MWA Viewpoint on Restoration of Valleys
The Malta Water Association wishes to highlight the hydrological, geological, social, and ecological functions of valleys. Valleys are indeed multi-functional entities.
From a water management perspective, valleys play an important role in the drainage of surface runoff, thereby alleviating flooding problems. Valleys are also important in the recharge of the aquifer. Most of the valleys in Malta carry water along their watercourses exclusively during the wet season, and, historically, the construction of dams in valleys was designed to slow down the seasonal flow of the water, thereby increasing the recharge potential of valleys. To safeguard the functionality of dams, the latter must be maintained, and depositions of silt and debris should be removed on a regular basis.
Over the years valleys have been largely neglected and mismanaged. There is little of no data on the hydrological function of valleys. There is even ambiguity regarding the ownership of the hydrological infrastructure, including dams, in valleys. For certain, there is the urgent need for their rehabilitation and restoration, rather than their “cleaning”.
In some cases, valleys have been taken over by densely populated urban conurbations. Valleys have become an important recreational hub for those that live in their vicinity. There is therefore a social dimension in valley restoration.
Over the years, valleys have become important ecological niches, where indigenous and endemic flora and fauna have found refuge to the extent that some species and their habitat are protected under national and international legislation, including the EU legislation. Indeed some valleys form part of Natura 2000 network.
In some cases, because of lack of maintenance, invasive alien species have also established themselves in valleys. These species spread, compete and possibly gradually replace indigenous fauna and flora. The MWA realises that the removal of such invasive species is a delicate process, as is their elimination, and careful attention has to be given so as not to contribute to their further dispersal.
The MWA understands that works in valleys have been undertaken by various ministries and Local Councils, under MEPA conditions. The MWA regrets to note that there are instances when such works have not been carried out in accordance with these conditions, resulting in unsustainable interventions with potential social, economic and environmental impacts.
The MWA contends that, considering the neglect that some valleys have been subjected to, sustainable interventions in valleys may require to be carried out over a planned, protracted period of time and not in one season, as may be dictated by a desire for quick results.
The MWA believes that the first steps in valley restoration is the removal of dumped material and the repair of structural damage to the physical environment, such as dilapidated rubble walls, leaking dams, and measures to stop soil erosion. Beyond these first steps, more delicate interventions may be required which must be done in a sensitive way.
The MWA believes that interventions in valleys may require to be carried out using only light machinery or even manually. Admittedly, use of heavy machinery makes interventions easier and quicker, but often results in damage to the physical structure of valleys and, most important of all, eliminates the dormant flora and fauna in valley beds.
The MWA would like to suggest that adequate indigenous riverine trees are propagated locally so that these can, not only replace the invasive species in the valleys, but would also help to further enrich the conservation, educational, aesthetic, ecological and social aspects valleys.
The MWA would like to see that its suggestions concerning the restoration of valleys are duly taken into consideration and that the restoration of valleys is truly undertaken in a sustainable way so as to contribute to the islands’ economic, social and ecological well-being, and without loss of precious water resources.