As a vital but rather scarce resource on the Maltese Islands, the effcient management of the islands' water supply is essential. OUTLOOK takes a deeper look at the Water Catchment Plan, exploring why it is needed.
With its typically Mediterranean climate and long bouts of hot and dry weather, it is hardly surprising that water is not Malta’s most abundant resource. Just imagine, annual rainfall averages 530mm, and this is highly variable.
Surface waters are also lacking and the only freshwater resource found in viable quantities for use is groundwater – a resource that is under ever increasing human pressure, due to increased demands as a result of significant increases in the local population, the influx of tourists and demands made by other sectors such as agriculture and industry.
But the relative scarcity of this essential building block of life makes it all the more essential that the islands’ water supplies are managed through effective and sustainable strategies. While this may seem straightforward, there are a number of challenges that need to be tackled before an effective strategy is implemented.
First and foremost, there is a lack of proper awareness about the true situation. People living in Malta might not be aware of the scarcity of water, due to the fact that for decades, a large proportion of our water supply (around 60 per cent) has been sourced from Reverse Osmosis (RO) desalination.
While RO technology has ensured reliable supplies, it has inadvertently encouraged limited interest in the conservation or efficient use of ground water resources. Nevertheless, this dependency on desalination from sea water illustrates the need to safeguard the quality of our coastal waters as well.
In fact, the EU’s Water Framework Directive, aims to establish a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater. This would lead to the prevention of further deterioration, as well as to the protection and enhancement of the status of aquatic ecosystems. The Directive requires that Member States ensure that all inland and coastal waters reach a ‘good status’ by 2015.
Fulfilling the obligations of the Water Framework Directive does certainly present a number of challenges, which must be met in a relatively short timeframe. Both the Malta Environment and Planning Authority and the Malta Resources Authority are directly involved in ensuring that these obligations are fulfilled, and the Water Catchment Plan is one of the initiatives that is being taken as a result of this need.
Developing the Water Catchment Management Plan
In order to mobilise different institutions and the public for the preparation of this Plan, the dissemination of public information was considered essential. The first step was to identify and bring together all potential stakeholders and interest groups. During the first consultation phase, it transpired that many stakeholders were concerned about the lack of information on water resources available to the public as well as on the lack of data on water quality.
A second opportunity to consult the public arose with the need to identify the most significant water management issues in the Maltese Islands.
For this purpose, a questionnaire was prepared by MEPA and MRA. In their response, members of the public expressed their opinions and concerns on the way water is being managed in the Maltese Islands and some interesting trends emerged, namely:
• Almost 30 per cent said their main concern was saving water, while 12 per cent were mainly concerned about the issue of over abstraction and the pollution of water;
• 29 per cent of respondents would be willing to build a reservoir to reduce their water demand, while 27 per cent thought it would be best to install water flow reducers;
• 30 per cent believed that government should increase water storage capacity, while over 20 per cent believed that there should be increased controls over private groundwater abstractors;
The public’s involvement in the development of the Water Catchment Management Plan will not stop with the publication of the Plan, but will be a continuous process as it depends fully on the cooperation of several different stakeholders and the public itself.
Anyone wishing to find out more about the Plan or the management of water resources in Malta can log on to www.mepa.org.mt/water.