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The Stockholm Story

The successful development of a city in an integrated water perspective

Photo: Jeppe Wikstrm Stockholm Visitors Board

Responsibility for water system services in a metropolitan area demands more extensive measures than just constructing and operating advanced treatment plants. It is necessary to have a good understanding of the water cycle and waters paramount significance in nature and society. Equally important is to take an integrated systems approach to water management in continuous dialogue with stakeholders and professionals in the area. Compared to the 1970s, the dramatic improvement of the Stockholm water environment is a success story. The progress is a result of adequate development of technical installations in combination with good cooperation between the public water utility, Stockholm Water, and the inhabitants, with scientists, consultants, industries, manufacturers, building contractors and last but not least by participating in national, regional and international activities. Solid political support, stable financing and wellfunctioning institutions are other important conditions.

Historic glimpses on the Waters of Stockholm

Stockholm was built more than 750 years ago on islands at the point where Lake Mlaren empties into the Stockholm archipelago and the Baltic Sea. The big freshwater lake is located west of the city and to the east are the vulnerable, brackish water of the Baltic Sea, receiver of wastewater from Stockholm. Several small lakes, a long coastline and an archipelago of 20,000 islands have shaped the history and culture of the metropolitan area throughout the ages. The inhabitants of modern day Stockholm have access to an abundance of water for drinking, swimming, fishing, boating and recreation. The quality of the Stockholm water environment is presently rather good. Until the 1970s this was not the case. A little more than a hundred years earlier Stockholm was one of the dirtiest and most unhealthy cities in Europe. Cholera epidemics succeeded each other and mortality was higher than the birth rate. The second part of 1800 was the slow beginning of a new era. The first waterworks were put into operation in 1861. Lake Bornsjn was purchased by the City in early 1900 to secure water sup-

ply in the long run and the first wastewater treatment plant small as it was and with mechanical treatment only was opened in 1934 followed by the bigger Henriksdal plant in 1941. Water supply and wastewater treatment for Stockholm and adjacent communities has been managed within the same organisation since 1974, the publicly owned Stockholm Water and Wastewater Works Administration. In 1990 it was transformed into Stockholm Water, a public company owned primarily by the City of Stockholm.
The integrated system perspective

The nature and complexity of water, water services and its involvement in all sectors of society call for an integrated planning approach and a system perspective based on good understanding of the water cycle. A water and wastewater system encompasses not only the entire technical infrastructure with different water streams and by-products, but also the users, the organisation needed for management and operations and the institutions regulating the system. By integrating environmental, social and economic thinking in the management

process, Stockholm Water early took a leading position in Sweden. Almost 20 years ago a management vision was developed and implemented on all levels in the organisation, stating that the Company shall, in active cooperation with inhabitants and businesses as well as other stakeholders within the water and environmental sector, develop the water management in such a way that it satisfies the consumers needs for water services and effectively contributes to a long-term sustainable development of society.
Powerful organisation, legislation and stable financing

agement to avoid harmful fluxes from land to water. Many cooperative measures have also been taken within the drainage area of Lake Mlaren to protect the water quality as the Lake serves several municipalities and more than two million people. Since 1989 no treated wastewater from Stockholm is discharged into the Lake and specific regional water protection areas have been legally defined and established. Since 1976 Lake Mlaren is so clean that swimming and salmon fishing are possible in the heart of Stockholm.
Sewage management in tune with the receiving waters

Successful outcome of the vision depended on a powerful organisation, well functioning institutions and legislation and a stable financing. In 1989 the City Council decided to transform the water and wastewater organisation into a public company, Stockholm Water, owned by the City with board members from the political parties. An important mission for Stockholm Water was to make Stockholm one of the cleanest cities in the world in terms of water and sanitation. According to Swedish legislation the municipalities are responsible for the public water and wastewater services with the right to determine fees that cover all costs without making a profit. A coordinated system for operations and maintenance of the water and wastewater infrastructure within the same organisation was seen as a prerequisite for successful, integrated management and keeping competence. Key maintenance functions have accordingly been operated by the company itself but investments and reinvestments are always open for competition. The efficiency was optimised through a set of performance indicators developed and applied in collaboration with other Nordic capitals. Research and development, necessary for the technical achievements, were to a great extent the result of close cooperation with universities, consultants and others. Several studies by independent international consultants and institutions have shown excellent results for Stockholm Water in comparison with both public and private water utilities from all over Europe.
Protecting drinking water quality in cooperation with stakeholders

Access to high quality raw water is of strategic importance for sustainable water supply. Stockholm takes its water from Lake Mlaren with the smaller Bornsjn as a back-up. The latter is a good example of successful integrated land and water man12

The archipelago with the Baltic has been used as receiver of wastewater from Stockholm for centuries. Observations on water quality and scientific studies have a long tradition in this water body. Data from the 1940s has been important as planning tools for the development of sewage treatment and other measures. The urban water is a loan from the water cycle given by nature and must be returned in an acceptable condition, clean enough not to threaten the ecosystem functions and services but to permit safe and enjoyable reuse. Following the deterioration in water quality resulting from the expansion of the city, all sewage treatment plants where upgraded for biological treatment and phosphorus reduction in the 19601970s. The decreased load of phosphorus resulted in a decrease in eutrophication in the archipelago. The amount of cyano-bacteria and the comprehensive nitrogen fixation decreased radically accompanied by an increase in the transparency of the water. However, the archipelago and the Baltic Sea were still suffering from an overload of nutrients, so stepped-up phosphorus- and nitrogen reduction was called for and realised in 19901997, supported by the Swedish environmental code and in terms of nitrogen also by the EU Sewage Directive Another critical part of the technical system solution, the sewer network, has also been carefully managed. Monitoring and planning as well as operations and maintenance are made with support of GIS. All stormwater management is governed by a separate strategy. The network has gradually been improved with tunnels and other storage facilities retarding stormwater flow peaks and special treatment facilities for run-off from major traffic arteries.
Water users as parts of the system

sewage treatment plants are designed to separate phosphorus, nitrogen and degradable organic material that would otherwise harm the receiving waters. However, they are not designed to separate hazardous toxic substances from the water. Toxic and non-degradable pollutants should never be allowed to enter the sewage system nor the receiving water. Stockholm Water sees the user as part of the system and the user must have the capacity to use the water wisely. A good example is that industry must treat their sewage at source with regard to specified hazardous substances before it is accepted into the public sewer system. Limits are set on the basis of toxicity, degradability, bioaccumulation and corrosiveness. The numerous sources of pollution in a metropolitan area must be handled effectively with regard to the kind of pollutant. Based on pertinent legislation Stockholm Water, in cooperation with concerned authorities and organisations, carried out intensive work throughout the drainage area ranging from dialogue with manufacturers, suppliers and retailers concerning pollutants in detergents, artists material, dental products, car washing products and several others to direct information to households and publicity campaigns in the subway system. School information was used also with the purpose of educating parents and other grown up people. The basic concept was to make water users understand that it is all the same water and see their important role for high quality sludge and a better water environment.
Wastewater is a multipurpose resource

Water users are not only users of clean water but also producers of wastewater. The

These initiatives were in themselves successful. The results could be verified not only on shelves in supermarkets where environmentally adapted detergents soon were dominating but also from monitoring the content of heavy metals in sewage sludge. The goal was to make digested sludge, rich in nutrients and organic matter, clean enough to be safely reused in agriculture for the production of new biomass. Today there is a quality certification of sludge which Stockholm Water meets. Another important by-product in the wastewater treatment process is biogas, a renewable energy source of high quality. It is produced locally and is preferably used as fuel for cars and busses, a growing market in Sweden. District heating is an innovative way of making use of treated wastewater. The heat content is recovered by heat pumps and used for heating homes for about 200,000 people.

Water pathways through Stockholm

Biogas Underground storage Lake Mlaren Digested sludge Wastewater treatment Heat

Electrical energy Heat Fuel


Water works

District heating

Stormwater Infiltration Retardation Lake Bornsjn Treatment Saltsjn



Treated wastewater

In a second step the cold water from the heat pumps can be used for cooling purposes.
Stockholm Water Symposium the beginning

In 1990 in parallel with Stockholm Water Festival and Stockholm Water Prize Stockholm Water, inspired by the successful work on integrated water management and with strong support by the professors Malin Falkenmark and Curt Forsberg and the City, took the initiative to arrange Stockholm Water Symposium. It was the start of what later turned into todays World Water Week arranged by Stockholm International Water Institute. The first modest Symposium in 1991 developed into an annual scientific meeting of high prestige bringing together water professionals politicians, researchers, technicians, administrators and many others to exchange knowledge and experiences. The success was such that even the possibility of establishing a UN institution for water was brought up by the City.
Cooperation around the Baltic Sea

management concept. The contribution covered a wide area ranging from management advice, organisation, technical matters, treatment processes, environmental monitoring to tariff setting, water metering and communications with the costumers. Ten years later with aid from Sida, the governments of Sweden, Finland and Switzerland and with loans from development banks Riga and Kaunas had modern water utilities, good drinking water quality and good sanitation conditions. Stockholm Water has also cooperated with water utilities in Poland and Russia.
Concluding remarks

After the independence of the Baltic States in 1991 Stockholm Water, at the request of the City Council, assisted the two cities Riga and Kaunas in their work to give the inhabitants clean water and good health based on the Stockholm integrated water

Critical factors for the successful results achieved by Stockholm Water have been the integrated system approach combined with stable financing and institutional support. Clear goals and management strategies implemented on all levels involved have been other key issues. The dialogue with the water users, also the producers of wastewater, has brought important awareness of their role. But despite good achievements it is important to understand that you are never done: To maintain the achieved results and further develop the water management in a sustainable direction, continued, always ongoing and ambitious work in a systems perspective is necessary.

Through its endeavours Stockholm Water has demonstrated that an integrated urban water management concept exists and works in reality. The success made it possible to get political and other support for the initiative to organise the Stockholm Water Symposium, today known as the World Water Week in Stockholm. It is relevant to note that the combination of visionary concepts, personal initiatives and sustained efforts and dialogue has been, and continues to be, very important. Successful cases, wherever they occur, need to be demonstrated and discussed so that key elements can be tried also in other contexts. It is gratifying to see that the result of the work in Stockholm Water has borne fruit not only locally and in a concrete sense. The annual World Water Week in Stockholm has become a forum for charting the path of international development and cooperation on water and environment related issues worldwide.
By Gunilla Brattberg, Former Environment Specialist, Technical Director, Deputy Director, Executive Director, Stockholm Water and Programme Director SEI; Sven-Erik Skogsfors, Former Executive Director, Stockholm Water and Former Director, SIWI and Brita Forssberg, Former Manager of Public Relations, Stockholm Water