‘Water – a public resource which must be protected’


Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party this morning organised a roundtable debate on Malta’s water-related issues within an EU context, with the participation of state agency representatives, experts and NGOs.

Carmel Cacopardo AD Spokesman for Sustainable Development and Local Government stated that AD welcomes the proposals in the Climate Change adaptation strategy which recommend using recycled sewage, adequately filtered and polished, for agricultural  purposes. Though late in the day this turnabout is welcome and when implemented it will go a long way towards protecting the water table by providing an alternative to the use of ground water.

However, Cacopardo added, that this recommendation will require substantial investments to transport the water from the points where it will be purified to the points of use. These costs will have to be incurred  as the design of the current sewage purification network ignored alternative uses of the purified water. In fact the brief for the design  of the network only deemed it fit for discharge into the sea. AD has been actively campaigning for the use of the recycled sewage and for treating all sources of water as a priceless resource.

Michael Briguglio, AD Chairperson, said: ‘Malta has 8,000 private boreholes, extracting ground water for various uses, including water for soft drinks, animal husbandry, manufacturing industry, concrete batching plants, swimming pools, agriculture, lawns and private gardens – making it probably the country with the highest borehole density in the world. The current free-for-all situation and the recent increases in mains water tariffs has encouraged those who use large amounts of water to drill boreholes or purchase water extracted from boreholes. This is nothing but theft of a strategic resource, whilst everyone else is paying their utility bills. How could it be that such a scarce resource is being treated as if it had unlimited supply, and how come those who are grabbing it for free are being rewarded for doing so? ‘

The debate was chaired by journalist James Debono and participants included Michael Briguglio (AD Chairperson), Carmel Cacopardo (AD spokespeson for Sustainable Development and Local Government), Ralph Cassar (AD Secretary General), Marco Cremona (Hydrologist), Marc Muscat (CEO, Water Services Corporation), Peppi Gauci (Permaculture Foundation), Michelle Borg (MEPA), Dr John Mangion, Director of Water (Malta Resources Authority), David Xuereb, a representative of the Environmental Health Directorate, Francine Caruana (Executive Consultation – MEUSAC), Gordon Knox, Andre Portelli (Moviment Graffitti), Alfred E. Baldacchino, Joe Agius (Ramblers Association), Anna Zammit (sociologist) and Anne Zammit (environmental journalist).

Il-Kunsilli Lokali : qed nagħtu kas tagħhom ?


Nhar is-Sibt kien ta’pjaċir għalija li nindirizza l-laqgha plenarja tal-Kunsilliera Lokali li tkun organizzata kull sena mill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali. Din is-sena din il-laqgħa saret fil-Lukanda Corinthia ġewwa Ħ’Attard.

Osservajt illi fid-dokument konsultattiv tal-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar l-adattament għall-Impatti tal-Klima l-Kunsilli Lokali la jissemmew u l-anqas jidher li hemm rwol maħsub għalihom.

Meta nqiesu illi uħud mill-impatti tal-klima jolqtu direttament lill-lokalitajiet dan jistona. Ġibt l-eżempju tal-kapaċita tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq tagħna li tilqa’ għal bidla fl-intensita’ u l-frekwenza tax-xita.  Xi ħaġa li naraw b’għajnejna ta’ spiss, kull meta jkollna maltempata mhux tas-soltu kif kellna reċentement.

Għad hawn awtoritajiet u kummissjonijiet maħtura mill-Gvern li m’humiex konxji biżżejjed tar-rwol importanti li għandhom il-Kunsilli Lokali. Din il-Kummissjoni dwar il-Klima hi waħda minnhom.

F’Birżebbuġa per eżempju kellu jkun l-intervent tas-Segretarju Parlmentari Chris Said biex il-MEPA tieqaf min-negozjati  li kienet għaddejja mal-Port Ħieles dwar il-kundizzjonijiet ta’ permess ambjentali. Dan sar minħabba li dawn in-negozjati kienu għaddejjin mingħajr l-involviment tal-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa. Issa li l-Kunsill ġie involut in-negozjati bdew mill-ġdid u qed jiġu ndirizzati issues li qabel mhux neċessarjament li kienu qed jitqiesu bl-istess profondita’.

Hemm iżda eżempji oħra li jixhdu illi mhux il-Kunsilli Lokali kollha huma impenjati bl-istess mod.

Meta l–MEPA ħarget il-permess għall-inċineratur tal-biċċerija il-Kunsilli Lokali tal-Marsa u r-Raħal Ġdid ġew mogħtija id-dritt li a spejjes tal-Wasteserve jistabilixxu sistema alternattva għall-monitoraġġ tal-arja fl-inħawi, kif ukoll d-dritt l jqabbdu espert li jgħinhom biex jifhmu l-informazzjoni li tkun ippubblikata dwar l-emissjonijiet. Il-parti relevanti tal-permess fil-fatt tgħid hekk :

”   1.3.2     Public access to emission data (most recent half hour average values and daily average values plus results from the most recent discontinuous measurements) shall be enabled via Internet.

1.3.3     The Marsa and Paola Local Councils may, jointly and in agreement with MEPA, establish an independent ambient air monitoring system covering particulate matter, nitrogen oxides and sulphur oxides, as well as any other parameters that may be agreed with MEPA, at the expense of the permit holder.

1.3.4     The Marsa and Paola Local Councils may, in agreement with MEPA, jointly appoint an independent expert to assist in the interpretation of the emission data made publicly available pursuant to condition 1.3.2.”

Huwa ċar mill-kritika li ssir għall-operazzjoni ta’ dan l-inċineratur illi dawn iż-żewġ Kunsilli Lokali għadhom m’humiex konxji minn dan id-dritt li għandhom u s’issa jidher li m’għamlux użu minnu.

Jidher illi hemm bżonn illi l-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Kunsilli Lokali tgħin lil dawn il-Kunsilli Lokali u oħrajn bħalhom biex jiżviluppaw il-kapaċita tagħhom biex ikunu jistgħu jkunu ta’ servizz aħjar.

The mauling of Dwejra : an environmental crime


Some would have formed the opinion that the basic information on the Dwejra debacle is known to all.

Not quite, I would say.

MEPA issued a permit containing The Consent Conditions relative to a number of sites in Malta and Gozo to be used for filming parts of the tele-serial “Game of Thrones”. One of the sites was at Dwejra Gozo.

Two site specific conditions applicable to Dwejra (conditions 23 and 24 of The Consent Conditions) refer to Areas of Ecological Importance and Sites of Scientific Importance. These are terms used by the Structure Plan to classify the protection afforded to areas of conservation (Structure Plan Policies RCO 1, RCO 2 and RCO 3). Given that the Dwejra site is a Special Area of Conservation I searched and noted that in The Consent Conditions there is no reference whatsoever to Special Areas of Conservation rules and policies, regulated in terms of the Habitats Directive of the EU which was transposed into Maltese law through Legal Notice 311 of 2006 (Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations 2006).

This leads to the logical conclusion that the consent issued by MEPA for the use of the Dwejra site to film part of the tele-serial “Game of Thrones” was only processed in terms of land use planning considerations. Environmental considerations are completely absent: they were completely ignored. The Consent Conditions being a written proof  of this.

Planning vs Environment

During the national debate as to whether it made sense to have land use planning and environment protection forming part of the same authority the Gonzi-Demarco duo  always insisted that MEPA dealing with both would lead to having a much better protection of the environment. Coordination, it was said, was the name of the game. In practice we are faced with something else: land use planning considerations are ruling the day and environmental considerations are being continuously sidelined. The Dwejra case being a typical example.


The Species Data Form

Dwejra was included as a Nature 2000 site and consequently as a Special Area of Conservation by the European Union at the request of the Maltese Government which also supplied the detailed justification as to why the area should be protected. The scientific reasons justifying the selection of the site as a Special Area of Conservation are available on the Species Data Form which MEPA had submitted to the EU on behalf of the Government of Malta some years back. An electronic copy is available at the EU website.

EU LIFE+  financial support

In 2003, given the importance of the protection afforded to the site the EU through its LIFE+ Fund  supported a conservation project for the area headed by Nature Trust Malta then in partnership with MEPA and WWF Italy. The EU forked out €324,000 of the EU taxpayers’ money.

Permissible Activity

Permissible activity in a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is a very delicate matter. It is regulated primarily by regulations 18 and 19 of Legal Notice 311 of 2006.

Regulation 18 establishes that a permit is necessary for any activity in an SAC. It also determines who needs to be notified.

Regulation 19 goes in detail and establishes the parameters within which MEPA as the Competent Authority can act. When the consent required is not related to the management of the SAC and it is likely to have a significant effect thereon, MEPA or the applicant is to carry out “an appropriate assessment of the implications of the operation or activity on the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives”.

Legitimate question

After having ascertained, through the assessment, that the integrity of the site is not affected MEPA is required to obtain and take into account “the opinion of the general public and representations made”.  This means that the assessment carried out has to be subject to a public consultation.

In view of the above it is legitimate to ask: was an appropriate assessment carried out? And further, when was this appropriate assessment subjected to the scrutiny of the public in order that representations could be made by the public as well as environmental NGOs?

I am not aware as to whether an appropriate assessment was carried out and hence nor am I aware as to its possible conclusions. However if this assessment was carried out I do not recollect that it was subjected to public consultation.  Nor have any of the environmentalists with whom I have discussed the matter any recollection of this public consultation ever taking place.

The public interest

Regulation 19 of Legal Notice 311/2006 further specifies what is to be done if the appropriate assessment results in negative implications for the SAC site. In such cases MEPA as the Competent Authority may only give its consent to the activity “for imperative reasons of overriding public interest …… of a social or economic nature.”  These reasons are defined as relating to human health, public safety, or beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment or other reasons which in the opinion of the EU Commission are imperative reasons of overriding public interest.   

The consent must be accompanied by “compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected.”  The EU Commission is furthermore to be informed of these compensatory measures taken by the Competent Authority.

MEPA’s responsibilities

To date the public has been informed in detail as to how the conditions of the permit which MEPA issued to Fire and Blood Productions were not observed. The public is aware that Fire and Blood Productions has apologised for the damage caused but shifted the blame onto its Gozitan sub-contractor.

This only explains one small part of the saga. No one has yet commented as to how MEPA has contributed to the debacle when it is crystal clear that it is precluded from issuing a permit for the Dwejra site in terms of the provisions of the Habitats Directive.

MEPA as the Competent Authority has the duty to ensure that the provisions of the Habitat’s Directive of the EU are observed to the letter. As explained above, through its actions MEPA has ignored both the letter and the spirit of the Habitats Directive.

This leads me to conclude that the damage caused to the SAC was not caused just by the Gozitan sub-contractor acting on behalf of Fire and Blood Productions. Through its lack of observance of the provisions of Legal Notice 311/2006 MEPA has made it much easier for damage to be inflicted onto the Dwejra SAC. Instead of protecting the environment the now reformed MEPA has facilitated its damage.

This is an environmental crime for which persons having a name and a surname are directly and personally responsible.                        


It is time to translate words into action.

I hope that investigations currently in hand will identify the names of those responsible in order that they may be requested to account for both their actions as well as their inaction which have led to the Dwejra SAC mauling.

In a country where the organs of the state are bursting at the seams with lawyers one may sometimes assume that in Malta the rule of law is strictly observed. Such incidents prove that one is grossly mistaken in making such assumptions.    

Environmental legislation must be adhered to first of all by the state. If the state through its institutions ignores environmental legislation how do we expect Joe Bloggs to respect it?

The EU has given us the tools to hold decision takers to account. This is a reason why a large number of environmentalists voted in favour of Malta’s accession to the EU. It is the only way to save what’s left of our heritage.

Published in the Environment Supplement of  The Malta Independent on Sunday,   November 21, 2010

The government must lead by example

The consultation re­port issued by the Climate Change Committee for Adaptation serves as a good basis for discussion on issues which have not been given sufficient attention over the years.

One of the issues tackled is that concerning the absence of rainwater cisterns in dwellings. Recommendation 35 deals with the matter.

It consists of three proposals. First, it emphasises the need to implement the existing legal provisions and then goes on to suggest the year 2007 as a cut-off point. It does this by referring to the uptake by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority of provisions relative to rainwater storage. Finally, it proceeds with recommending a one-off flood fine on those properties which, not having a rainwater cistern, contribute to flooding during heavy rainfall.

The recommendation ignores the fact that the duty to collect rainwater in cisterns was not introduced in 2007 but way back in 1880 through legislation. So the point of departure in this discussion is that all residential properties constructed after 1880 should be provided with a rainwater cistern.

The 1880 legislation was an important milestone. The provision of damp proofing, measures emphasising the importance of ventilation, the provision of an adequately sized rainwater cistern and many other matters were introduced. They are incorporated in article 97 of the Code of Police Laws. The relevant legislative provision on rainwater cisterns is regulated by the director of public health and states that “every house shall also have a cistern of a capacity of at least three cubic metres for every five square metres of the surface of the floor of each room of such house”.

One could justifiably argue that the rainwater cistern dimensions resulting from the above quoted legal provision are on the high side and that after 130 years they need revisiting. When this legal provision was introduced, the most common type of dwelling was one of two floors.

Applying the law’s dimensions to blocks of flats would result in very large water cisterns, of such dimensions that would never be fully utilised. The existing dimensions can be revisited by referring to the footprint of a building rather than to its total floor space. This would result in dimensions that are reasonable and achievable given today’s predominant building typology. It would also iron out discrepancies between the dimensions for rainwater cisterns in the Code of Police Laws and those indicated elsewhere. The establishment of the year 2007 as a cut-off point would exempt dwellings constructed before that date from shouldering their contribution to flooding.

This would discriminate and would mean that a substantial number of dwellings are left free to continue contributing to the flooding problem.

Recommendation 35 suggests the introduction of a one-off flood fine to be paid by the owners of those properties which do not have a rainwater cistern. A one-off fine will not solve anything unless it is substantial. The fine should be payable annually until such time that a rainwater cistern of an appropriate size is introduced.

How should one proceed? As a first point no one should be exempt. To reduce flooding, rainwater should be collected in every dwelling.

Secondly, it has to be recognised that, in some cases, a solution may be beyond the financial means of current owners of buildings without rainwater cisterns. In such cases some form of financial assistance should be considered as the politics of climate change should not be socially regressive.

A third consideration would be that in a number of cases the construction of a rainwater cistern may not be technically possible. In such cases the solution may well be the pooling of resources to construct communal rainwater reservoirs or to fund the maintenance of existing ones. Such funds could be administered by local councils with the owners of defaulting properties being obliged to contribute an amount equivalent to what it would cost to construct a rainwater cistern in their property.

The tangible results of such an initiative would be manifold. Having an alternative source of water some would be in a position to reduce their water bills. With less rainwater flowing in our streets flooding can be substantially reduced and our streets will be generally safer both during as well as immediately after a storm. We will also end up with less sewage overflowing into our streets if rainwater is collected instead of ending up in the public sewer. Finally, our sewage purification plants will have a reduced load during storms thereby reducing their running costs.

Alternattiva Demokratika has been emphasising the above for a number of years.

A good point to start implementation would be for the government to set the example by embarking on an exercise of providing rainwater cisterns in all government-constructed housing estates. Most of them have none.

If the government leads by example the rest will slowly follow.

Published in The Times of Malta : Saturday 13th November 2010

AD asks MEPA Audit Officer to investigate Dwejra mauling

Following a request by AD MEPA has released a copy of the consent conditions for the use of Dwejra and other sites  in connection with “The Game of Thrones” teleserial shootout. AD is releasing the a copy of the Consent Conditions.

In the meantime Carmel Cacopardo AD spokesman on Sustainable Development and Local Government has written to the MEPA Audit Officer requesting that he investigates the whole matter.

In the written request Cacopardo on behalf of AD has stated that :
“It is inconceivable how MEPA could have issued any kind of permit for activities at Dwejra in view of the strict rules imposed by the  EU Habitats Directive which has been transposed into Maltese legislation.

In my opinion the Environment Protection Directorate of MEPA as the Competent Authority in terms of the Habitats Directive has permitted activities which it is duty bound to prevent from happening.

You are kindly requested to investigate the manner in which MEPA has handled this incident through both the actions and inactions of the Planning Directorate and the Environment Protection Directorate in MEPA.”Consent Conditions

AD demands Mepa information on Dwejra ‘mauling’


Carmel Cacopardo, AD’s spokesman on Sustainable Development has asked MEPA in terms of the Freedom of Access to Information on the Environment Regulations of 2005 to release a copy of the permit (including the relative conditions) which it has issued for filming in the Natura 2000 site of Dwejra Gozo.

“The mauling of the Natura 2000 site at Dwejra Gozo in the year 2010, is further proof that MEPA is either incompetent, oblivious of its responsibilities, or else it is unwilling to administer such EU Natura 2000 sites in terms of its responsibilities as the Competent Authority for Malta an EU Member State,” Mr Cacopardo said. “The Dwejra debacle follows the obscene development permits issued by MEPA in Mistra, Baħrija valley, Ramla l-Ħamra Gozo, all Natura 2000 sites. Furthermore it is to be underlined that Malta has received substantial financial aid under the EU Life Project in connection with the management of the Dwejra Natura 2000 site.”

The latest incident at Dwejra raised a number of questions in respect of which answers were expected, he said.

“1. Why was this permit not monitored when it is well known that filming companies tend to ignore limitations imposed by regulatory authorities ?

“2. Why did MEPA not send any of its inspectors at Dwejra, a Natura 2000 site, to monitor adherence to the conditions of the issued permit as is usually done in such cases, thereby ensuring that no damaging actions are taken in hand?

“3. Where was the sand used at Dwejra transported from?

“4. Did the Works Division in the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs issue a permit for the transportation of sand as is required by article 3 of the Sand Preservation Act ?

“5. How can MEPA be sure of the origin of the sand used if it did not carry out adequate monitoring? In particular can it 100% exclude that the sand used was not transported from Ramla l-Ħamra, another Natura 2000 site?

“6. What legal action will be taken in connection with what has happened?”

The AD spokesman said the government through its agencies was not only paying lip service towards the protection of the environment, but to date all it had done had proven to one and all that it did not have an inkling of what environment protection was all about.

as published in timesofmalta.com 4th November 2010

also on maltastar.com 5th November 2010