Bottom up Adaptation Strategies for a Sustainable Europe

Adapting flood risk and river basin management to climate change (Kalajoki, Finland)


The Climate Challenge

The Kalajoki river basin is a typical Finnish flood risk area that faces the interdependent challenges of managing flooding, caused by snowmelt, heavy rains and ice dams, as well as poor water status, originated mainly from agricultural activities in the river basin. The Kalajoki is a mid-size lowland river that is surrounded mainly by rural land. Currently, 80% of the land in the basin is woodland and peatland and approximately 15% is used for agriculture. Some 48,000 people live in the basin and the Kalajoki also supports four hydropower plants that collectively produce 30 GWh/a of electricity annually.

The BASE case study focuses on the Ylivieska-Alavieska region within the Kalajoki basin. This area has been nominated as nationally significant flood risk area. Currently there are in total 620 inhabitants and 530 buildings in the area that are at risk in the case of an extreme flood. Most risk sites in the study area are protected by embankments, however, an extreme weather event that exceeds the capacity of the embankments multiplies the estimated damage costs to 15-25 million Euros.

There are three public buildings, considered as vulnerable sites in the flood risk area: a hospital, a sheltered home and an elementary school. The flood may interrupt public and private traffic routes and besiege buildings. In the flood risk site, there are 10 animal farms, which may become inaccessible during the flood.

Flooding also increases nutrient loading and suspended solids to watersheds, especially during summer and autumn floods when the land is unfrozen. Environmental impacts may be caused by nutrient leaching from the farms. In addition, there are two peat mining sites in the flood risk area that may cause environmental loading during flood. 


The Adaptation Response

The case study supported preparation of a flood risk management plan (FRMP). A FRM plan for Kalajoki was published on the 22 December 2015. Some of the measures are included into the FRMP but some of them were prioritised as primary and others complementary. None of these are implemented yet.

Potential Identified Measures:

  1. Using agricultural land as floodplains – complementary (arguments: not effective enough and economically feasible)
  2. Extended use of regulated lakes as water storage - primary
  3. Improving summer flood preparedness in Hautaperä reservoir regulation – not included into the plan (very limited impacts, negative impacts on fish and recreational use)
  4. Improving summer flood preparedness in lake Reis-Vuohtojärvi regulation – not included into the plan (very limited impacts, negative impacts on fish and recreational use)
  5. Increasing the retention capacity of the river basin, small-scale – complementary
  6. Permanent flood protection structures (maintenance and new) - primary/complementary (maintaining is primary, but building new ones impact on hydrology and landscape).


The people and institutions involved

There are five stages in the development and implementation of the climate adaptation plans and each stage had different levels of participation by different stakeholder groups. Water authority experts and officials/legislators from the local and national level played an important role in the initiation and development of an adaptation plan. The implementation of the plan will rely heavily on municipal politicians, water experts, private actors and officials/legislators. Local citizens and stakeholders had a limited role, and although two workshops were organised in the development phase, the design and implementation was carried out primarily through by the actors mentioned above.


The Outcome of Action

The flood risk management plan for Kalajoki river basin was approved by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 22 December 2015. The river basin management plan for the Oulujoki-Iijoki River basin management district was approved by the Government 3 December 2015.



BASE research partner: Finnish environment institute SYKE.

Researcher contact point: Milla Mäenpää,; Anne-Mari Rytkönen,


Relevant links

BASE-project (EU FP-7):

Local flood risk plan:


Full Report

The full report of this case study can be read here.

Photo © North Ostrobothnian ELY centre, Finland