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 

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Id-drenaġġ ifur fil-Kalkara

kalkara

rinella20bay201 

Qabel xejn : għal min ma jafx niddikjara interess fuq is-suġġett tal-lum. Jiena noqgħod il-Kalkara u ilni noqgħod hawn għal dawn l-aħħar tlettax-il sena. 

Il-Kunsill Lokali tal-Kalkara wissa’ lill-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma li ma jistax jibqa’ jissaporti d-drenaġġ ħiereġ fit-triq kull meta tagħmel ix-xita. Ara ir-rapporti fit-Times u l-Independent .

Issa l-Korporazzjoni hi responsabbli għas-sistema tad-drenaġġ għax minn xi snin ilu lil hawn id-Dipartiment tad-Drenaġġ ġie assorbit fil-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma.

Li qed jiġri meta jfur id-drenaġġ fil-Kalkara (kif ukoll f’postijiet oħra), kif spjegajt iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa hu li hemm numru ta’ binjiet illi m’għandhomx bir kif jirrikjedu r-regolamenti sanitarji. Minflok ma jinġabar fil-bir (li ma jeżistix) l-ilma tax-xita jispiċċa fit-triq jew fid-drenaġġ.

Meta s-sistema tad-drenaġġ ma tlaħħaqx tfur. Fil-każ tal-Kalkara id-drenaġġ ifur Ix-Xatt fejn għal siegħat twal wara li tkun waqfet ix-xita inkunu għadna b’riħa ta’ drenaġġ.

Issa l-Korporazzjoni ghas-Servizzi tal-Ilma għandha responsabbilta dwar dak li qed jiġri għax l-uffiċjali tagħha jawtorizzaw kull kaz ta’ komunikazzjoni ġdida mas-sistema. Fil-fehma tiegħi jonqsu meta jawtorizzaw li komunikazzjoni ġdida sseħħ jekk qabel ma jkunux ivverifikaw li teżisti sistema separata għall-ilma tax-xita.

Pero r-responsabbilta’ mhiex biss tal-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma. Hemm ukoll il-MEPA li minkejja li l-kostruzzjoni ta’ bir għall-ilma tax-xita hi wahda mill-kundizzjonijiet fil-permessi tal-bini dan ma tiverifikax li jkun sar qabel ma toħroġ ċertifkat li l-iżvilupp sar skond  il-permess. Li kieku l-MEPA tagħmel il-verifiki neċessarji postijiet bla bir ma jkunux jistghu jiġu użati għax ma jkunux jistgħu jingħataw is-servizz tal-elettriku u l-ilma mingħajr iċ-ċertifikat tal-MEPA (il-compliance certificate).

Hemm ukoll l-awtoritajiet sanitarji (Id-Dipartiment tas-Saħħa Pubblika) li għandu ukoll l-obbligu permezz tal-Ispetturi Sanitarji li jagħmel il-verifiki. Kull tant professjonalment niltaqa’ ma xi spettur sanitarju jagħmel verifiki ġeneralment wara xi rapport li jkun sar jew minħabba xi tilwima bejn ġirien. Mill-bqija l-ebda verifika waqt li jkun għaddej il-bini biex ikun stabilit li x-xogħol qiegħed isir sewwa.

Il-ħażina u l-ħarsien tal-ilma tax-xita huwa wieħed minn dawk l-oqsma li fih tirrenja l-liġi tal-ġungla f’Malta. Kulħadd jagħmel li jrid u li jogħġbu. Billi l-parti l-kbira tal-bini ġdid illum huwa fil-forma ta’ flats jew maisonettes dawn ġeneralment jinbnew biex jinbiegħu. Min jibnihom ikun irid jonfoq l-inqas biex jaqla’ l-iktar. L-amministrazzjoni pubblika billi ma tivverifika kważi xejn f’dan ukoll saret qaddejja tal-ispekulatur. Hu jonfoq inqas u wara l-kaxxa ta’ Malta terfa’ l-ispejjes minħabba l-problemi li jinqalgħu.

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Il-Kalkara tifforma parti minn Distrett Elettorali li minnu jiġi elett il-Prim Ministru Lawrence Gonzi fil-Parlament.

Il-Prim Ministru għandu r-responsabbilta politika li jara li l-amministrazzjoni pubblika tkun ta’ servizz lill-pajjiż. Jista’ (jekk irid) jdur fuq il-Ministru responsabbli għall-MEPA (hu stess), jdur ukoll fuq il-Ministru responsabbli għas-Saħħa (John Dalli) u fuq il-Ministru responsabbli għall-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma (Austin Gatt) u jitlohom jagħtu spjegazzjoni il-għaliex l-awtoritajiet li minnhom huma responsabbli mhumiex jaqdu dmirhom. Forsi ma tafx kif dawn it-tlett Ministri jiċċaqalqu u jaraw li dawk li jitħallsu mit-taxxi jerfgħu r-responabbiltajiet tagħhom.

Forsi l-Gvern ma jibqax jagħtina servizz tal-qamel.