Hydrologists and geographic experts have welcomed plans to draw up a national plan for the sustainability of water resources by the new administration, but called for a clear agricultural policy to complement the plan.
Agriculture consumed 28 million cubic metres of water and remains the largest water consumer in the Maltese islands, the Malta Water Association said.
"This is the equivalent to the total production by WSC from its Reverse Osmosis and groundwater production plants for the public water supply. It can be reasonably assumed that the greater part of this water is derived from groundwater extraction."
The MWA said Malta's high level of groundwater extraction - 25 million cubic metres annually - needed protective measures, among them a definition of who is a 'farmer' due to the allocation of free and subsidized groundwater.
"Not all registered farmers contribute to environmental stewardship or contribute to food and feed production, that is they are inactive; or use water judiciously. Some individuals may try to use the title of 'farmer' to attain a water quota and use the water for non-farming activities, such as the sale of water in bowsers.
"We need to differentiate between different categories of farmers and allocate quotas which ensure that the agricultural sector delivers the best economic, social and environmental benefits to the country."
The MWA also said that the agricultural sector had to shift from groundwater extraction to a more sustainable source of water. The MWA called for the simplification of the process that permits farmers to construct rural reservoirs for the collection and use of runoff.
"At present, farmers are faced with unnecessary administrative hurdles some of which may be emanating from the misconception that the collection and storage of runoff will result in a lack of water to biodiversity in valleys.
"Both full-time and part-time farmers should be encouraged and incentivized financially to construct such catchment structures, as long as relevant land use parameters and, in particular hydrological parameters, are adhered to while inspections should make sure that the infrastructure is indeed designed according to these parameters."
The MWA also called for the metering of all registered boreholes. "An extensive investigation should be carried out with urgency on the quantity and quality of water required to cultivate the spectrum of crops grown by local farmers, with the aim of the profitability and viability of growing certain crops today."
The association also said that government should set an example, and revise the terms of the current contract with the Environmental Landscape Consortium so that landscaping plans take Malta's semi-arid climate into account and to ban the use of high water consuming landscaping practices and flora.
Malta's freshwater resources are totally dependent on precipitation, as no inflow or outflow of water resources from or to other countries takes place. Since 2004 the WEI has shown an increase averaging 3.5 per cent per year since groundwater abstraction went up by an average of 3.6 per cent per year, while freshwater resources edged up annually by an average of 0.1 per cent.
On average, groundwater abstraction makes up 45.5 per cent of the Water Services' plant's water production, with the remaining share originating from the three desalination plants at Cirkewwa, Ghar Lapsi and Pembroke. Since 1995, the total yearly water production decreased by an average 2.9 per cent per year, mainly as a result of a vast programme of leakage control that drastically reduced the amount of water losses from the underground network of water mains. This reduction in the system demand brought down the abstraction of groundwater by the WSC by approximately 7 million cubic metres, or a decrease of 34.5 per cent.