By Vincent Gauci
Never have Malta’s groundwater resources been in such a precarious state. Groundwater is being severely over-exploited. We are pumping out water at a rate that is 50% higher than the sustainable replacement by rainwater. This is leading to seawater intrusion and it will soon lead to groundwater being completely unutilisable. Moreover, most groundwater bodies show nitrate levels that exceed the EU safe limit of 50mg/l.
Malta is already heavily dependent on Reverse Osmosis (RO) for our water supply. Increasing further our dependence on RO is unsustainable because this technology is based on the burning of fossil fuel. RO water is also more expensive than groundwater and should the RO plants need to be shut down because of an oil spill for example, Malta has only a 2 days’ reserve of potable water. Full dependence on RO, therefore, does not make sense from a strategic point of view.
In 2006, a team of FAO experts carried out a thorough study of Malta’s water resources and had advised that:
Malta’s core water challenge is one of water governance. Tough decisions will have to be made immediately if the environmental sustainability of Malta’s aquifer systems is to be achieved. However, decision-making is currently fragmented, policies are poorly aligned, and awareness of the consequences of continued mismanagement of the sea-level aquifers is poor.
The above-mentioned study laid the ground for the preparation of a National Water Management Plan which would see a radical change in the governance of the local water resources.
The present Government made an electoral commitment to prepare a National Water Management Plan. This is indeed laudable and a welcome change from past decades when water resources were managed with a piecemeal sectoral approach.
The Malta Waer Association had congratulated Government when the Budget speech for 2014 included this para:
A national water plan will be devised. Government will make sure there is adequate infrastructure in place for the storage of rain water whilst also restoring and managing existing structures more efficiently. Moreover, Government will launch a campaign for water conservation.
It was understood at the time that the drafting of this plan needed the allocation of financial and other resources for contracting overseas expertise. However, no resources were specifically allocated. The fact is that 2014 has effectively passed by and we barely heard of the National Water Management Plan, except for a consultation meeting held last March.
The recently published Budget document for 2015 once again mentions the National Water Plan:
A National Water Management Plan is being developed in consultation with stakeholders. The aim is to have this plan ready and adopted by next year.
This rather scanty yet optimistic statement should mean that the National Water Managment Plan is not quite dead and buried. However, as an Association, we have our concerns that the Plan will not see the light of day unless adequate resources are specifically allocated to the preparation of this Plan. The implementation of such a Plan will require far more political will than has been demonstrated so far.