Use and protection of water

The use of water and water bodies is either public or special.

  • The public uses of a water body are, for example, water abstraction, bathing, water sports, moving on water or ice without a motor vehicle and fishing (to the extent provided by the Fishing Act). In general, public use of water bodies is free of charge.
  • For the special use of water one must have a permit for the special use of water. A permit for the special use of water is necessary if water is abstracted from a surface water body, including if ice is abstracted in a volume of more than 30 m3 per day, if more than 5 m3 of groundwater is abstracted per one twenty-four hour period, if effluent or other water pollutants are discharged to nature, if a water body is dammed by more than 1 meter and in case of other actions having a significant impact on environment.

A permit for the special use of water can be applied from the Environmental Board.

In case of the abstraction of water with a special permit or discharge of effluent or other water pollutants to a water body, ground water or soil one must pay environmental charges for the use of the environment. The charges are divided into the natural resource charges and the pollution charge. Environmental charges are regulated by the Environmental Charges Act.

Main purpose of the water protection is to ensure a sustainable use of water and good water status. In order to protect the water, national legislation imposes restrictions on a number of activities in different activity areas. For example, it is prohibited to litter water bodies, waste water must be purified before the abduction thereof to a water body, it is prohibited to use fertilisers and plant protection products in the vicinity of water bodies, it is prohibited to spread manure on snow or frozen soil, the use of fertilizers is reduced in agriculture, etc. These limitations have been set out by the Water Act.

Moving in the vicinity of water bodies

All the public water bodies or water bodies designated for public use must be accessible and a shore path must be opened up to four meters from the border of water body. The width of a shore path can be up to ten meters for navigable water bodies. In certain cases, public water bodies have no shore path, for example, within ports, lawfully constructed old construction works, construction works in connection with fish farming, etc. Movement on the shore path may be prohibited by written consent of local government unit or the Agricultural Board and upon justified need, such as grazing animals or soil drainage. Upon the barring of a shore path, there must be ensured a passage above or through the bar to walk on the shore path. Shore path may be closed in case of excessive public or private interest. Closing of shore path is determined in a comprehensive plan.

Public water bodies belong to the state. These include: sea, parts of Lake Peipsi and Lake Pihkva located at the territory of Estonia, Võrtsjärv, Mullutu Bay, Suurlaht, Emajõgi, Narva River, Nasva River, Väike-Emajõgi from Võrtsjärv to Jõgeveste Bridge, Kasari River from the mouth to the mouth of Vigala River. The rest of the water bodies may be in private ownership. In addition, the Government of the Republic has designated the water bodies for public use.

Use of water craft

The use of a public or publicly used water body for navigation of water craft is permitted unless it is limited by law or other legislation. If a water body in private ownership is not designated for public use, navigation on the water body with water craft is subject to the permission of the owner. One must determine whether the water body is located at the territory of a protected area and adhere to the requirements which may prohibit the navigation of water craft or limit it.

A person who is operating water craft must not violate the rights of other users of waterways and water or cause damage to aquatic biota. The navigation of water craft is prohibited on water bodies or parts thereof designated as swimming areas.


Before starting to enjoy the pleasures of beach, it is recommended to find the official bathing sites, because there are data regarding their water quality, these sites have been kept in order and maintained and supervision is being exercised over them. Water samples are taken also from some non-official sites, but no supervision is being exercised over them. Overview of public bathing sites can be examined at the webpage of the Health Board. In official bathing sites, the owner of the site undertakes to ensure that the beach/bathing site is kept in good order and make water analyses on a regular basis. Supervision over the bathing sites is exercised by the Health Board.

Drinking water

Estonian population has sufficient drinking water resources. There are public water supplies for provision of drinking water in all Estonian towns and many small towns. Drinking water is obtained from water bodies and ground water. In Tallinn and Narva, drinking water is obtained mostly from surface water, elsewhere in Estonia from ground water. In order to warrant the quality of drinking water and protection of the sources of drinking water, there have been formed sanitary protection zones of water intake around the water extraction points. Activities in the sanitary protection zones have been limited, in order to avoid the risk of pollution. Observance of the quality of drinking water obtained from public water supply is organised by the Health Board.

Evaluation of water status

Natural water (rivers, lakes, sea water, ground water) must be naturally pure and not harmed by human activity. In order to ensure this, the water status in more than 750 water bodies, their parts and ground water will be evaluated annually. Results of the evaluations will be updated and published every year at the webpage of the Environment Agency.

Water quality surveys are made by labs. A person taking water samples for the purpose of evaluation of water status, determination of pollution and checking the application materials for environmental permit must have undergone attestation. As a rule, samples are taken by the lab’s employee in situ. All the labs that are making water surveys must undergo accreditation, in order to ensure reliable results.

The accreditation of labs and attestation of the persons responsible for taking a sample is organised by the Ministry of the Environment.

Compiled by: Ministry of the Environment