Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013

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Sustainable water policy required

rainwater harvesting

Malta needs a sustainable water policy that is implemented rather than just being talked about.

A sustainable water policy has a long-term view. Addressing today’s needs, it keeps in focus the requirements of future generations. It would protect all our sources of water while ensuring that this basic resource is valued as an essential prerequisite for life. Without water, life does not exist. With poor quality water or with depleted water resources we are faced with an inferior quality of life.

Measures to protect the water table are being implemented at a snail’s pace and risk being in place only when there is nothing left to protect. The number of metered boreholes is too little. The electronic tracking of water bowsers transporting ground water is stalled.

Alternattiva Demokratika considers that national institutions have been ineffective as the handling of groundwater is still a free for all.

Rainwater harvesting has been neglected for a long time. Building development, large and small, has ignored rainwater harvesting obligations. These obligations have been in place on a national level for over 130 years. However, they are more honoured in the breach.

Many residential units constructed in the past 40 years have no water cisterns. Consequently, rainwater is discharged onto our streets or directly into the public sewers. Flooding of streets and overflowing sewers are the result.

The Government has decided to tackle this by applying public funds to a problem created mostly by private developers. Through the storm water relief projects funded primarily by the European Union, the Government will, in effect, exempt the culprits. Instead of the polluter pays it will be the (European) taxpayers who will pay, thereby exempting the polluter from his responsibilities!

The developers have pocketed the profits while the taxpayer will foot the bill. This is the result of successive governments lacking the political will to penalise the culprits.

In addition, rainwater discharged into the public sewer is overloading the three sewage purification plants now in operation and, consequently, increasing their operating costs during the rainy season. These increased costs are shouldered by all of us, partly as an integral part of our water bills and the rest gobbling up state subsidies to the Water Services Corporation. This is due to the fact that water bills are a reflection of the operating costs of the WSC, which include the management of the public sewer and its contents!

Storm water plays havoc with residential areas, especially those constructed in low lying areas or valleys carved by nature for its own use and taken over by development throughout the years! Overdevelopment means that land through which the water table recharged naturally was reduced considerably throughout the past 40 years. Instead, storm water now gushes through areas with heavy concentrations of nitrates which end up charging the aquifer. A report by the British Geological Society has identified a 40-year cycle as a result of which it would take about 40 years of adherence to the EU Nitrates Directive to give back a clean bill of health to Malta’s water table.

Treated sewage effluent is being discharged into the sea. Being treated means that, for the first time in many years, our bathing waters are up to standard. But it also means that we are discharging into the sea millions of litres of treated sewage effluent that, with proper planning, could have been used as an additional water source for a multitude of uses. Instead, it is being discarded as waste.

After the sewage treatment plants were commissioned as an end-of-pipe solution at the far ends of the public sewer, the authorities started having second thoughts on the possible uses of treated sewage effluent. At this late stage, however, this signifies that means of transporting the treated sewage to the point of use have to be identified (at a substantial cost) when the issue could have been solved at the drawing board by siting a number of small treatment plants at points of use.

This could obviously not be done as the Government has no idea of what sustainable development is about. The Government led by Lawrence Gonzi excels in speaking on sustainable development, yet, he has failed miserably in embedding it in his Government’s method of operation.

I have not forgotten the speech from the throne read on May 10, 2008, by President Eddie Fenech Adami, on behalf of the Government, outlining the objectives of the legislature that is fast approaching its last days. The President had then stated: “The Government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.”

In water policy, the Nationalist-led Government has failed miserably. The mess that it leaves behind is clear proof that during the past 25 years it has taken decisions that have completely ignored tomorrow’s generations.

published in The Times of Malta, December 1, 2012

World Water Week 2012

 

The Stockholm International Water Institute during the current week is organising the World Water Week. Focusing on the theme of water and food security this is the sixth consecutive year for the Swedish Institute.

In Malta water has been mismanaged for a large number of years. The ground water table is generally depleted. Where ground water is still available this is of poor quality.

Agriculture is one of the major users of water. It has also however contributed substantially to the contamination of the water table as is evidenced  in the various studies undertaken locally, amongst which that prepared for the Malta Resources Authority by the British Geological Society. This report is  entitled “A preliminary study on the identification of the sources of nitrate contamination in groundwater in Malta” and was concluded in 2009.

The existing large number of illegal boreholes are drying up what’s left of the water table transforming what ought to be a public commodity into a private asset as is evidenced by the bowsers transporting and selling water to hotels and swimming pool owners all over the island at a rate which is much cheaper that that charged by the Water Services Corporation (WSC). This is daylight robbery which has been made easy by the inaction or delayed action of the maltese authorities throughout the years.

The result is that ground water cannot satisfy the reqirements for human consumption in Malta. It is in fact supplemented by reverse osmois produced water: around 60% of the water supplied by the Water Services Corporation is reverse osmosis water derived from the sea!

 

Whilst WSC sources part of our water from purified sea water it simultaneously dumps into the sea treated sewage effluent. WSC designed all three sewage purification plants as an end of pipe solution intending specifically, on the drawing board to deal with sewage as waste instead of considering it as a precious resource. After all three plants have been commissioned WSC is considering potential uses of the treated water effluent. Such consideration should have been made at the planning stage years ago!

Later this year the European Union will publish a “Blueprint  to safeguard Europe’s water resources”. This was announced by EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik in a statement which he issued on the World Water Week earlier this week.

It is about time that this Blueprint is produced. Even though in Malta at this point it seems that there is little left to safeguard!

 

originally published in di-ve.com on 31 August 2012

The risk of failure stares us in the face

The United Nations Environment Programme is one of the success stories of the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment. Through its Mediterranean Action Programme, UNEP successfully brought together the states bordering the Mediterranean. In 1976, they signed the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution.

Malta signed the convention and a number of protocols, among which a 1980 protocol against pollution from land-based sources and activities, known as the LBS Protocol. One of the commitments that Malta entered into in the 1980s was to ensure that sewage should be treated before being discharged into the sea.

Malta was not in a position to honour its LBS Protocol commitments as the finance required to carry out the infrastructural development was not available. It was only as a result of EU accession that such funds were made available for the Xgħajra and the Gozo plants. (Funds through the Italian protocol were used to construct the Mellieħa plant.) This has come about because, in 1991, the EU adopted its Urban Wastewater Directive, which Malta had to implement on EU accession.

Notwithstanding the availability of EU finance, it was only in 2011, when the third sewage purification plant at Ta’ Barkat Xgħajra was commissioned, that Malta finally came in line with the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. This is clearly evidenced by the latest positive results on the quality of bathing waters along Malta’s coast. The waters off Wied Għammieq/Xgħajra, site of the sewage outfall for over 75 per cent of Malta’s sewage, have registered the most notable quality improvement.

While recognising that Malta has honoured long-standing commitments, it is unfortunate that the long wait was not utilised to identify possible uses of recycled sewage on the basis of which the available EU finance would have yielded long-term benefits. Lessons learnt from the Sant’Antnin sewage purification plant at Marsascala seem to have been ignored.

The sewage purification plants have been designed as an end-of-pipe solution. Situated at the point of discharge into the sea, the whole infrastructure is based on the wrong assumption that sewage is waste. Its potential as a resource was ignored at the drawing board. In fact, I remember quite clearly the statement issued by the Water Services Corporation in the summer of 2008 in reply to prodding by Alternattiva Demokratika. WSC had then derided AD and stated that the treated sewage effluent had no economic value.

Since then we have witnessed a policy metamorphosis. Water policy has slowly changed to accept the obvious and unavoidable fact that sewage is a resource that should be fully utilised. During the inauguration ceremony of the sewage purification plant at Il-Qammiegħ Mellieħa, Minister Austin Gatt had indicated that the possible use of recycled sewage would be studied.

The decision to study the matter had been taken when the design of the infrastructure was long determined. At that point, provision for the transfer of the recycled sewage from the point of treatment to the point of potential use was not factored in. Substantial additional expenditure would be required for this purpose. This is a clear case of gross mismanagement of public funds, including EU funds.

It has been recently announced that a pilot project is in hand to examine the impacts of recharging the aquifer with treated sewage effluent. This pilot project was listed in the First Water Catchment Management Plan for the Maltese Islands as one of three measures submitted to the EU in 2011 in line with the requirements of the Water Framework Directive. The other two measures are the efficient use of water in the domestic sector and using treated sewage effluent as a source of second class water.

AD agrees that a successful pilot project on recharging the aquifer could lead to a long-term sustainable solution of the management of water resources in Malta. This is, however, dependent on the nature of the liquid waste discharged into the public sewer. I am informed that tests which have been going on for some time at the WSC pilot plant at Bulebel industrial estate have revealed specific chemicals that are being discharged into the public sewer and which are proving difficult to remove from the treated sewage effluent.

The successful use of treated sewage effluent for a multitude of uses, including recharging the aquifer, is ultimately dependent on a tough enforcement policy ensuring that only permissible liquid waste is discharged into the public sewers. Recharging the aquifer with treated sewage effluent while technically possible is very risky. On the basis of past performance, enforcement is an aspect where the risk of failure stares us in the face!

The technical possibilities to address the water problem are available. What’s lacking is the capability of the authorities to enforce the law. I look forward to the time when they will develop their teeth and muscles. Only then will the risk be manageable.

 

Published in The Times of Malta, June 16, 2012 : Risk of failure staring at us

L-ambjent tagħna, is-saħħa tagħna

Ftit riflessjonijiet tiegħi wara s-seminar tal-Fondazzjoni Ideat li fih ħadt sehem nhar is-Sibt f’isem Alternattiva Demokratika.

L-ewwel nett jiena diżappuntat bin-nuqqas ta’ parteċipazzjoni ta’ rappreżentanti tal-PN. Kienet opportunita unika ta’ diskussjoni mhux biss bejn rapprezentanti tat-tlett partiti politiċi iżda ukoll ma esperti u attivisti ambjentali. Dan ipoġġi f’perspettiva reali l-eżerċizzju li qiegħed jikkordina d-delegat speċjali ta’ Lawrence Gonzi. Simon Busuttil qiegħed jitħabat biex jorganizza l-laqgħat mas-soċjeta’ ċivili, imbagħad meta jiġu l-inviti għal diskussjoni jiġu injorati. Prova oħra tas-superfiċjalita’ tal-politika ta’ Lawrence Gonzi. Li iżjed milli jisma’ l-karba tal-miġugħ huwa interessat f’pontijiet elettorali. Mhuwiex interessat kif ser jissolvew il-problemi (li ma ħoloqhomx kollha hu!) imma hu interessat biss fil-voti.

Issa niġi għas-sustanza.

L-ilma huwa element mill-iktar essenzjali aħna u nħarsu lejn l-interazzjoni bejn l-ambjent u s-saħħa. Huwa neċessarju li nifhmu l-ħtieġa illi nieħdu ħsieb iktar tal-ilma bħala riżors essenzjali għall-ħajja. Għal kull ħajja. Mhux biss għal ħajja umana iżda ukoll biex tisseddaq l-ekosistema li minna l-bniedem jifforma biss parti żgħira. L-ilma tal-pjan hu fi stat disastruż u għaldaqstant huwa iktar essenzjali li noqgħodu attenti bl-esperimenti li jsiru minn żmien għal żmien. Il-proġett pilota li tħabbar reċentement biex isir artifical aquifer recharge bl-użu ta’ ilma riċiklat mid-drenaġġ huwa wieħed riskjuż. Hemm ħtieġa ta’ attenzjoni kbira f’dawn it-tip ta’ esperimenti li ma nispiċċawx nagħmlu iktar ħsara milli ġid.

L-impatti ambjentali ma jiddependux biss minn dak li nagħmlu aħna f’ Malta. Jiddependi ukoll minn dak li jagħmel ħaddieħor. Per eżempju it-42 vapur mgħobbi bi skart tossiku u nukleari li l-Mafja Taljan għerrqet fil-Mediterran għandhom ikunu  ta’ tħassib għalina. L-ilma tagħna 60% ġej mill-baħar. Il-ħut ma josservax fruntieri u t-tniġġiż fil-baħar għaldaqstant għandu impatt ħafna ikbar milli naħsbu.

Waqt id-diskussjoni issemmew ħafna aspetti ambjentali li huma ta’ preokkupazzjoni.

Naħseb li l-iktar materja inkwetanti hi n-nuqqas ta’ kredibilita’ tal-istituzzjonijiet. Waħda wara l-oħra dawn l-istituzzjonijiet huma kompromessi għax m’għandhomx is-snien li jippermettulhom jaġixxu. Dan in-nuqqas joħroġ mill-fatt li l-Gvern jappunta l-membri waħdu. Mhux biss mingħajr ma jqis x’taħseb is-soċjeta ċivili dwarhom imma fuq kollox prinċipalment a bażi tal-lealta’ politika tagħhom.

Għal dan l-iskop Alternattiva Demokratika ilha żmien tinsisti illi huwa meħtieg li l-ħatra ta’ membri tal-Bord tal-Awtoritajiet tkun soġġetta għal public hearing fil-Parliament. Dan il-proċess jassigura li min ikun ser jinħatar ikollu l-opportunita li jispjega x’inhuma l-kompetenzi tiegħu/tagħha kif ukoll iwieġeb għal mistoqsijiet dwar kif l-imġieba pubblika tiegħu tista’ teffettwa l-ħidma tiegħu/tagħha fil-ħatra maħsuba.

Din hi proposta ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika fil-Programm Elettorali tal-2008 li l-Partit Laburista fl-Opposizzjoni uża fil-Parlament huwa u jikkritika ir-riforma tal-MEPA. Għamel tajjeb, biex ma ninftiehemx ħazin.

Huwa importanti li l-Parlament jieħu lura mingħand il-Gvern il-poter tal-ħatra tal-awtoritajiet kif ukoll huwa neċessarju li l-Parlament ikun kapaċi jissorvelja hu l-ħidma ta’ dawn l-awtoritajiet. B’hekk ikun assigurat iktar koordinazzjoni effettiva kif ukoll iktar kontabilita’.

Recharging the aquifer

The Prime Minister has announced that in Gozo as part of the eco-Gozo project government will embark on a project of recharging the aquifer with purified sewage. The matter has been awaited for some time as it has been brought up during technical discussions/seminars on water and the depleted water table during the past months.

The experiment is very risky. I only hope that it has been well thought out. If it succeeds it may be a long term solution to our water problem. If it fails we will ruin what is left of the water table.

Studies made should be published.

I have my doubts on the whole matter. But then I am not in favour of playing around with nature.

Living on Ecological Credit

published

Saturday July23, 2011

An informal meeting of EU ministers of the environment held in Poland earlier this month reminded us that we are living on ecological credit. Our balance sheet with nature is in the red. It is healthy that EU politicians have recognised this fact.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for ages that the world is living beyond its means. International NGO WWF, for example, publishes information relative to ecological footprint analysis. From the information available, Malta’s ecological footprint is 3.9 hectares per person. This can be compared to an EU average of 4.9 hectares per person (ranging from a minimum of 3.6 for Poland and Slovakia to a maximum of 7.0 for Sweden and Finland) and a world average of 2.2 hectares per person.

This adds up to a total impact for Malta of about 50 times the area of the Maltese islands. A clear indication of the extent of Malta’s reliance on ecological credit.

Malta’s environmental impacts are accentuated due to the islands’ high population density.

Malta’s small size is in some respects an advantage but this advantage has been generally ignored throughout the years. The reform of public transport, currently in hand, could someday put the issue of size to good use by developing an efficient system of communication. This reform, however, has to be properly managed. Preliminary indications point to a completely different direction. I do not exclude the possibility of the achievement of positive results even if, so far, I am disappointed.

The results the Greens hope to be achieved from the public transport reform would be the increased use of public transport and, consequently, a reduction in the number of cars on the road. This will come about if bus routes are more commuter-friendly. A reduction of cars on the road will lead to less emissions and a reduction of transport-generated noise. It would also cut a household’s expenditure through the reduction of fuel costs.

Water management in Malta also contributes considerably to the island’s ecological deficit.

The commissioning of the Ta’ Barkat sewage purification plant means that Malta is now in line with the provisions of the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. But the actual design of the sewage purification infrastructure means that by discharging the purified water into the sea an opportunity of reducing the pressure on ground water and the production of reverse osmosis-produced water has been lost. The purified water could easily be used as second-class water or it could be polished for other uses. When the Mellieħa sewage purification plant was inaugurated it was announced that studies into the possible uses of the purified water were to be carried out. These studies should have been undertaken before the sewage purification infrastructure was designed as they could have led to a differently designed infrastructure. The system as designed means that any eventual use of the purified water will require its transport from the purification plants to the point of use. A properly designed system could have reduced these expenses substantially by producing the purified water along the route of the public sewers and close to the point of use.

Public (and EU) funds have been wrongly used. Water planners have not carried out their duty towards the community they serve through lack of foresight and by not having an inkling of sustainability issues.

It also means that those who advised the head of state to inform the current Parliament’s inaugural session in May 2008 that “the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development” were not aware what that statement signifies. Repeatedly, the government, led by Lawrence Gonzi, falls short of addressing adequately environmental impacts, as a result pushing these islands further down the road of dependence on ecological credit.

The government could have opted for a fresh start in May 2008 by implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy, approved by Cabinet some months prior to the 2008 election. Instead, I am reliably informed that the National Commission for Sustainable Development has not met a single time during the past 42 months. As a consequence, the strategy has been practically shelved and discarded.

I cannot and will not say that there have not been any environmental initiatives. While various initiatives have been undertaken, some only address impacts partially. Others have been embarked upon half-heartedly. It is also clear to all that government environmental action does not form part of a holistic vision. It rather resembles the linking up of loose pieces of unrelated jigsaw puzzle bits.

This contrasts sharply with the public’s awareness and expectations. The public is one step ahead awaiting its representatives to act in a responsible manner in accordance with their much-publicised statements.

Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy. No EU or IMF will bail us out. It’s better to take our environmental responsibilities seriously before it is too late.

World Environment Day: “Government’s environment policy is beyond repair” : AD

World Environment Day: “Government’s environment policy is beyond repair” AD  

On occasion of  world environment day, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party said that one should reflect on what has been carried out, what has been omitted and on what was just done for the sake of it in terms of environmental policy. Whilst the Environment was projected to be one of the foundations for political action of GonziPN it is now clear to everyone that it is cracked and beyond repair.  

Carmel Cacopardo, AD spokesperson for Sustainable Development and Local Government, said that “environment responsibilities for GonziPN is like a political football with responsibilities moving on from one Minister to another. Environmental responsibilities are fragmented in various Ministries increasing the difficulty for implementation of policy.   

Focusing on the water situation one still observes the large quantities of water in our streets which are channelled towards the sea almost every time it rains. This happens notwithstanding laws which have been on the statute book for over 130 years which require water harvesting measures in every building. MEPA still issues compliance certificates relative to buildings which are not provided with a rainwater well however it shifts the blame onto MRA.

This week the Prime Minister inaugurated the sewage purification plant at Ta’ Barkat limits of  Xgħajra. It was a good step but it was only done in order to fulfil EU obligations and not out of an environmental conviction. Substantial financial resources were applied with the resulting purified waters being dumped directly into the sea as to date the government is still considering this water as having no economic value.”

Water has been mismanaged throughout the years and unfortunately the current government does not indicate any change of that direction.

Michael Briguglio, AD Chairperson, said that “AD therefore wishes to focus on this matter of concern on the 2011 World Environment Day. In line with the vision of sustainable development and ecological modernisation, we believe that the importance of water should be seen through the combination of environmental, social and economic dimensions.”

Jum Dinji ta’ l-ambjent: “Il-politika ambjentali tal-Gvern hi mfarrka” AD  

Fl-okkazzjoni tal-jum dinji ghall-ambjent, Alternattiva Demokratika qalet li dan il-jum għandu jservi ghal riflessjoni fuq dak li sar,  dak li kellu jsir u ma sarx, jew inkella sar biex wieħed jgħid li taparsi sar. Meta wieħed iżomm f’moħħu li l-ambjent suppost li hu wiehħed mit-tliet pilastri ta’ GonziPN u jagħti ħarsa ftit lura biex jara kif dan il-pilastu ħadem, isib li mhux talli kien hemm falliment sħiħ f’dan il-qasam, imma l-pilalstru ta’ GonziPN ixxaqqaq u qed jitfarrak ftit ftit.

Carmel Cacopardo, Kelliemi ta’ l-AD għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u Gvern Lokali, qal li “l-ambjent għall-GonziPN sar qisu ballun politiku: ir-responsabbilta’ għalih tgħaddi minn Ministru għal għand ieħor. Illum ir-responsabiltajiet ambjentali huma  mifruxa bejn ħafna Ministeri b’mod li tiżdied id-diffikulta biex din titwettaq.

Nieħdu is-sitwazzjoni tal-ilma. Volumi kbar ta’ ilma għadhom isibu ruħhom fit-triqat u jintremew fil-baħar wara kull ħalba xita. Dan minkejja liġijiet tal-pajjiż li ilhom magħna il-fuq minn 130 sena li jgħidu li kull binja irid ikollha bir biex fih jinħażen l-ilma tax-xita. Minkejja dan il-MEPA xorta għada toħroġ compliance certificate lil dawk li meta jibnu ma jkollhomx dan il-bir! Il-MEPA twaħħal fl-MRA.

Din il-gimgħa rajna l-ftuħ uffiċjali mill-Prim Ministru tal-impjant tat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ f’Ta’ Barkat limiti tax-Xgħajra.  Ħaġa tajba, għalkemm din saret biss minħabba l-obbligi tal-UE u mhux minħabba xi konvinzjoni. Ammont sostanzjali ta’ riżorsi finanzjarji ġew użati biex filwaqt li d-drenaġġ jissaffa l-ilma msoffi jintefa’ l-baħar, għax skond il-Gvern dan l-ilma m’għandux valur ekonomiku.

Tul is-snin l-ilma gie użat hażin u ma jidhirx li dan il-Gvern fi ħsiebu jibdel id-direzzjoni.

Michael Briguglio, Chairperson ta’ AD, qal li “għalhekk, Alternattiva Demokratika tħoss li għandha tiffoka fuq l-importanza ta’ l-ilma fl-okkazjoni ta’ Jum L-Ambjent 2011. Permezz tal-viżjoni favur żvilupp sostenibbli u modernizazzjoni ekologika, AD temmen li l-importanza ta’ l-ilma għandha titqies permezz tad-dimensjonijiet ambjentali, soċjali u ekonomiċi”.

Small is beautiful in water policy

The press was recently briefed that the sewage treatment plant at Ta’ Barkat in Xgħajra will be commissioned shortly. Treating around 80 per cent of sewage produced in Malta it has the capacity to process 50,000 cubic metres of sewage daily. It is one of three plants, the other two being at Iċ-Ċumnija, limits of Mellieħa and at Ras il-Ħobż, in Gozo.

When the plant at Ta’ Barkat is in operation, Malta will at last be in line with the Urban Waste Water Directive of the EU. In addition, it will also be honouring another commitment entered into in terms of the protocol on pollution from land-based sources forming part of the United Nations Mediterranean Action Plan.

Without in any way belittling the efforts and expense entered into, it is to be stated that all three sewage treatment projects mentioned above ignore the potential reuse of the treated sewage effluent and discharge it directly into the sea.

The siting of the three plants is itself indicative of the fact the whole exercise has only been considered as an “end of pipe solution” to marine pollution through the discharge of untreated urban waste water. What was considered as a problem could instead have been viewed as an opportunity to redefine Malta’s approach to the management of water resources.

It was unfortunately very late in the day the government considered the possibility of redefining its approach.

Two years ago, on March 4, 2009, during the inauguration of the Mellieħa sewage treatment plant it was announced that studies would be carried out on the possible use of the treated sewage effluent for agricultural purposes as an alternative to its being discharged into the sea.

Studies should have been carried out before the design of the sewage treatment plants and not when two had already been completed and financial commitments on the third had been made.

Proper studies prior to the formulation of the design brief would have led to a different strategy and, consequently, to an alternative infrastructure.

If a decision on the reuse of treated sewage effluent is now arrived at, a distribution system will have to be introduced to transport the treated water from the sewage treatment plants to the point of use.

This cost could have been avoided by introducing small treatment plants directly at the points where the treated effluent needs to be used.

The above has been countered by a statement which emphasised there is no demand for treated sewage effluent by the agricultural community. This, I submit, is due to the fact that the agricultural community (and others) are today more than amply satisfying their requirements using boreholes to tap the water table.

The recent decision of the Malta Resources Authority to meter all boreholes (even if taken very late in the day) could be a first step to introduce some sense in the management of Malta’s groundwater. The next step would undoubtedly be the decision as to the quantum of payments to be made by whosoever extracts water from the water table.

Offering the use of treated sewage effluent as an alternative water source for agriculture purposes could be an acceptable alternative to extracting groundwater if the water so produced is adequately treated to acceptable standards.

The first use of treated sewage effluent for agricultural purposes in Malta was carried out in the mid-1980s as a result of the commissioning of the Sant’Antnin sewage purification plant at Wied iz-Ziju, limits of Marsascala. Although large tracts of agricultural land were as a result irrigated for the first time, there were complaints on the quality of the treated effluent produced and, subsequently, also on the quality of the agricultural products originating from the area. Technology has made substantial leaps since the 1980s and, in addition, I hope experience garnered throughout the years would be put to good use.

It is also pertinent to draw attention to research carried out by hydrologist Marco Cremona. This research project carried out at Għajn Tuffieħa in conjunction with the Island Hotels Group and the Department of Public Health developed a water recovery and reuse system for use in hotels and large scale commercial buildings.

In the early 1970s, Ralph Schumacher had advocated that “small is beautiful”. Applying Schumacher’s dictum to water policy in Malta could have led to considering a network of small sewage purification plants spread all over the islands to cater for the use of non-potable water. At the end of the day, I have no doubt the cost of such an approach would not have exceeded that of the three sewage purification plants. And we would have large quantities of second-class water available for use at no expense.

This is what the politics of sustainable development could deliver to governments which practise what they preach.

Published in The Times of Malta on March 5, 2011 

Ilma li qed jintrema

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Fausto Majistral, li b’mod anonimu jikteb fil-blog intitolata Malta, 9 Thermidor il-bieraħ għoġbu jsemmini fil-post tiegħu intitolat Muscat’s proposal to reduce your bills.

 

Huwa hu jirriproduċi l-proposti li l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għamel waqt id-diskussjoni dwar il-budget fuq il-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma, u wara jikkummenta fuqhom qal hekk :

 

The country produces 20,000,000,000 litres a year which is treated and thrown away in the sea. We should invest in system that enables us to reuse this water. This would lead to the production of more water and waste less energy.

I don’t know the source of this number and 20 billion litres of water seems to be a little overestimated. The subject is often a matter of complaint on the blog of Carmel Cacopardo (see, for example, here) which complaints often neglect two points. First, that the water from sewage treatment plants would need a polishing plant to render it useful even for agricultural purposes by, amongst other things, removing the salt content. Second, never underestimate the difficulties of getting water to agricultural sites were it is needed. Both points of concern require investment hence money.

 

Il-kummenti ta’ Fausto Majistral juru li m’huwiex infurmat sewwa. La semmieni, ħa nispjegalu ftit.

L-ewwel nett : iċ-ċifra ta’ 20 biljun litru ilma. Minn fejn ġieb din iċ-ċifra l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni ma nafx. Imma fuq il-fact files tal-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma hemm miktub li matul il-perjodu Awwissu 2006-Lulju 2007 ġew prodoti 30,306,179 metri kubi ta’ ilma għall-konsum,  ċjoe ftit iktar minn 30 biljun litru. Jiġifieri ċ-ċifra tal-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni hi pjuttost ftit konservattiva !

It-tieni : Fausto jgħid li jiena qiegħed ninjora żewġ punti, li l-ilma jeħtieġ iktar tindif (polishing) biex ikun jista’ jintuża u li dan jiswa l-flus. Jgħid ukoll illi hemm spiża  kbira  biex l-ilma jitwassal għaż-żoni agrikoli fejn jista’ jintuża.

It-tweġiba lill-Fausto hi waħda sempliċi. Il-proġett tat-tisfija ta-drenagg kien iddiżinjat sempliċiment bħala wieħed biex ikun jista’ jintefa ilma mhux maħmuġ fil-baħar – obbligu li Malta daħlet għalih mhux biss bħala riżultat tas-sħubija fl-EU iżda ukoll bħala firmatarja ta’ wieħed mill-protokolli tal-Konvenzjoni ta’ Barcellona ! Setgħa kien ddiżinjat b’mod differenti, b’mod li jagħti każ ir-realta’ Maltija ta’ nuqas ta’ ilma u li per konsegwenza kull qatra li hawn jeħtieg li nieħdu ħsiebha. Jeżistu impjanti ferm iżgħar minn dawk li qed jintużaw f’Malta li kienu jkunu addattati biex l-ilma jkun ippurifikat fiż-żoni agrikoli mill-ewwel, viċin fejn hu meħtieġ l-ilma. B’hekk kienu jkunu evitati l-ispejjes li qed jgħid Fausto kif ukoll jinqata’ l-użu tal-ilma li qed jittella mill-pjan permezz tal-boreholes.

Dwar l-ispejjes biex l-ilma jkun ippurfikat iktar, dawn diġa saru. Fil-fatt f’dikjarazzjoni li għamlet il-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma u ppubblikata fuq Di-ve News  nhar it-2 ta’ Lulju 2008 jingħad hekk dwar l-impjant f’Għawdex :

“ …… the treatment plant has an existing potential to further treat the effluent using sand filtration and chlorination up to irrigation standards. ……………” 

Is-sekwenza tal-artikli li dehru fuq di-ve news hi din :

1 ta’ Lulju 2008 : AD calls for transparency in public tendering

2 ta’ Lulju 2008 : WSC defends sewage technology 

7 ta’ Lulju 2008 : AD insists treated water has value

Tista’ tara ukoll is-segwenti artikli f’dan il-blog :

4 ta’ Lulju 2008 : L-ilma mormi l-bahar

7 t’Ottubru 2008 : Impjant iehor ghat-tisfija tad-drenagg fil-Mellieha