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

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A five drop policy

We need a five drop policy: a sustainable water policy which would treat with care our five sources of water.

Drop No. 1 is a drop of rainwater. We need to handle rainwater with care. If we harvest it appropriately we will be able to make use of it when it is required. If we harvest it we will also reduce its flow in streets and diminish substantially the overloading of our sewers whenever it rains.

Drop No. 2 is a drop of storm water. Storm water flowing through our streets can be substantially reduced if rainwater harvesting is done appropriately. The remaining storm water would then be less of a danger to life and limb. It would be less of a civil protection issue and much more an exercise of collecting rainwater from streets to be utilised for non-potable purposes.

Drop No. 3 is a drop of ground water. Ground water has been mishandled for years on end. It is time that we realise that this resource which has been collected and stored by nature is finite. Through the years it has been over-extracted such that the quality of what’s left is compromised. It has also been contaminated by human activity, primarily agriculture, such that it would take a minimum of 40 years to reverse the process.

Drop No. 4 is a drop of treated sewage effluent. Treated sewage effluent is being discarded as a waste when it should be valued as a very precious resource. Treating sewage before discharging it into the sea honours Malta’s obligations under the Urban Wastewater Directive of the European Union. However throwing it away into the sea is an unsustainable practice which should be discontinued. We should appreciate its value and put it to good use. At the moment we are discharging treated sewage effluent into the sea at three points along our coast and then taking it up again at other points to produce potable water through our reverse osmosis plants!

Drop No. 5 is a drop of sea water.  Sea water is much cleaner nowadays due to sewage being treated before discharging into the sea. This has improved substantially our bathing waters. But sea water is also the source of over 55% of our potable water which we process through our reverse osmosis plants.

These five drops of water make up our water resources.

Water is of strategic importance to ensure a healthy eco-system, for our quality of life as well as for our economy.  Government can and should do much more to protect this precious resource. But we should also consider how we could improve our input by using this resource properly.

A sustainable water policy is a five drop policy through which each and every one of us values each and every source of water.

This post was originally published in di-ve.com on Friday 9th November 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

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 

Thoughts for an Environmental Policy

The government has published a number of policy documents for public consultation. Two deal with different aspects of water policy while a third deals with issues for a National Environment Policy.

Also of relevance is an Ernst & Young Report commissioned by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on a 2008 Public Attitudes Survey. It is dated April 2010. Although recently published I do not recollect reading anything in the press about this survey. One of the conclusions of this survey should be an eye opener to policy makers as to the central importance which the Maltese public attaches to the environment.

In the 2008 Public Attitudes Survey it was concluded that 69 per cent of respondents held the view that the environment was as important as the economy. On the other hand 23 per cent of respondents considered that the environment was more important than the economy while only eight per cent considered the economy as being of overriding importance.

To my mind these are significant conclusions contrasting with current national policy which considers that the economy has an ­overriding priority over the environment. The Maltese public thinks otherwise: 92 per cent of respondents of the Mepa Public Attitudes Survey have understood that the economy should not be an overriding consideration in environmental policy formulation. Now this is what sustainable development is all about.

Contrary to what green-washers imply, being committed to sustainable development does not mean that one seeks to balance or mitigate environmental, social and cultural impacts of economic development. Sustainable development speaks another language altogether for which unfortunately there is still a lack of translators. Real commitment to sustainable development conveys the message that humankind does not own the earth. It shares the earth with other species together with which it forms part of one eco-system.

The way in which our society has evolved and is organised is such that it considers human activity as meriting overriding importance. In fact it is often stated that policies are anthropocentric. Both PN and PL environmental policies can be grouped in this category. AD together with other Green parties around the globe differs as it follows a eco-centric path. But then the ecology has no vote!

Sustainable development properly construed considers the need of an eco-centric environmental policy. This signifies that a holistic approach is applied through which impacts on the whole eco-system are considered.

Now this is completely different from the manner in which our society is accustomed to look at itself. An eco-centric approach leads us to take a long term view in contrast to the short-sighted view of our immediate interests. This does not only impact land use but also waste management, agriculture and fishing, light pollution, acoustic pollution, air quality, water resources, mineral deposits, transport policy, the protection of our ecological heritage and many other areas.

When one considers the above I cannot understand why the authors of the National Environment Policy Issues Paper ignored the National Sustainable Development Strategy when formulating the Issues Paper for public consultation. They considered the 2008 State of the Environment Report and the Parliamentary debate which ensued together with the Ernst & Young report above quoted as the basis for a discussion.

In so doing they ignored completely a consultation process spanning a number of years which answered most of the questions which the Issues Paper poses.

This is surely not a new way of doing politics. It is a way with which most of us are familiar as it does away with past achievements and seeks to start a fresh page, ignoring everything and everyone. Knowing that at least one of the drafters of the National Environment Policy Issues Paper was actively involved in the process leading to the National Sustainability Strategy, I must ask the obvious question: Is the Issues Paper the first step towards the scrapping of the National Sustainability Strategy?

The current Bill before Parliament which seeks to consolidate existing legislation on land use planning and the environment removes all references to the National Sustainable Development Commission. It was stated repeatedly that a separate legislative measure will be proposed dealing with issues of sustainable development. Yet to date this is nowhere in sight. Does this confirm that there have been second thoughts on the National Sustainability Strategy?

The Strategy should currently be in the process of implementation. Section 5 of the Strategy entitled “The Way Ahead” provides that ministers have to produce action plans for the implementation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy in their portfolio within 18 months from the adoption of the strategy.

The strategy was adopted by Cabinet more than 18 moons ago yet the action plans are nowhere in sight.

I have never had any doubt that this government is being consistent with its beliefs: it says one thing, but when push comes to shove it proceeds with doing something else.

published in The Times : August 14, 2010

World Environment Day Message – Messaġġ għal Jum l-Ambjent

On the occasion of World Environment Day, commemorated annually on the 5 June, Carmel Cacopardo AD Spokesman on Sustainable Development and Local Government has on behalf of Alternattiva Demokratika The Green Party in Malta  issued the following message :

 During the past twelve months the environment has topped the citizen agenda many times. Air Quality, energy security and flawed tendering processes, land use planning which leaves much to be desired, depleted water resources, excessive and uncontrolled noise and congested roads due to overdue public transport reform, issues relative to biodiversity loss,  have been some of the topics on which AD has repeatedly spoken throughout the past twelve months.  

Government continuously speaks in favour of environmental measures but then its actions do not always correspond to its statements. It is not the monies spent which indicate the level of environmental commitment but the impacts and the positive results attained in addressing the most pressing environmental problems. 

Whilst the “black dust” saga is still officially unresolved it is known that research carried out at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Malta as far back as the  year 2000 had already indicated that the Marsa Power Station was the possible source of this black dust. Not indentifying a solution to this problem in 10 years is a clear indication of the “green credentials” which this government  speaks about but does not manifest in its actions.   

On a positive note AD has noted the statement made over the weekend by new Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the Environment, Dr Mario De Marco, on the need to be very cautious in tackling the proposed Hondoq ir-Rummien project. “Our environment is too small to afford to suffer any more mistakes than we have already committed in the past, sometimes even in the name of tourism and progress”  stated Dr De Marco (Sunday Times of Malta: Sunday 30 May 2010). Whilst AD endorses Dr De Marco’s statement, it invites government to realise that these mistakes have been committed by public authorities made up of appointees whose only credentials were their political allegiances. AD looks forward  to the day when decisions are taken by competent authorities and not by politicians in disguise or by proxy.  MEPA reform currently in hand unfortunately does not point in this direction.

In view of all this AD considers that it is time to stand up and be counted. We need to be ambassadors of a radically different future. This can be achieved if more resources are allocated to establish an administrative capacity for dealing with environmental issues as well as ensuring that a consensual environmental policy is developed for these islands.  AD as always is available to give its contribution.

AD reiterates that the environment is a political issue and the election of AD in local, national and European elections will ensure that it is given the priority it deserves through a vision of sustainable development.
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Fl-okkażjoni tal-Jum Dinji tal-Ambjent imfakkar kull sena nhar il-5 ta’ Ġunju,  Carmel Cacopardo kelliemi ta’ Alternattika Demokratika dwar l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli  u l-Gvern Lokali ħareġ dan il-messaġġ  :

Matul dawn l-aħħar tnax-il xahar l-ambjent kien fuq quddiem nett fl-aġenda taċ-ċittadin Malti. Il-kwalita’ tal-arja, is-sigurta’ tal-enerġija u s-sejħiet għall-offerti b’elf difett, l-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art li ma jindirizzax dak mistenni min-nies, ir-riżorsi tal-ilma mhux imħarsa u dejjem jonqsu, l-istorbju eċċessiv u mhux kontrollat, it-toroq mimlija traffiku minħabba r-riforma tat-trasport pubbliku li dejjem ġejja u qatt ma tasal, telfin tal-biodiversita`: dawn kienu wħud mis-suġġetti li Alternattiva repetutament tkellmet dwarhom matul is-sena li għaddiet.  

Il-Gvern kontinwament jitkellem favur il-ħarsien ambjentali, imma mbagħad dak li jagħmel mhux dejjem jikkorrispondi ma’ dak li jiddikjara. Il-flejjes minfuqa ma jindikawx il-kredenzjali ambjentali tal-Gvern imma l-impatti tagħom u r-riżultati pożittivi li jinkisbu minnhom juru kredibilta.  

Il-każ tat-“trab iswed” għadu uffiċjalment ma issolviex. Iżda hu magħruf li riċerka li saret fid-Dipartiment tal-Kimika fl-Universita’ ta Malta fis-sena 2000 kienet diġa indika li l-Power Station tal-Marsa kienet probabilment il-kawża tiegħu. Meta wara għaxar snin għada mhix identifikajt l-oriġini u s-soluzzjoni għal din il-problema huwa indikazzjoni ċara ta’ kemm dan il-Gvern jitkellem biss favur il-ħarsien ambjentali, mingħajr ebda azzjoni pożittiva favur dan il-għan!….. anzi.

Fuq nota pożittiva Alternattiva Demokratika tinnota l–istqarrija fi tmiem il-ġimgħa mis-Segretarju Parlamentari l-ġdid responsabbli għall-Ambjent, Dr Mario De Marco, dwar il-ħtieġa ta’ attenzjoni kbira fuq kif jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet dwar il-proġett propost għal Ħondoq ir-Rummien. “L-ambjent tagħna hu żgħir wisq biex nistgħu nitgħabbew b’iktar żbalji bħal dawk li kkommettejna fil-passat, xi kultant anke’ f’isem it-turiżmu u l-progress” qal Dr De Marco (Sunday Times of Malta: 30 ta’ Mejju 2010). Filwaqt li Alternattiva Demokratika taqbel ma’ din id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Dr De Marco, tistieden lill-Gvern biex jifhem li dawn l-iżbalji seħħew minn awtoritiajiet pubbliċi magħmula minn persuni li l-uniċi kredenzjali tagħhom kienu l-fehmiet politiċi. Alternattiva Demokratika taspira li jasal dak il-jum fejn dawn id-deċiżjonijiet ma jibqgħux jittieħdu mill-politiċi minn wara l-kwinti jew bil-ġbid tal-ispag. Sfortunatament ir-riforma tal-MEPA dan kollu tinjorah.     

Fid-dawl ta’ dan, Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li wasal iż-żmien li kulħadd isemma’ leħnu. Hemm ħtieġa li nkunu ambaxxaturi ta’ futur radikalment differenti mill-present li qed ngħixu fih. Dan jista’ jseħħ bl-allokazzjoni ta’ aktar riżorsi biex tinbena l-kapaċita amminsutrattiva u teknika meħtieġa għall-oqsma kollha ambjentali kif ukoll biex jiġi assigurat illi tkun żviluppata politika ambjentali konsenswali. Alternattiva Demokratika bħal dejjem hi lesta u disposta biex tagħti sehemha.

Alternattiva Demokratika hi tal-fehma li l-ambjent hu materja ta’ politika u li l-elezzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika f’-elezzjonijiet lokali, nazzjonali jew Ewropej tkun l-assigurazzjini li l-ambjent jingħata prijorita’ li jixraqlu f’viżjoni ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli.

Water : A Long-Term View

An environmental policy which is worth the paper it is written on is one which aims at the long term. Merged into a national sustainable development strategy, environmental, economic and social policy is viewed in an holistic manner linking cause and effect.

The argument is often bandied around that in order to address environmental impacts it is necessary to ensure the generation of wealth through an enhanced economic performance which wealth could then be applied to environmental initiatives. I would suggest considering that environmental impacts are the direct consequence of economic activity, this leading to the conclusion that environmental impacts can be effectively addressed by re-designing the economic activity which has generated them.

Sometimes we tend to forget that man forms part of an ecological system. One particular consequence of this fact is that policies should be focused on making man’s impacts compatible with the carrying capacity of the ecological system.

This is easier said than done. It has been ages since man has abandoned most of his direct links with nature acting as if he was king of all that he could see. An environmental deficit has accumulated over the years as a result of short term policies which sought to satisfy the needs at a particular point in time without pausing to think on how those same needs would be satisfied in the long term. 

Consider for example the issue of water. Everyone is at this point aware that in Malta water is currently extracted from the water table at an unsustainable rate. The point of contention is whether we are still in time to remedy the situation.

Action taken by the Malta Resources Authority recently such that water extracted from boreholes is regulated is positive even though this action has been long overdue. The defining moment in protecting Malta’s underground water resources would be when these resources are reserved for agriculture and for distribution through the Water Services Corporation network. All other uses of underground water should be prohibited forthwith.

This signifies that better use should be made of other water sources. Too much rainwater is lost to the sea and to the public sewers. This is mostly the result of an incompetent public sector which has not applied existing policies and regulations. 

Water has been scarce in Malta since the advent of human settlement. It would suffice to say that when the Knights sought reasons to decline Charles V’s offer to base themselves in Malta the reports submitted by L’Isle Adam’s scouts placed lack of water as one of the main reasons. When Valletta was being constructed building regulations were drawn up emphasising the need to collect rainwater in cisterns constructed in the individual residences. This is still part of our legislation and since 1880 it has been applicable to all residences.

However notwithstanding the fact that legislation provides a solution, those entrusted with its implementation do not seem to be interested. Substantial amounts of property developed in the last 40 years is not provided with adequate storage for rainwater. In some cases the resulting rainwater flows straight onto our streets or else it is poured directly into our sewers. The results are various.

1. a substantial quantity of rainwater which could be put to good use is lost; this is then made up for by water extracted from the watertable or processed by reverse osmosis plants at a substantial ecological cost,

2. part of our sewer network is overloaded, overflowing onto roads and the sea during and immediately after heavy rainfall,

3. some of our roads are not fit to use during and immediately after heavy rainfall,

4. the overloaded sewers place an additional strain on the sewage purification plants thereby increasing their running costs which costs are then added to our water bills.  

 

Addressing the collection of rainwater and making good use of it would substantially reduce all of these impacts. This is easy to do, yet it has not been done as the competent authorities have shirked their duties for the past 40 years or so.

Whilst proper rainwater management would ease demand for groundwater this is not however the only possibility. I would point to action being taken by Singapore which like Malta has a lack of natural water resources. Singapore has reacted by producing a Four Taps policy which aims at being self-sufficient through the sustainable use of water resources. Within the Four Taps Policy Singapore also finds a use for purified sewage.

In Malta incompetence has produced a system designed specifically for discharging purified sewage into the sea. Certainly no long term planning here! Instead of designing a system to purify sewage close to where it could be used, incompetence has directed the substantial investments obtained from the EU to an end-of-pipe solution. This was not the result of some study as during the inauguration of the Mellieħa sewage purification plant it was stated by one of the big-heads that the matter had still to be studied. These misconceptions are traceable at least to the drawing board stage and result from the mistaken view that considers sewage as being of no use. The authorities are on record as stating that purified sewage has no economic value!

I have focused on water issues as just one example illustrating the lack of long term planning and the manner in which resources in Malta have been mismanaged throughout the years. There are countless of other examples encompassing energy, land, transport, agriculture, marine resources, industry, fisheries ………  Just name it.

A long term view of policy and its effects is long overdue. When this is done as a country we will be in a position to ensure that that environmental, economic and social issues are viewed in their proper perspective. We need to think in terms of a generation in order to bequeath to our children fewer problems than we have inherited. And its not just about water !

Published May 23, 2010 – The Independent on Sunday (Environment Supplement)

See also in this blog : The Cost of Incompetence

L-Ilma tax-Xita

 

rain_5 

 

60% tal-ilma li nikkunsmaw jiġi mill-impjanti tar-Reverse Osmosis. Biex l-ilma baħar isir tajjeb għax-xorb jeħtieġ l-użu ta’ kwantita’ mhux żgħira ta’ elettriku. Il-bqija, l-40% l-oħra jiġi mill-ilma tal-pjan (watertable).

 

Issa l-ilma tal-pjan, minħabba li qed jittella minnu kwantita’ kbira, qed iżid fis-salinita, u hemm possibilta li f’data mhux il-bogħod ikun inqas possibli li jintuża għall-konsum. Għalhekk kien f’loku li l-MRA fl-aħħar bdiet il-proċess li tikkontrolla x’qiegħed jiġi imtella mill-boreholes.

 

Dan ifisser li illum huwa meħtieġ iktar minn qatt qabel li jkollna pjan strateġiku dwar l-ilma f’pajjiżna. Pjan li jħares lejn is-sorsi kollha tal-ilma li għandna bħala pajjiż u kif jista’ jsir l-aħjar użu minnu.

 

L-ilma tax-xita (stormwater) fi pjan bħal dan huwa importanti. Kif qalu bosta l-importanza ta’ dan l-ilma mhiex biss waħda posittiva, bħala riżors li nistgħu nagħmlu użu minnu. Hemm ukoll aspett negattiv : dak assoċjat mal-għargħar, bil-ħsara, perikli u inkonvenjent mhux żgħir li dan iġib miegħu.

 

Issa f’Malta għandna regolamenti tal-bini li jistabilixxu obbligu ta’ kostruzzjoni ta’ bjar għall-ilma tax-xita. Dan iservi biex kull binja (jiġifieri mhux id-djar biss) jkollha ħazna ta’ ilma tax-xita skond id-daqs tagħha.

 

Issa f’numru mhux żgħir ta’ bini, dawn il-bjar ma sarux. Dan l-ilma tax-xita (ta’ dawn il-binjiet bla bir) qed isib ruħu fit-triq jew fid-drenaġġ.

 

L-ilma li flok fil-bir jinxteħet fit-triq qed jikkontribwixxi għall-għargħar b’mod partikolari f’dawk l-inħawi li fihom matul is-snin kien hemm bini konsiderevoli.

 

Min-naħa l-oħra l-ilma li flok fil-bir qed jintefa’ fid-drenaġġ qed joħloq żewġ problemi : qed jgħabbi s-sistema tad-drenaġġ b’piż li ma tiflaħ u dan bil-konsegwenza li f’ċerti partijiet ta’ Malta meta tagħmel ix-xita d-drenaġġ qiegħed ifur. Imma hemm ukoll l-effett li dan l-ilma ser jispiċċa jgħabbi l-impjanti tat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ ukoll u per konsegwenza tintuża kwantita’ ta’ enerġija elettrika għat-tisfija ta’ drenaġġ żejjed ! Spiża li tista’ tkun faċilment evitata.

 

Qiegħed jingħad li wieħed mill-proġetti li ser ikunu iffinanzjati mill-EU ser jikkonsisti fil-kostruzzjoni ta’ mini taħt l-art biex fihom jinġabar l-ilma tax-xita fit-toroq u b’hekk jonqos l-effett tal-għargħar kif ukoll jingħata nifs l-ilma tal-pjan.

 

Fuq il-karta dan hu proġett tajjeb.

 

L-unika ħaġa li għandha ma ġiet spjegata hi kif ilma ikkontaminat bid-drenaġġ jista’ qatt ikun ikkunsidrat biex jitħallat mal-ilma tal-pjan!

 

Għadu ukoll ma ġie spjegat lil ħadd kif u meta dawk li għandhom binjiet mingħajr bjar ser jintalbu jaraw li jkollhom bir biex tonqos il-pressjoni tal-ilma tax-xita fuq is-servizzi pubbliċi.

 

In-nies dan jinteresshom għax jekk min għandu l-obbligu li jkollu bir jibqa’ mingħajru, il-piż tal-ħażna tal-ilma nibqgħu nerfgħuh int u jien bi spejjes ikbar mill-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma u kontijiet għola għal Karmenu, Fausto, Ġużeppi u Franklin !

Sa fl-aħħar : strateġija dwar l-ilma

 

 

Kien ta’ sodisfazzjoni li naqra illum li l-Awtorita dwar ir-Riżorsi qed tħejji strateġija dwar l-ilma. Għalkemm damet ftit biex tistenbaħ għar-realta’ ta’ min jiehu pjaċir li fl-aħħar bdiet tiċċaqlaq.

Waqt konferenza tal-aħbarijiet il-bieraħ li kienet indirizzata mill-Ministru għar-Riżorsi u l-Affarjiet Rurali kien imħabbar li qed tiġi mħejjija din l-istrateġija. Tħabbar ukoll illi permezz ta’ żewġ avviżi legali beda jseħħ pjan għall-ħarsien tal-ilma tal-pjan (ground water). Dan billi matul it-tnax-il xahar li ġejjin mhux ser ikun possibli li jitħaffru boreholes ġodda.

L-istrateġija dwar l-ilma f’pajjiżna trid tħares fil-fond lejn is-sorsi kollha tal-ilma fil-pajjiż.

L-ilma tal-pjan huwa wieħed minnhom u l-Gvern għamel pass tajjeb li beda l-proċess li għandu jwassal għall-protezzjoni tiegħu. Daqstant ieħor iżda hemm ħtieġa illi nqiesu sewwa l-ilma tax-xita (storm water). F’dan il-kuntest mingħajr iktar dewmien il-Gvern għandu l-obbligu li jidentifika għaliex hawn ħafna binjiet residenzjali li m’humex pprovduti b’bir kif suppost skond il-liġi. Il-konsegwenza ta’ dan huwa li ħafna ilma tax-xita qed jinħela, jiġri fit-toroq jew agħar minn hekk mixħut fid-drenaġġ. Din hi r-raġuni li f’diversi partijiet ta’ Malta jfur id-drenaġġ meta tagħmel xita qawwija.

Dan m’huwiex biss ħela ta’ ilma, iżda ukoll sors ta’ mard kif ukoll piż żejjed fuq l-impjanti tat-tisfija tad-drenaġġ. Dan huwa ilma li nistgħu nużawh aħjar u l-istrateġija trid tqis dan fil-fond u tħejji pjan ta’ ażżjoni xieraq.

Sors ieħor ta’ ilma huwa dak li jiġi imsaffi mill-impjanti tad-drenaġġ li s’issa minnhom għandna tnejn u minn hawn u ftit iehor ikollna t-tielet wieħed. Pajjiżi oħra bħal Singapore bdew t-twettieq ta’ pjan li għandu jwassal biex dan is-sors ta’ ilma jkun jista’ jintuża ukoll għax-xorb. F’Malta dan l-ilma qed jintrema l-baħar !

Dan (il-qasam tal-ħarsien tal-ilma) huwa qasam li fih għadna lura ħafna bħala pajjiż. Li titħejja l-istrateġija huwa pass tajjeb. Imma minn hemm irridu ngħaddu biex din l-istrateġija tkun tista’ titwettaq u dan fil-futur qarib.