- Malta is on the list with Bahrain, Jordon, Kuwait, Libya, Maldives, Qater, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen as being the ten poorest countries globally in terms water of resources per inhabitant.
- Our situation stems from Malta being surrounded by seawater, a small catchement area, a semi-arid climate and a high population density. Malta has well below the 1,000 m3 treshold of water per inhabitant commonly considered to be a minimum to sustain life and ensure agricultural production in countries with climates that require irrigation for agriculture.
- Despite this, Malta’s groundwater continues to be pumped at a rate well above the natural recharge rate resulting in the island’s aquifers slowly being invaded by seawater, increasing the salinity of the water available.
- In addition, the quality of the groundwater is by the most part degraded by the increasing concentrations of nitrates from the downward movement of fertilizers and animal waste into the aquifer. The continually increasing salinity and high concentrations of nitrates have deteriorated the quality of water to a point that groundwater must be mixed with good quality desalinated water to meet drinking water quality standards supplied to our household taps. Malta is already very heavily reliant on seawater desalination. In 2010, 56% of Malta’s potable water was produced by desalination, utilizing 3.8% of Malta’s electricity generated at a cost (NSO 2011).
- Unregulated use of fertilizers over the past three decades: Agriculture and the animal husbandary industry has been identified to be the primary contributer to nitrate contamination of our groundwater. The majority of our perched aquifers and some parts of mean sea level aquifer have nitrate concentrations above the legal limit of 50 mg/L to be considered fit for human consumption. A report commissioned by our governemnt recently by the British Geological Survey showed that water contaminated by nitrates takes approximately 40 years to percolate down to the mean sea-level aquifer, Malta’s major natural freshwater reserve estimated at 1.5 billion cubic metersr which floats on seawater. The implication of this is significant since the widespread use of agricultural fertilizers started in the late 1970s, meaning that we are yet to see the full impact of nitrate contamination. Due to the high nitrate concentrates, groundwater extracted for potable use by the Water Services Corporation must be blended with desalinated water to meet legal limits. The contribution of groundwater (which remains cheaper) to the blend will keep decreasing as nitrate levels increase until we get to a point that groundwater is no longer a viable source for our potable water supply.
- The unregulated abstraction of our aquifers by the agricultural sector, industry and households is leading to the increased salinity of our sea-level aquifer due to seawater intrustion. To farmers, increased salinity beyond certain tresholds will make the water unfit to meet irrigation requirements and will either need to revert to desalination, as is already being done in certain parts of the island, or turn to other sources of water. For the general public, increased salinity in our aquifers, means that more energy will be required to remove salts to meet drinking water standards, increasing the cost of water. Legislation is now in place for the registration and licencing of all private groundwater absraction sources. Recently a significant step by the authorities was made when all registered household abstraction sources were given 60 days to have an architect certify that the borehole is “closed, sealed and decomissioned”. There is also an effort to meter thousands of other boreholes used for commercial and agricultural purposes to determine how much is being extracted. Control of abstraction should increase water use efficiency amoung the various sectors and divert water demand to increased uptake of harvested rainwater and treated sewage effluent.
Interesting links for further reading: