Life IP Rich Waters

Lake Mälaren Stockholm region

SDG 14: Life below water

Because many climate-related challenges occur across regional and local borders, there is a great need for cross-regional collaboration in managing these challenges, possibly evolving into cross-sectorial partnerships and co-creative processes. The Swedish government funds monitoring of Lake Mälaren, the country’s third largest lake that runs through three counties, including Stockholm. This assignment is aligned with the national water commission (Swedish: vattendirektivet). The concerned county administrative boards are responsible for this procedure through the collaborative organisation called the Water Protection Union of Mälaren (Swedish: Mälarens vattenvårdsförbund). During 2012–2013, the Union put additional pressure on municipalities around Mälaren to initiate water improvement measures since sufficient monitoring data had been obtained. The regional project Mälaren – en sjö för miljoner was initiated in 2013 and coordinated by the Union. During this process, an intensified collaboration between county administrative boards and municipalities occurred, eventually leading to the joint application for EU funding for the LIFE IP Rich Waters (henceforth Rich Waters) project because the many stakeholders shared an interest in collaborating further around improvement of the vast lake and exchanging their knowledge. The main objectives of Rich Waters are thus to improve water quality while improving collaboration structures among the stakeholders.

As a large project with 35 participating organisations of various size and with different interests, it has quickly become obvious that improvements and success cannot be measured in a standardised way. This poses a substantial challenge because the EU requires reports on which social-ecological aspects are being taken into account in the project. Ecological aspects are, furthermore, more easily monitored than others.

Instead of standardising monitoring and procedures within Rich Waters, the large network of municipalities is used for creating various sub-projects into which particular stakeholders are enrolled. These projects aim to become best practice references for use on a national scale with regards to water quality improvement, capacity building, research, method development, and technology development. The results are therefore put forward to be included in the official guidelines for water quality operations of the Swedish Sea and Water Agency (Havs- och Vattenmyndigheten).

Good Practices & Solutions

Because Mälaren encompasses such a vast area and range of issues, having a broad approach has been the fundamental strategy, producing a potential for large-scale impact as well as substantial challenges, for example regarding coordination. Partners are involved in a seemingly isolated way in the sense that their respective expertise is utilised in a framed and targeted manner, i.e. where it is deemed most effective, rather than exploring various alternatives along the way. SLU and IVL, for example, are targeting water areas that are difficult to monitor, thus developing sensors with adapted monitoring capacity. They also collaborate in developing monitoring tools for dealing with eutrophication issues in relation to Mälaren.

The private cooperative association Ecopelag is testing mussel farming in the Stockholm archipelago as a way of improving water quality and biodiversity. Julmyra Horse Center was involved at a later stage because the equestrian industry plays a substantial role in eutrophication processes. Thus, several sub-themes are engaged on a broad scale, each with its own actor responsible for knowledge exchange during the project. Because participants attend the same meetings and forums, all have access to the same knowledge generated within different sub-processes, and, consequently, this knowledge is processed into guidance for future management of Mälaren.

Outcome & Opportunities

The first phase of Rich Waters received feedback urging them to more clearly demonstrate the project’s potential for scaling up on a national level in correspondence with national water directives. The broad knowledge gathered during Rich Waters will be used for spawning new projects. New networks of reciprocal learning have sprung out from the collaboration, not the least between county administrative boards. Further collaborations and partnerships are considered as a productive future step. For example, the project has resulted in a desire to shape future research questions and initiate new collaborations with academia and other processes regarding the needs of Mälaren and the involved stakeholders as well as eutrophication and water quality in general.

Lessons learned & Recommendations

The strategy of the preceding project Mälaren – en sjö för miljoner was to create a collaboration enabling project development, eventually leading to Rich Waters. Thus, a more holistic approach to protecting and developing Mälaren was made possible through committing and integrating various sectors and forms of knowledge because this led to funding being granted from the EU. The utilisation of diverse sources of expertise has also been essential due to environmental toxins being such a vast and complex area that no single expert group can possibly hope to create lasting impact on its own. Co-creation, in some form or other, is thus currently a desired way of operating among the concerned actors.

To enable a co-creative and collaborative process, actors must learn about one another. Even the different county administrative boards lack sufficient knowledge about their respective operations and experiences. There is always a vagueness during the first gatherings, but ultimately leading to clarity regarding who should be collaborating with whom.

Researchers, public authorities, and private companies all seem to come into the process as a natural consequence during this phase. However, it is hard to monitor the effects of co-creation in the sense of what might have been different if these actors had never gotten to work together. The reflective process becomes one more of “story telling”and less of concrete facts.

Among factors for facilitating co-creation are, naturally, access to resources such as funding and time. Having participants interacting in informal forums and assemblies for a long time before formal collaboration begins is a significant supportive condition. Some projects will nevertheless be difficult to keep together due to personal differences, with certain individuals becoming particularly committed and others perhaps being more unsettled regarding their role. The important lesson for Rich Waters is to let these processes continue regardless because productive outcomes are usually eventually obtained from such processes.

Related SDG targets
  • 6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimising release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
  • 6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes
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Project: Stockholm Co-creation