Postimees recently wrote about a couple living in the village of Kassinurme in Jõgeva County who have not been able to draw water from their well for years due to the water’s high nitrate content of 105 milligrams per liter, well in excess of levels deemed safe to drink at 50 milligrams per liter.
The farm has been visited by an army of officials – from Jõgeva rural municipality, environmental board and the environmental inspectorate – none of whom have managed to achieve anything.
Owner Kaie Poolakess (68) says she is disappointed in Estonia. “I keep thinking back to the time of the Baltic Way (August 23, 1989 – ed.), to when my husband and I participated and how happy we were. It brought tears to my eyes. And now, we find ourselves in this situation. I cannot see help coming from anywhere. Hopeless!” she says.
The case reached the office of the justice chancellor in April. The chancellor is resolute in a letter sent on July 2: “Valid legislation gives environmental officials several levers with which to react to water pollution.” That is why Postimees contacts the environmental board first but is quickly asked to turn elsewhere.
Officials looking for local causes
“The fertilization of fields falls in the administrative area of the agricultural board and the environmental inspectorate. Drinking water is the responsibility of the health board, while environmental monitoring is also up to the inspectorate,” the board’s press representative says.
For pollution to be investigated, there must be proof that the bored well at Kaasikaru farm is of appropriate quality and is not the cause of the pollution. Regarding these requirements, the spokesperson asks us to turn to the local government that is responsible for construction supervision. “The environmental board has nothing to do with this. All questions of environmental monitoring need to be put to the inspectorate,” they say.
Asked why it was their agency that received a letter from the justice chancellor, the press representative replies: “It seems she [the justice chancellor] is also confused. Our specialist has said that they plan to ask the justice chancellor to turn to the inspectorate in matters of environmental supervision in their next letter.”
Unfortunately, the environmental inspectorate is no more helpful. “Indeed, agencies have their limits. While the board is correct in that we exercise supervision, we look at water requirements, groundwater, not wells as such,” the inspectorate’s PR adviser explains.
They add that while the family’s concern is understandable, the problem is more complicated. It is diffuse pollution that is affecting the whole of Central Estonia and the area around Võrtsjärv.
The well of the neighboring farm, some 200 meters from the Kaasikaru farm, contains 68 mg of nitrates per one liter of water. The environmental board has no information on how people have solved their water problems in different places.
Kaasikaru farm is surrounded by fields on three sides. A tractor belonging to agricultural producer AS Perevara sprays fertilizer right next to the farm. “It was the same this spring: my berry bushes, garlic, onions – all covered in grains of fertilizer,” Poolakess says.
The pollution is caused by agricultural activity – that much is clear. However, agencies are reluctant to determine who is responsible.
The environmental board says as much in their answer to the justice chancellor’s adviser: “The Environmental Board has not launched environmental responsibility proceedings, which is why no procedural act has been carried out or evidence collected.”
Two possible scenarios
Poolakess’ son Andrus Raissar says that even he knows that nitrates showing up in water means that soil samples need to be taken from neighboring fields. “If they cannot even do that, why do we need these agencies?” he asks.
The environmental inspectorate has the answer. “We believe soil samples would not provide any additional clarity, but we will consult with the agricultural board so as not to keep returning to the same issue,” the agency replies.
There are two ways problems with water at Kaasikaru can be solved. If it is determined that someone the state cannot identify is polluting the well, the state must build the farm a new well.
Agencies’ replies suggest that the state does not favor this solution as it would create a precedent that would make it possible for a lot of people to demand new wells.
Raissar is convinced the problem is not with his parents’ land. “The rural municipality government checked the well and the septic tank a while ago. Everything is in order. Attempts to find fault with our land began when I started putting pressure on agencies. No one has taken samples from the lands of AS Perevara.”
The environmental inspectorate says that leaning on the neighbor might not produce results and points once more to diffuse pollution in the busy agricultural area. The groundwater is polluted.
Poolakess also says that the farm doesn’t need a new well. “What we need is clean water. We can dig ten new wells at Kaasikaru, but if this level of fertilization persists, the quality of groundwater cannot improve.”
Postimees was unable to contact head of AS Perevara Alo Teder for comments.