Malta’s water resources exist in the form of groundwater – rainwater that has managed to infiltrate into the rock and after a passage of decades reached the aquifer(s) where it is effectively stored. The aquifers span across the length and width of Gozo, and therefore lie under private property.
While it is widely recognised that groundwater is a public resource, a large of number of individuals, farmers and companies have, in the last 30 years drilled boreholes to exploit this public resource for private gain – to the extent that the aquifers are today over-exploited and the general quality of groundwater in Malta has experienced a measurable decline (over-extraction results in the seepage of seawater into the aquifers, resulting in salinization of the water).
Prior to 1982, almost all of Malta’s potable water supply came from groundwater. Since then, an increasing proportion of Malta’s town water supply is derived from Reverse Osmosis (RO) – the use of which increases the overall cost of production of water. At present 60% of town water comes from RO, the remainder comes from groundwater. The cost of production of RO water is six times that of groundwater.
As a result of deteriorating quality, the Water Services Corporation has decreased groundwater production by 35% in the last 10 years, equating to a loss of 6.5 million cubic metres of inexpensive water, and the trend is very clear. Groundwater may cease to be a viable source of supply within 15 years, and the country will become completely dependent on seawater desalination (RO).
Salinization is also being experienced by agricultural boreholes, which have increasingly become dependent in groundwater, since the It is clear from the above that Malta is facing a crisis in water sustainability. Most of the problems arise from a lack of political will to address the issue of over-extraction. The fact that public groundwater is a PUBLIC resource has never been put to practice, and even today thousands of litres of public water are being pumped up by private boreholes every minute, to the detriment of the resource and the consumer of town water, present and future. Drilling of boreholes has overtaken investments in rainwater harvesting reservoirs. It is envisaged that Maltese farmers will find it increasingly difficult to obtain good quality, affordable water for irrigation.
In my opinion, the country should realise that there is a physical limit to the amount of groundwater we can use, and that we should use this water diligently – if we want future generations to avail of this affordable (and strategically important) source of fresh water. There should be quotas/allocations of water to farmers, and financial assistance to reconstruct rainwater reservoirs and to invest in water-efficient irrigation practices. Similar incentives should be provided to households, businesses and hotels. Landscaping should reflect the realities of the Maltese climate. And yes, education (and proper water pricing) across the board. As recent as 200 years ago Malta was world-leader in the efficient use of water. We have an obligation to re-introduce a water saving culture today, for future generations to benefit from.