused water levels to drop in lakes and rivers, as well as along Finland's Baltic Sea coast.

Kivikkoinen ranta Mansikkalahdessa Kotkassa.
Sea level at Kotka's Mansikkalahti beach was exceptionally low in mid-September. Image: Kalle Purhonen / Yle
Yle News

Water levels have dropped significantly in Finland's rivers, lakes and coastal areas.

In southwestern Finland, the level of waters in rivers especially are at record lows.

Juha-Pekka Triipponen, a water management expert at the Southwest Finland Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment says that not only river waters, but also seawater levels have dropped.

"Sea water levels have fallen by up to 50 centimetres from normal. That's already a fairly rare reading. Not every year is the water level this low," he told Yle.

Nationwide problem

According to Triipponen, water levels are falling in other parts of Finland, as well.

"I don't know the exact situation nationally, but in southern Finland the situation is more or less the same everywhere," he added.

Low water levels are a problem especially for boaters with underwater barriers such as stones and sand banks blocking familiar routes.

Triipponen describes the situation as atypical, but not unprecedented. Fresh rains, though, are unlikely to right the situation any time soon.

"There is such a lack of moisture in the soil that the first 20 millimetres of rain will be absorbed directly into the ground," Triipponen explains.

Bodies of water of different sizes react differently to low rainfall.

For example, the massive Lake Saimaa system has its own rhythm for when the water rises and when it falls, says Visa Niittyniemi, head of water resources at the Southeast Finland Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment .

"Now, as of the middle of September, the surface level of Lake Saimaa is 10 centimetres lower than normal. People's perception of the level being exceptionally low is due to the fact that over the past few years the waters of Lake Saimaa have been above the average level. There are still 40 centimetres to go from the current situation to the lower limit of the normal value," Niittyniemi points out.

In general, large inland waters are not exceptionally low at the moment.

The situation is different, however for small bodies of water. In rivers and small streams, low water levels may have an effect on the spawning of migratory fish.

"If the waters are warm and low at the same time, the situation is bad for the fish," Niittyniemi says.

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Merimaisema syksyllä Kokkolan Halkokarilla.
The recent lack of rain was evident along Kokkola's shoreline on Saturday, September 10. Image: Sari Möller / Yle

Running aground

Boaters at the Turku Yacht Club are well aware of the drop in sea level.

"The water level does go down every autumn, but it's quite strange that the water level is this low," says Irma Varjonen, who has been boating in the area for 30 years.

"In general, boaters know how to follow navigation markers and are even used to shallow waters," adds Leif Kronberg. Even so, he says, many boaters have been having difficulties due to the low water level and some boats have run aground.

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Leif Kronberg kurottautuu purjeveneeseensä, toinen jalka laiturilla, toinen veneessä, Turun Pursiseuran rannassa.
Leif Kronberg has a berth for his boat in the harbour of the Turku Yacht Club. The water level there has been low this autumn. Image: Arttu Kuivanen / Yle

Further up the Gulf of Bothnia, the sea level has also been usually low at Vaasa, where Antti Stig says that even experienced boaters have been encountering unexpected subsurface rocks.

"I don't remember the water level continuing to drop for so long. The water is often higher in autumn. This is rare," Stig commented to Yle

Stig says he himself has measured water levels as much as 45 centimetres below average.

"The shallowest channels can be difficult for a big boat, but with a small boat you can still move through the shallows," he explained.

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Vaasalaisveneilijä Antti Stig nojailee Palosaaren rannassa trailerin päällä olevaan perämoottoriveneeseensä
This is rare, says experienced boater Antti Stig. Image: Antti Haavisto / Yle

Stig has been able to travel by small boat to his cottage in the archipelago, but at for the time being his dream of a bigger boat has been put on hold.

Enough for hydropower production

Low rainfall has not impacted power generation by Kemijoki Oy, one of Finland's largest hydroelectric power companies.

According to the head of the company's production unit, Heikki Poikela, there is enough water to keep the 16 hydroelectric power plants in the Kemijoki region operating.

"At the moment, the main storage reserves, the Loka and Porttipahta reservoirs and Lake Kemijärvi, are at a storage level of around 75-80 percent," says Poikela.

According to Poikela, the company's water resources are sufficient for winter energy production. The hydroelectric power output of the company is enough to supply the needs of almost 750,000 four-person households for a year.

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