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managing water

Water is our lifeline, a vulnerable resource that we often take for granted. Hydrologist and Water treatment Engineer Marco Cremona analyses water technologies and the benefits they bring to the management of this invaluable resource.

As the local population rapidly grows, more and more people will come to depend heavily on this vulnerable yet valuable resource. But one of the biggest challenges that needs to be addressed is getting people to appreciate the value of water! The fact that water is a finite resource is certainly one reason why everyone should sit up and take note. But can water technologies salvage our ever-increasing dependency on water?

Water technologies refer to the whole spectrum of processes, equipment and technologies that can develop poor quality water into drinking water. It deals with the treatment of water for a particular use, such as household use. The technologies are extensive and may also treat sewage water into potable water. However, the constraints in using such a technology are usually of public perception, health issues if the technology fails, and one of cost effectiveness.

Cisterns, which all households are required to have by law, provide a useful and efficient way of collecting rain water which can then be used for household appliances such as washing machines, toilet water and also gardening, which do not necessarily require drinking water.

Established in the 1980s, the Reverse Osmosis plant in Pembroke is the most common process used for desalinating water. This technology works through the desalination process whereby the salt in the seawater is removed and transformed to potable water.

Within the next 50 years, rainfall is expected to fall by 20 per cent which means that the amount of water that we can safely extract will become less and we will then become more dependent on the Reverse Osmosis.

Other water technologies include the use of membranes which are used to treat sewage.

On the other hand, if you just have dirty water and you simply want to improve its clarity, a filter will do.

One of the main challenges that water technologies face is trying to reduce the energy consumption, especially where desalination is involved.

Leakages also pose a challenge to our islands, despite the amount of unaccounted water having been reduced over the years. Whereas in the mid-nineteen nineties the amount of unaccounted water was up by 60 per cent, it is now down to 30-35 per cent.

Another major challenge that water technologies are helping us to face is the loss of rainwater. The loss of rainwater is posing a major threat to our islands, especially since many people are now opting to build a basement or a garage instead of a cistern for water storage. Because of this development, there is a significant loss of water storage and much of the rainfall will simply go to waste and, in turn, could also cause flooding. 

Today, it is common practice for households to have their own Reverse Osmosis units installed, improving tap water quality to such a level that it can be closely compared to bottled water. The time has come for discussions on the removal of roof tanks to commence as well.  As such, these tanks are no longer needed; the quality of water actually deteriorates in the roof tank in which the chlorine disappears, especially in Maltese summer temperatures, which may create issues concerning bacteria growth in the water system. Moreover, the water supply is quite consistent and it is very rare that the Maltese Islands are hit with prolonged shut downs in the supply.