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Hydrologists in urgent appeal to stop exploitation of water resources
Malta Water Association says €20 million in groundwater is being drilled for free by private operators.
3 August 2012, 12:00am
"Malta's groundwater resources are in peril. A power outage of more than 48 hours or a major oil spill around the seas of Malta will result in an emergency situation," MWA president Dirk De Ketelaere said in a statement.
De Ketelaere said groundwater had lost its value as a scarce and strategic resource on the nation's agenda ever since the country's water supply issue "was resolved" in the early 90s, citing widespread abuse and rampant non-compliance with various water regulations.
"Political will to address the matter has been lacking, if not completely absent... MWA urges the political parties and candidates to take note of its recommendations and to incorporate them in their manifestos."
The MWA said that total groundwater abstraction must be reduced drastically until such a time that underground aquifers improve to such an extent that it may eventually allow abstraction to the maximum sustainable level.
This would require an immediate closure of all non-agricultural boreholes; the allocation of a sustainable quota of water to 'genuine' farmers; an aggressive search to identify illegal boreholes and prosecute the owners of these boreholes; and preventing the drilling of more boreholes.
The MWA said a realistic monetary value on groundwater is essential to ensure that water is used efficiently, as required by the EU Water Framework Directive.
"This also implies that WSC would have to pay for the amount of water it extracts from the resource, which cost would probably be passed on to the consumers. The revenue accrued from this process should be administered by the Malta Resources Authority and go towards incentivising efficient water use across the board."
The MWA says Malta is fast approaching over-dependence on expensive reverse osmosis technology to meet its water needs.
According to official figures, Malta's aquifers are being exploited at a rate of 34 million cubic metres per year, when the estimated sustainable yield from all aquifers is 25 million cubic metres per year.
"If these figures are valid, there is a deficit of 9 million cubic metres a year," the MWA said. "Of the 34 million cubic metres, the Water Services Corporation is today only producing 12.5 million cubic metres a year from groundwater while the private sector is pumping out more than 20 million cubic metres every year (38,000 litres a minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year).
"In monetary terms this equates to the equivalent of more than €20 million of water being extracted free of charge for private use, assuming a nominal value of € 1 per cubic metre)."
The WSC still gets around 45% of its water from groundwater - an inexpensive source of fresh water, the balance being made up by RO water - which is produced from the sea at a cost. The amount of groundwater extracted by the WSC has been steadily decreasing over the last 10 years because of its deteriorating quality; trends show that groundwater will not be contributing towards the public water supply in the near future.
"In this scenario Malta will become totally dependent on RO water for its potable water supply - a very vulnerable and unsustainable situation considering that RO plants require a stable and consistent supply of electricity, and impeccably-clean seas. A power outage of more than 48 hours or a major oil spill around the seas of Malta will result in an emergency situation, with Malta having no source of fresh water - which will have to be imported on very short notice from neighbouring countries."
Matthew Vella is editor of MaltaToday.com.mt.
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