Waterdrive findings and strategic recommendations. Holistic water management for landscapeand field level action.

General recommendations

Water and land policy guide the well-being of people and ecosystems in the Baltic Sea Region.  Interreg BSR project Waterdrive addressed the issues from different perspectives. Waterdrive studied the opinions of farmers, local governments, project partners and policy makers on the past and current challenges in water and land management in agriculture.

Waterdrive finds a lack of strategic water governance vision at the systems level. Both on national and Baltic Sea Region levels, such vision and dialogue is needed to integrate climate and water policies with agricultural and rural policies. A balanced and systematic action-oriented transition framework would take us toward secured food production, ecosystem services and rural sustainability in a changing climate. Such a transition could be developed and tested as part of the present National CAP Strategic Plans. Despite the continued separation and fragmentation of policies, progress is made on the local level. However, we should be concerned that disintegrated policies and fragmented implementation will be extremely expensive, reduce food production and security, deteriorate ecosystem services and hamper innovation in agricultural landscapes. Moreover, the eutrophication of inland waters and the Baltic Sea will continue. Furthermore, we lack differentiated approaches and support to intensively cultivated agricultural areas. A new climate and water action framework can improve the efficiency and site-specific allocation of resources and most importantly the commitment from farmers and landowners. Based on the above findings and observations 10 strategic observations are proposed.


Waterdrive recommends Governments to enhance coordination and initiate Inter-ministerial commissions for water- and food security in a changing climate. The aim is to build strategic awareness, knowledge and vision. Especially concerning climate change induced risks and impacts on water availability (ground- and surface), water quality, food security and ecosystem services. Waterdrive findings reveal that the leadership and strategic vision in many cases is present at the local level but is lacking on governmental and ministerial levels.


Waterdrive findings reveal the need to adapt to climate change as part of future water management in the agricultural landscape. These findings have emerged from the priorities of farmers/landowners and from the priorities of municipalities and local governments. Their challenge with water management is clearly broader than nutrient management. Waterdrive, therefore recommend Governments to identify the sensitive climate- and water hot-spot areas and as part of the present National CAP Strategic Plans develop and test innovative pilot projects. The aim is to effectively steer resources and support towards the most sensitive and high-risk areas and thus improving participation and efficiency in program implementation. The selection criteria need integrated cross-sector assessment and can include environmental pressures, food production intensity, climate risks, drought/flooding, particular values (local landscape, environment) and socio-economic factors.


Waterdrive findings reveal a weak interest from the farming/landowner community to join agri-environment programs. The findings indicate that this is not due to poor interest from farmers as most farmers have a strong motivation and interest for nature and water. Rather, the low interest is most probably an effect of the non-motivating incentives’ structure, such as rules and regulations regarding financial compensation and/or contracts and distrust on a systems level. Waterdrive therefore, recommends Governments to oversee and up-date the incentives’ structure especially in the Climate- and Water Priority Areas to ensure engagement and commitment from the farmers and landowners side. Farmers and landowners can take a more leading role if the incentives structure and motivational factors are right, which has been demonstrated in some case areas around the Baltic. The farmer’s own interests, farmers’ umbrella organizations and advisory services also have an important role in taking a more prominent leading role.


Waterdrive findings reveal a significant lack of capacities and competencies to support a transition towards more holistic water and landscape management. Waterdrive has identified the need to expand the existing agricultural advisory services with competencies in integrated water management. Waterdrive recommends governments to invest in new services like catchment officers or similar water management experts in-dependently; either they are employed by agricultural advisory services, municipalities or related organizations. The new services discussed include a combination of expertise, both in water management like “catchment officers” and “water legislation experts”. Such services form a prerequisite to support the transition and secure the involvement of local actors.


Waterdrive findings reveal the important role of catchment initiatives and local cross-sector cooperation. All such catchment initiatives are important, however, the local conditions vary substantially between countries. Therefore, the organization and implementation will and should be different between countries. Additionally, what is innovative or understood as non-innovative differs between countries. However, emphasizing catchment initiatives involving innovation and living labs from the local context will be one of the most important change drivers for next generation programs. Present programs are too bureaucratic and not flexible enough to support innovation and development on the local scale. Waterdrive recommends governments to open flexible financial mechanisms to support local catchment initiatives. Waterdrive recommends a financial mechanism especially targeted to facilitate cooperation between actors and for hiring of expert support and consultancy.


Waterdrive findings have revealed substantial difficulties in development and financing of large-scale climate- and water infrastructure investments. Waterdrive sees potential in large scale investments, where environmental management in the food value chain is connected to catchment level water management projects. However, this requires close alignment and coordination between public and private interventions spatially, concerning infrastructure and in stakeholder relations. Yet, it would be worthwhile to pilot this approach in prioritized areas with particular potential for values added for rural economies and the environment.


Public and private partnerships are needed to integrate water and land use management in spatial planning and local action with the aim of providing leadership and decision support to local actors in the transition process. Waterdrive results indicate interest from local authorities and municipalities. However, local authorities and municipalities in general lack capacities and resources to work with water management. Waterdrive recommends that local authorities, especially in the Climate and Water Priority Areas, are provided with the resources, mandate and competence to undertake this task.


Research is highly focused on single agri-environmental challenges. Waterdrive suggest the initiation of research programs supporting a transition of food- and water management systems including other sectors e.g. financial and trade sectors to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Not only from a natural science point of view but also from a social science perspective. Attempt to integrate more applied research as Integrated LIFE and Interreg Baltic Sea Region Program projects with research-oriented financiers as EU BONUS and HORIZON EUROPE. Seek to introduce the specific challenges of the Baltic Sea Region water management and suggest topics for the EU common research agenda.


Waterdrive findings indicate a gap in availability of digital decision support. The availability is quite OK on national- and regional levels but there is a lack of digital decisions support with maps etc. on the catchment or farm level scale. Relevant local information with maps etc. for catchment officers, farmers and other local actors is highly requested. Most urgent is the need to better target implementation of agri-environment measures and doing the right thing at the right place. The environmental performance of e.g. wetlands will significantly vary depending on the site-specific conditions.


Agri-environmental conditions in the Baltic Sea Region have their own uniqueness due to the large drainage basin, quite intensive agriculture and long water exchange time of the Baltic Sea. Waterdrive findings indicate a good potential for further exchange of experiences between the countries and a closer cooperation between larger development projects and existing national and international bodies. Such interesting topics for continued cooperation are:

Targeted recommendations

Governments and national agencies

Transition towards more sustainable water management practices in agricultural landscapes is a long-term commitment requiring leadership and vision on the governmental and ministerial levels. Overseeing the closest planning cycle until 2030 we recommend governments and national agencies to take the following actions:

Agricultural advisory services

It is recommended that agricultural advisory functions strengthen their agricultural support through water management expertise and thus expand their offer to customers. With such win-win solutions, financial support for agri-culture, water, climate adaption, nature and local communities will undoubtedly increase, especially in the southern parts of the Baltic Sea region affected by drought and flooding. However, farmers need qualified support in this process. All the case area projects and workshops of Waterdrive indicate the central role of the agricultural advisory system in transferring knowledge and experience to the farming communities and other local actors concerning water management. The most sig-nificant front-runner in the Baltic Sea Region is maybe the Danish Agricultural Innovation Service, SEGES. The most significant change following the implementation of Waterdrive is the Polish Agricultural Advisory Service (CDR) and their central branch in Brwinów introduc-ing “water experts” as part of their work in col-laboration with farmers and local authorities.

Taking into account the substantial differences between the countries regarding how they organize agricultural advisory services, we suggest the following:

Local municipalities in agricultural areas

Local authorities have a key role in enhancing sustainable water management and act as catalysts and facilitators. The local authorities can be a facilitator and intermediate in transferring national and EU policies to local level action. However, the circumstances, resources and competences at the local level can differ a lot regarding water management work, between and within regions and countries. The roles differ and sometimes the local authority is the driver and sometimes the local authority is more of a participant. In most cases the local authority’s capacities for spatial planning has been important and useful as well as the local authorities responsibilities for allowing permits etc.

Many local authorities around the Baltic Sea Region are implementing a fantastic work to enhance sustainable water management.

We recommend contacting the following local authorities for further exchange and inspiration:

Farmers interest organizations

An important finding of Waterdrive is the interest from farmers to enroll on activities towards sustainable water management. Still the interest from the farmers around the Baltic Sea Region to embark on agri-environmental contracts is low. In the studies performed by Waterdrive this is not due to a lack of interest but an issue of compensations level and worry about uncertain and uncompetitive contracts in an extremely pressed business. Still, the Waterdrive studies as mentioned indicate an interest to take a more leading role moving towards more sustainable water management. Waterdrive recommend the following:

HELCOM – continue to strengthen the joint knowledge basis

Rural water management and agricultural drainage was raised in the 2013 Ministerial Declaration and has since been addressed by the HELCOM AGRI Group. Also, relevant to rural water management, a process to increase coordinated approaches on the river basin level and with River Basin Authorities has been initiated. These should be continued. A key overall value of HELCOM is the coordinated scientific cooperation and systematic assessment of ecosystem state and pressures. Going forward, to improve the countries’ and stakeholders’ capacity to respond to the climate change challenge and increase sustainability and resilience of agriculture, HELCOM’s contribution could focus on two aspects:

  1. Strengthen assessment of water and quatic ecosystem quality, pressures and sustainable measures on the river basin and catchment scales. The knowledge about pressures and effect of different land use in the catchment is still inadequate to establish effective approaches to minimize land-based water borne pressures. On the other hand, targeted place-based management requires better data and the use of advanced decision support tools and methods, such as those developed in Waterdrive.
  2. Build joint capacities to find best approaches that deliver the multiple benefits of water quality improvements, climate change mitigation and adaptation and improved viability of agriculture. The Waterdrive case areas and existing good examples offer a comprehensive reference basis for national and local initiatives, including also elements in national institutional organization as well as target and pilot programmes, such as the ones testing the position of catchment coordinator.

EUSBSR – embracing a more strategic role

When preparing and implementing Waterdrive we observed that the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region EUSBSR is poorly influential concerning policy transfer and implementation for issues on water, agriculture and climate. However, our belief is that the present situation could be changed with a stronger engagement from EUSBSR. There is definitely room for an actor taking a stronger lead for integrating multiple sustainability targets and cross-actor cooperation related to water, agriculture and climate. Issues of utmost importance for the Baltic Sea Region but now lacking mechanisms for sharing and learning at the governmental levels. In this sphere of work we think that the EUSBSR could be an influential actor and carrier of substance to the policy level. Also supporting the transfer of agri- food and bioenergy systems initiated by EU but adapted to the conditions of the Baltic Sea Region. Therefore, we at this point offer the findings and the Waterdrive 10 strategic recommendations for further consideration by EUSBSR.