Many small streams make one big river

Oulu Jäälinoja1Did you know that the Daphnia water flea, less than 1 mm in size, has a huge significance in the ecosystem and food chain of a lake? These fleas are able to filter the entire water of a lake every 3 to 4 days. This makes them very efficient at eating algae that is harmful to the health of people swimming, or fishing by the lake. However, if the stocking density of the lake is out of balance, fish eat the animal plankton, including water fleas, and water quality declines rapidly. By taking care of the lake’s food chain, fish and water birds are protected.

I learned about this and many other interesting things at the final seminar of the VYYHTI-project at the end of November in Oulu, Finland. Usually the initiative to repair local waterways is taken by people with a house or a summer cottage near lakes and rivers. In this case, village associations and other NGOs working with VYYHTI received help, for example fundraising and making plans to repair the local waterways. One of these is the Kiiminki-Jääli waterways association.

According to recent research made by the Finnish Environment Institute, most people are often willing to contribute to the repairing projects either by working as a volunteer or donating money to the project. Often these are kick started by a little help from outside e.g. regional authorities or professionals. The VYYHTI-project is a good example. CO2 reduction is not necessarily recognized as the aim or a consequence of the project, but it could be helpful to mention it when seeking funding for the project. According to Riina Rahkila, the Project Manager of VYYHTI, there is also a social benefit. Local people say that taking part in voluntary work has been a great experience which has brought them closer to each other in the community they live in.

Clean natural waters and clean drinking water (from the tap!) have a huge meaning to the Finnish people. Lakes and rivers have inspired our musicians and artists through the years. Finland is a country of thousands of lakes (187 888 to be precise) and sweet water is one the country’s most important natural resources. It is predicted that it will become increasingly important in the future. By repairing waterways we can reduce the CO2 that lakes release to the atmosphere. Furthermore, in addition to climate benefits we can enhance the quality of life of the people in the area by offering them a chance to go fishing, swimming, hiking and admiring the beautiful views of the lakes and rivers. The value of a property can almost double if it is close to water.

The current big environmental problems may seem too overwhelming and difficult to understand. That is why it may be easier for people to find solutions to problems that have a connection to their everyday lives. However, together these small scale actions may contribute to a larger societal and environmental change. So I say it’s about time to go and find out about the grass roots actions happening near you!

Johanna Pihlajamaa
School of Renewable Natural Resources
Oulu University of Applied Sciences

Picture courtesy of Birger Ylisaukko-oja

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