MWA Viewpoint on Groundwater Protection
The Malta Water Association (MWA) viewpoint with regard to the metering of private boreholes is based on the following principles:
- All groundwater in the Maltese Islands is a PUBLIC resource and cannot be abuse by the private sector/individuals to the detriment of the rest of the population (and subsequent generations of Maltese);
- Groundwater in Malta is a finite resource and there is substantial evidence that the aquifers of Malta are being over-exploited to the detriment of the integrity and quality of the groundwater resource (official figure for over-abstraction is 11 million cubic metres every year); and
- The only entity that has authorisation to exploit groundwater is the Water Services Corporation (WSC). In view of the fact that the WSC is a public corporation with the responsibility of providing potable water to the population, the MWA considers abstraction by WSC as PUBLIC abstraction. The MWA also recognises the fact that groundwater is generally less expensive to produce than desalinated water and therefore appreciates the need (or rather the duty) for WSC to exploit this resource to the benefit of water consumers, provided that the resource is managed sustainably.
Furthermore, the MWA is concerned by the apparent lack of a clear government policy on the metering of boreholes. On the one hand, government (through Minister George Pullicino) seems to be pushing for the metering of boreholes by the end of 2010, while on the other hand in May 2011, MRA issued 200 letters to registered borehole owners to close their boreholes.
Today, only 109 commercial boreholes out of the 7,800 registered boreholes have been metered. This represents a mere 1.4% of the total number of registered boreholes; in a situation where it is a known fact that:
- Private extraction has now exceeded WSC extraction and
- Around 40,000 litres per minute of groundwater are being extracted by the private sector on a 24 hour, 365 days a year basis
The MWA does not have confidence that the safe yield of the aquifer is not being exceeded and is concerned that the matter is not being given the urgent attention it requires.
Within this context, the MWA focus group advocates the following plan of action:
- Immediate closure of all non-agricultural boreholes. It is the opinion of the MWA that although the ensuing shift from free borehole water to WSC water may result in a decrease in profits on the part of heavy borehole water consumers (such as bottling companies and laundries), this will not drive these sectors into bankruptcy, nor will it make people redundant. Proof of this lies with the fact that we have examples of heavy water consumers that do not make use of borehole water but are nevertheless very competitive and have a significant market share.
- Metering of all agricultural boreholes should be completed by the end of 2012, followed by a 12-month monitoring programme in order to fine-tune estimates for agricultural water demand (calculations for water requirement per crop etc.)
- Invest in polishing plants at all 3 wastewater treatment plants so as to achieve a polished treated effluent production capacity of 5 million cubic metres per year by 2015, and increasing in subsequent years to 15 – 20 million cubic metres per year in the long term. As with other capital projects, use can be made of EU Structural Funds.
- Invest in a Treated Sewage Effluent (TSE) infrastructure, comprising a number of regional distribution reservoirs so as to service agricultural water demand (and against a fee, to service industrial, commercial and landscaping water demand). That is, polished TSE will be provided free of charge, but in a controlled manner, to farmers. It is probable that farmers will prefer the use of superior-quality polished effluent to increasingly-saline groundwater and will gradually relinquish the use of groundwater.
- Government should immediately embark on a national Agriculture Policy, that will, among other, establish irrigation requirements (where, how much and when). To date, Malta does not have an agricultural policy. The MWA is of the opinion that there cannot be a robust effective national water policy without there being an agricultural policy.