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‘Free’ water to businesses totals 212 million bottles of water

‘Free’ borehole extraction is allowing commercial owners to extract as much as 212 million bottlers of mineral water from the ground

James Debono
18 July 2017, 7:30am
All the metered agricultural boreholes provided a total of 2.3 million cubic metres of water in 2016
All the metered agricultural boreholes provided a total of 2.3 million cubic metres of water in 2016
Boreholes used for non-agricultural purposes are being used to extract on average three times as much water than individual boreholes used for agricultural purposes.

The stunning yield means that on average, each of the 90 metered commercial boreholes, which are not used for agricultural purposes, yielded the equivalent of 10,350 two-litre sized bottles of mineral water every single day during July 2016.

In total, commercial boreholes yielded a total of 424,000 cubic metres of water in 2016, which is the equivalent of 212 million large bottles of mineral water.

Commercial boreholes in Malta are used for a variety of purposes, including the production of mineral water, or water used by hotels and factories, and water sold to households from bowsers to fill up swimming pools.  

Apart from the energy and maintenance costs involved in extraction, the water comes at no charge for both farmers and commercial operators.

On the other hand, each of the 1,217 metered agricultural boreholes yielded the equivalent of 3,850 bottles of mineral water every day in July last year.  

In total, all the metered agricultural boreholes provided a total of 2.3 million cubic metres of water in 2016.  

But this figure does not represent the total amount of water extracted by the agricultural sector as the figures given by the Malta Resources Authority indicate that not all agricultural boreholes are metered.

On average in 2016 water extracted from each commercial borehole amounted to 4,825 cubic metres while that from each agricultural borehole amounted to 1,903 cubic metres. 

This suggests that nearly three times as much water is extracted from each commercial borehole. But the difference in the amounts extracted by the two sectors is much bigger in the winter months – when agricultural extraction needs are lower because of rainfall.

In December, on average each commercial borehole extracts 104 cubic metres of water while the amount extracted from each agricultural borehole falls to just 18 cubic metres. This means that six times as much ground water is extracted from each commercial borehole than from agricultural boreholes.


No figures for extraction by mineral water companies 

The authorities were not in a position to reply to a direct question posed by MaltaToday on the amount of water used for the production of mineral water.

This is because according to the Malta Resources Authority, “borehole records currently classify use as commercial, agricultural and domestic” and no “specific details on which boreholes being used for the production of mineral water or other beverages is held”. 

Moreover when asked to provide MaltaToday with a breakdown of water abstracted by each ground water source used for the production of mineral water and beverages, the MRA replied that such information is not provided because of it is “commercially sensitive.”

Neither did the MRA provide the amounts extracted by owners of bowsers who fill swimming pools and supply households with water for swimming pools and other purposes. 

But in answer to a Freedom of Information request the authorities supplied MaltaToday with a breakdown of monthly figures documented by agricultural and commercial boreholes which have been metered.

The statistics clearly show that on average each commercial borehole extracts more water than each agricultural borehole.

Average consumption from commercial boreholes ranges from a daily 3.4 cubic metres in December by each borehole to 20.7 cubic metres in July. Consumption by agriculture boreholes ranges from 0.6 cubic metres by each borehole in December to 7.7 cubic metres in July.

Statistics provided to MaltaToday following a freedom of information request show that 90 commercial boreholes and 1,234 agricultural boreholes were metered – a fraction of the more than 7,992  registered boreholes. 

A study published last year revealed that in 2015 one agricultural borehole had extracted 67,735 cubic metres of water, the equivalent of nearly 34 million two-litre bottles of mineral water in a single year.

Another source extracted 34,000 cubic metres and three other sources between 18,000 cubic metres and 22,000 cubic metres.

This emerged from a sample of 460 agricultural boreholes taken by the Sustainable Energy and Water Conservation Unit in 2015.

The study confirmed that it pays to extract large amounts of ground water. The cost of extracting 2,200 cubic metres of water is estimated to be €880 a year (40 cents per cubic metre).

On the other hand the cost of extracting 200 cubic metres would be €678 (€3.39 per cubic metre). The cost includes energy consumption, the capital investment and maintenance costs.

The installation of purification plants in Malta’s three sewage treatment plants would yield 7 million cubic metres of water which would be made available for agriculture.

By 2021 it is projected that 31% of agricultural water needs will be derived from treatment plants, 59% will come from groundwater and 10% from rain.

James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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