07.11.2023

Developing a Collaborative Water Monitoring Platform with the Local Community and Mining Companies in Sodankylä

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The impact of mining on local waterways is a pressing concern in Finland. Members of the local community may have difficulty understanding the results of water monitoring, interpreting their significance and practical implications. Previous research has found that measurements conducted by consultants commissioned by mining companies are often met with distrust, regardless of how technically well they are carried out. A collaborative water monitoring platform, which brings local stakeholders to work together throughout the various stages of the monitoring process, can help to increase the credibility and clarity of the monitoring data as well as aid in anticipating and preventing harmful environmental effects.

Methods for collaborative monitoring are being developed through multi-stakeholder collaboration

Under the funding of the Nessling Foundation, Akordi is leading a project in Sodankylä putting  existing research knowledge into practice. This project aims to create a model for collaborative monitoring of the water impacts associated with local mining activities. In practice, the mining companies and the local community are planning monitoring activities together and deliberate on their implementation. This work does not interfere with legally mandated water monitoring conditions, rather, it focuses on enhancing the accessibility, credibility, and usability of the generated data. Additionally, it seeks to identify and address information needs that extend beyond legal monitoring obligations.

The model for collaborative monitoring of water impacts is being built together with the local actors in Sodankylä. The collaborative group includes representatives from local village associations, fishermen associations, environmental groups, municipality, and the mining and hydropower companies operating in the area. In addition, external experts are invited from research institutions and regional authorities to support the work. 

The process is designed and supported by Akordi, who takes on various roles, including facilitating collaboration between the parties, carrying out process and work planning, conducting and moderating meetings, mediating potential conflicts, and managing communication of the entire process. This ensures that both the process and its outcomes are acceptable and feasible for all parties involved and the ‘platform’ is considered neutral.

Before decisions can be made, a shared understanding of the challenges is needed 

The collaborative group’s work progresses in stages. In the first meeting (Finnish), the participants shared their experiences and thoughts on the potential impacts of mining on water bodies, leading to the establishment of a shared understanding of the initial situation within the group. Additionally, the meeting established a common goal that served to guide the project for the group: to create and implement an open, operational model for monitoring the water and fishery impacts of mining.

In late April, a webinar addressed questions about the existing data and its interpretation. Representatives from the Lapland ELY Centre informed the group about the implementation of water monitoring and the roles of various stakeholders. Furthermore, researchers from the Finnish Environment Institute (Syke) Seppo Hellsten and Katri Siimes discussed how the monitoring data and other measurements can be interpreted and how the water quality of Kitinen, which flows through Sodankylä, appears based on the results – providing an external expert’s perspective on the monitoring data. The researchers noted that, even for experts, the compilation of monitoring data was not straightforward, and data analysis proved to be labor-intensive. This is a common problem in Finland: various industrial facilities and other actors produce vast amounts of environmental monitoring and research data, but only a fraction of it ends up in shared databases easily accessible to researchers, authorities, and the public.

In May, members of the group had the opportunity to observe water sampling procedures in action. Participants gathered at the Mataraoja sampling point in Sodankylä to watch the mandatory sampling procedure for Kevitsa mine.The consultant who carried out the sampling explained the steps. During the session, the group gained insights into the sampling methodology, what factors must be considered, where possible errors may occur, and what happens to the samples afterwards. The day continued with a briefing on the monitoring of local fish populations, carried out by mining companies and Kemijoki Oy, as well as a productive discussion on identifying the needs of collaborative monitoring.

 

Figure 1: The members of the monitoring group familiarize themselves with the water sampling process at the Mataraoja sampling point in Sodankylä. An app is used to record and report part of the sampling data.

The goal is to create a model with transferable insights

By the end of the year, the collaborative water monitoring group in Sodankylä will create a shared plan about how to continue the process and identify what is needed for the platform to serve its purpose. Their ultimate goals are to (1) establish a functional model for joint monitoring of water impacts, (2) devise a plan for its implementation in Sodankylä, and (3) provide good examples of how collaborative environmental impact monitoring can be practically carried out with stakeholders. Tune in on November 28, 2023, where the results and lessons of the project will be presented in Finnish at an open seminar. This event is part of the Akordi X Puistokatu4 (Finnish) event series.

Information in Finnish can be found here.

Juha-Pekka Turunen
Senior Associate
juha-pekka@akordi.fi
+358 40 7294842