Every little drop counts

Drop of water falling into the water

Earlier this week the Ministry for Energy and the Conservation of Water launched a public and stakeholder consultation process on the National Water Management Plan.

As emphasised by the Malta Water Association, Water is everybody’s business. It is also everybody’s responsibility.

Water extracted from illegal boreholes is a misappropriation of a publicly owned resource. Government has been very reluctant to act on this matter throughout the years. It is not just the lack of metering of ground water extraction which is of concern but the extraction itself.

The use of ground water is of concern even when this is done for purposes of agriculture. Agriculture is a major user of water, primarily (but not exclusively) water extracted from the water table.  Whilst assisting agricultural is both understandable and acceptable due to the strategic importance of the sector such assistance must be within well defined limits.  Such assistance should be part of a long term strategy aimed to wean Maltese agriculture away from the use of ground water, encouraging it to use recycled water (treated sewage effluent) instead.

It is clear that the impacts of agriculture on water has been neglected throughout the years. A  National Water Management Plan would be ineffective if it is not buttressed by a National Agricultural Policy which addresses clearly and unequivocally the impacts of agriculture on Malta’s depleted water resources.

Agriculture is not only a major user of water. It is also a major polluter of water resources. For example, the liquid waste generated by animal husbandry has not been addressed throughout the years such that in a number of instances it is a major source polluting the aquifer. In this respect it competes with the use of pesticides.

A National Water Policy must be complemented by a policy laying the foundations for a sustainable agriculture.  Such a policy should guide the agricultural sector towards those crops and activities which require the least water.  This should lead to a policy as a result of which agriculture is assisted in shifting to products which are more compatible with the lack of availability of water in Malta.  It is a must that our policies are reflection of our environmental realities. Otherwise it can never be sustainable.

Agriculture is consuming around 28 million cubic metres of water annually most of which originates from our aquifers.   Using suitable incentives attempts should be made to shift agricultural production  to one which is more in tune with our water realities. On a long term basis the actual water used should be recycled water which is adequately polished.  Over a period of time this would substantially reduce the uptake of ground water by agriculture.

Water used for human consumption as well as all water used for domestic purposes is partly sourced from ground water (44%) whilst the rest is the result of processing of sea water through Reverse Osmosis technology. This amounts to around 29 million cubic metres annually.

Increasing water harvesting measures in residential areas, in particular ensuring that all rainwater in residential areas is adequately collected and subsequently utilised would further ease the pressure on water resources. In addition it would reduce the costs of running our sewage purification plants by eliminating an unnecessary load when rainwater is dumped into the sewers!  A National Water Management Plan should thus ensure that all buildings have suitable water harvesting measures and those which do not should be given a deadline to come to order.

The Resources Authority (MRA) as well as the Water Services Corporation (WSC) have been carrying out various trials and experiments in order to establish the optimum use of treated sewage. A proposal has been made that subject to the quality of the purified water being of an acceptable quality this could be used to recharge the aquifer. To attain this objective it must be ascertained that only permissible liquid waste is discharged into the public sewer.  I am of the opinion that this objective, however laudable,  may result as being quite difficult to attain.

All ground water extraction should be halted as early as possible as it is imperative that both the quantity and quality of water stored in our aquifer is given sufficient time to recover from the mismanagement to which it has been subjected throughout the years.

Water is everybody’s business. We need it. We need to use it efficiently and responsibly. We need to ensure that others too have access to this precious resource. Hence our duty to ensure that no water goes to waste and that everyone has adequate access to it.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 15 March 2014

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