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After two dry summers, lakes and wells running low

Despite recent rain, groundwater levels remain at near-record lows.

Kokkilan kyläyhdistyksen pj. Markku Rantti Särkemä-järven uimarannalla.
Markku Rantti, head of the Kokkila residents' association, says the local lake is about 60 cm lower than usual. Image: Lauri Rautavuori / Yle

After two summers with below-average rainfall, lake water levels are exceptionally low in many parts of Finland, and private wells are running dry.

For instance, residents around Lake Särkemä near Hämeenlinna estimate that the lake water level is 60 cm below normal.

Markku Rantti, head of the local Kokkila village association, says some wells in the area only have about 20 cm of water at the bottom.

Conditions are driest in central Finland, southern Kainuu and North Savo. This is a result of scarce precipitation in July and August. Based on long-term statistics in Finland, such low rainfall levels typically only occur once every 30 years or so.

"The driest place seems to be around Kuopio," says Bertel Vehviläinen, chief hydrologist at the Finnish Environment Institute.

Recent rains will not provide any immediate relief. Rather, regular, plentiful rains are needed through the autumn, at least in central parts of the country, he tells Yle.

"The worst is if winter comes early"

"It's raining there now, but that doesn't make it down to the groundwater level. First it fills the surface levels of the soil," Vehviläinen says.

Before winter begins most areas need 100-200 mm of rain, he estimates. The average monthly rainfall is less than 60 mm. As winter usually begins in November in central Finland, there are only a couple of months left.

Rain is more effective at replenishing the groundwater in autumn than in summer, as it does not evaporate from the soil due to cooler temperatures. During a snowy winter, though, groundwater aquifers do not refill at all.

"The worst is if winter comes early. Then the wells will remain dry until next spring," says Vehviläinen.

Snow is still common in April in most of Finland, even into June in the north.

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