News | Sunday, 03 January 2010

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Heard of Malta’s water crisis?

It hardly makes the news (except in MaltaToday) because it is not sexy enough for the TV screens, but ask any expert: it is a crisis that could knock Maltese agriculture senseless by 2025 because of the end of potable groundwater sources caused by over-extraction.
Malta’s water table could be “unusable” for irrigation some time between 2015 and 2025 because of the increase of salinity in groundwater from borehole drilling, British geologist Dr Gordon Knox has warned.
The reason is simple: over-extraction, usually illegally, from groundwater sources. And the culprits are in their thousands: farmers, domestic users, factories and hotels.
Groundwater extraction by the Water Services Corporation (WSC) has already declined by 36% over the past decade, because the underground water has increased in salinity. The salinity is generated by sea water intruding the groundwater sources, which lose pressure when too much water is extracted.
In 2008, the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization warned that the Maltese government will have to double household water bills if no action is taken to safeguard Malta’s groundwater resources, which mainly consist of the mean sea level aquifers (MSLA): fresh water ‘lenses’ that float on denser seawater, which is Malta’s major natural water resource.
Desalination is a hefty energy-hungry process that already consumes between 6-8% of Malta’s power supply. This makes Malta hostage to the increasingly volatile international fluctuations in the price of oil.
Desalinating seawater already costs the WSC five times as much to produce than groundwater. But this will only get worse as the price of oil is set to “rise tremendously” in the next 30 years, Knox warns.
Malta extracts 35 million cubic metres from some 8,000 private and public boreholes – at least 12 million cubic metres more than it should.
So if domestic users pay €59 on their water meters (starting this year), shouldn’t we also pay for the boreholes?
Metering boreholes used by farmers without charging the groundwater consumption, as suggested by Rural Affairs Minister George Pullicino, “would create no incentive for farmers to opt for more efficient methods like drip irrigation.”
True – so get them metered and charge them for the extraction. Now. Before it is too late.

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