The Malta Independent 15 August 2022, Monday

Rampant extraction of water from private boreholes – hydrologist Marco Cremona

Duncan Barry Tuesday, 21 April 2015, 13:56 Last update: about 8 years ago

Malta is experiencing rampant extraction of water from private boreholes, according to local hydrologist Marco Cremona - one of the lead authors of a damning report on the water situation in Malta. 

Mr Cremona also highlighted that there are no controls in place to curb the actions of owners of boreholes who are extracting unquantified volumes of water. He called on the government to take action.

The report - published by a non-government organisation called The Today Public Policy Institute - highlights the urgent need to address Malta's water-related growing problem. The other lead authors of the report are World Bank expert Lee Roberts and Royal Dutch Shell geologist Gordon J. Knox who both reside in Malta.

The report, titled 'Why Malta's national water plan requires an analytical policy framework', was launched yesterday at the Malta Chamber of Commerce and Industry by Martin Scicluna - the director general of the institute.

Mr Cremona said two directives imposed by the EU - one related to tap water which is now fit for drinking and another preventing the disposal of sewage at sea, have been met. The first directive is related to the EU drinking water directive while the latter is part of the Urban Waste Water Directive.

But he pointed out that one of Malta's EU Water Framework Directive obligations - to improve its status of its groundwater and surface waters in terms of quality - has not been met. The target date was the end of this year.

Mr Cremona explained that Malta would definitely not meet its end 2015 target and stated that to his knowledge Malta had requested the commission to grant it a 12-year extension to 2027. It is not clear though whether its request has been met and if so, under what conditions.

Mr Cremona further explained that Malta had to implement a set of measures to reach this target - referred to as the Programme of Measures. He said that while Malta is implementing these measures, it was clear from the outset that the target of 2015 would not be reached.

"There is a justification for this though; there the issue of water is concerned, the process is a slow due to the fact that if rain water contaminates the surface, it takes a good number of years until the contamination reaches the aquifer. If any improvement was made on the surface, for instance, reduction of fertiliser application, the beneficial effects would not be apparent before a number of years."

He said that even if Malta did everything right, it could not improve the situation as fast as it may have wanted due to physical conditions which hold the process back.

So, he continued, since the situation is understandable, the request for the extension is likely to be approved. But obviously, at the same time, the Commission would want to ensure that Malta is addressing the situation, as initially agreed.

"The poor status is mainly coming from nitrate contamination which in turn is coming about as a result of fertiliser use. Another issue is people who have boreholes are pumping out unquantified volumes of water without paying for it since there is no control to how much water can be lifted from the boreholes. He noted that not all registered boreholes have meters installed, despite a commitment made by the previous and present government. There is also the problem of unregistered boreholes, again it is not known how much water is being extracted daily.

"I suspect that governments are reluctant in ensuring meters are installed since a government feels uncomfortable clamping down on illegal boreholes," he said.

"On the ground, not much has been done to alleviate the nitrates situation problem either. Having said that, there is an educational programme for farmers on fertiliser use," he noted.

The report

Prof Scicluna said that Malta is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world and is in dire need of a national water plan.

Ground water reserves, he continued, are being depleted as a consequence of human related unregulated activities.

Speaking during the launch, he noted that that the public remains poorly informed and educated on domestic water issues.

Malta embarked on projects without a plan - Cremona

Asked by The Malta Independent whether the National Water Flood Relief programme should help partially solve the issue, Mr Cremona said that the country has embarked on projects with the absence of a plan.

"10 years ago we joined the EU and we still don't have a national water plan which would indicate to us where we will be in 20 years time in terms of the water situation.

"The project you mention takes us away from a sustainable solution. It reduces the incentive for government to ensure cisterns are built in each household as required by law.

"We are suggesting a holistic approach towards water, social scientists, lawyers you name it," he said.

As for water tariffs, Mr Cremona said that it is not clear yet how water tariffs are calculated and how the figures related to consumption are determined.

Prof Scicluna meanwhile said that we are facing a water crisis and the future does not hold good prospects unless the issue is addressed.

"All three political parties committed themselves before the last election to the production of a long overdue national water plan - one on which there should be consensus between the three parties because of its vital importance to our very survival as a country," he said.


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