Over 60,000 cubic metres of water extracted from two boreholes in 2017

A staggering 67,735 cubic metres was being extracted from one borehole, according to a survey of 460 metered boreholes carried out in 2015

Only 3,119 out of 8058 registered boreholes  are metered
Only 3,119 out of 8058 registered boreholes are metered

Two boreholes were each extracting more than 30,000 cubic metres of water – the equivalent of 15,000 two-litre bottles of mineral water each in 2017.

But some form of action has been taken to curtail extraction from an agricultural borehole which was sucking more than 67,000 cubic metres of groundwater in 2015, a government spokesperson has confirmed.

Action in these cases consists in “support” to the highest extractors “to correct their operational practices, increase their use efficiencies and hence reduce their total abstraction”, the spokesperson said.

The National Agricultural Policy document referred to “a staggering 67,735 cubic metres which were being extracted from one borehole”, reported in a survey of 460 metered boreholes carried out in 2015.

“This implies that groundwater extracted from this particular borehole exceeds the total amount abstracted from 231 boreholes extracting less than 1,000 cubic metres,” the policy report stated.

The government spokesperson confirmed that action was taken and “abstraction from this source has been addressed”, and that in 2017 the highest abstraction was registered from a single agricultural borehole in 2017 which “was slightly in excess of 30,000 cubic metres.”

Data is now also being collected from all metered boreholes.

This showed 1,447,825 cubic metres extracted from 2,874 agricultural boreholes and 644,893 cubic metres extracted from 245 industrial or commercial boreholes.

The indication is that while commercial boreholes are extracting an average of 2,632 cubic metres a year, agricultural boreholes are only extracting 504 cubic metres a year.

Two boreholes – one industrial and another agricultural – reported extracting more than 30,000 cubic metres of water which is equivalent to 15 million two-litre bottles of mineral water.

Less than half of registered boreholes metered

The government spokesperson also confirmed that the groundwater source metering process has been finalised “since meters have been installed in all cases where these could be installed.”

A total of 2874 agricultural boreholes and 245 commercial boreholes have been metered. This implies that 4,939 registered boreholes have not even been metered.

Moreover, data collected in 2017 shows that 2.1 million cubic metres were extracted from metered sources. But previous estimates suggested that 19.5 million cubic metres of water were extracted from private boreholes in 2007, even higher than the 13 million cubic metres of water extracted by the Water Services Corporation.

This either suggests that previous estimates were wrong, or that most water is being extracted either from non-metered registered boreholes or from boreholes which have not even been registered.

According to the government spokesperson, the remaining boreholes are being “followed and addressed on a case by case basis by the Malta Resources Authority and the Water Services Corporation.”

The government spokesperson gave a variety of reasons why boreholes have not been metered.

These include issues related to land ownership, such as when the source owner has died, and cases where the source is not being used due to inheritance related issues.

There are also cases where the source does not have a fixed pumping device to which the meter can be installed or where the depth of the borehole was too low.

The law itself precludes the metering of sources which do not have a mechanical device installed to abstract groundwater.

There have even been cases where the land in question was agricultural at the time of registration but has since been built up.

Low-yield domestic ‘spieri’ (old wells) in perched aquifer systems are also exempted from metering.

Roughly half of the boreholes currently known to the authorities were registered in 1997. However, in 2008, the government had issued a legal notice granting an amnesty to those individuals who had not registered their boreholes by that date, leading to the registration of 2,537 new boreholes.