Closing the water loop – improving the sustainability of Malta’s water resources
November 6, 2018
IMAGE: Malta Tourism Authority
Located in the central Mediterranean, the Maltese islands enjoy a pleasant climate with mildly hot and cold summer and winter seasons. This typically Mediterranean climate however also gives rise to low annual rainfalls, leading to a low natural availability of natural water resources. In fact, Maltese summers are typically dry with the last rainfall being experienced around April, not to start again before September. The size of the islands also precludes the development of permanent rivers and lakes hence further exacerbating the availability of freshwater resources. From a water demand perspective, the high population density of the islands, which at 1,300 inhabitants/km2 is by far the highest in any European country results in a high specific demand for water, further increasing the pressures on the islands’ limited resources. In fact, the islands’ groundwater resources, which are the only naturally renewable freshwater resources of the islands, are insufficient to meet the national water demand. Since the 1980s, Malta has developed substantial sea-water desalination capacity in particular to meet the increasing urban water demand. Today, groundwater resources still meet around 60% of the total national water demand. There is a growing understanding on the need to increasingly protect these natural systems, particularly in view of an increasing water demand due to an ever growing population, improved standard of living, an expanding economy and a thriving tourism sector.
Malta’s national strategy for the water sector is outlined in its 2nd River Basin Management Plan, which aims to achieve sustainability in water use through the implementation of an ambitious Programme of Measures based on the conjunctive use of water demand management and water supply augmentation measures. This plan aims to increase efficiency in water use whilst broadening the resource base to enable an increasing share of water supply to be focused on non-conventional water resources, and hence ensuring that the usage of natural water resources is maintained at sustainable levels.
Central to the achievement of these national objectives is a wide ranging project launched by the Water Services Corporation (WSC) which aims to transform Malta’s main water utility in a net zero impact utility. Through the implementation of this project the WSC will be giving back to the environment, at least an equivalent volume of the abstracted natural freshwater resources and therefore minimising its impact on the water environment. This will primarily be achieved through the Corporation’s ambitious New Water project, which will produce an annual volume of 7 billion litres of highly polished treated wastewater to be used by the agricultural and industrial sectors instead of groundwater. This project alone will address around 30% of the annual demand of the agricultural sector, increasing its security of water supply whilst making it more environmentally sustainable and resilient in view of climate change. Furthermore, the WSC aims to better protect the status of aquifer systems from the damaging impacts of sea-water intrusion through a set of supporting measures.
IMAGE: Malta Tourism Authority
The net zero utility concept considers also the energy use of the Corporation since the project includes significant investments to increase the energy efficiency of its operations. In fact, the project aims to achieve a net zero increase in the current energy demand and therefore, the energy needed for increased water production will be sourced through savings achieved due to an increased efficiency in energy use. Of particular relevance are the Corporation’s sea-water desalination plants which will be upgraded to reduce their specific energy requirements by 8.1% resulting in a net annual energy saving of 7,296,694 kWhr- equivalent to 0.31% of the total national energy demand.
However, the WSC’s efforts in energy efficiency go deeper than this. Improved energy performance will be sought in the distribution of water through the development of new distribution systems which minimise frictional and head energy losses, the upgrading of the sewerage network to reduce sea-water infiltration resulting in lower volumes of wastewater to be pumped and better quality wastewater which requires less energy to be treated to discharge standards.
The Corporation’s groundwater abstraction strategy will also be upgraded with groundwater abstraction being spread over an increased number of stations to further limit the localized intrusion of sea-water. The Corporation is also working with the Energy and Water Agency to develop a predictive groundwater abstraction model which will enable the Corporation to take preventive measures before the actual onset of seawater intrusion in the abstraction well. This will guarantee the better quality of the groundwater abstraction blend, hence improving the quality of water supplied to the population. Furthermore, the WSC and EWA are also collaborating on the improvement of the national groundwater monitoring capacity, in order to enable the development of an innovative monitoring network able to identify hot spots to better guide the development of groundwater protection measures. This will ensure that mitigation measures are designed on real data and hence address the real problems.
Throughout the implementation of these actions, the Corporation also aims to improve the quality of tap water supplied to the Maltese population. Tap water in Malta is safe to drink and achieves all the statutory water quality requirements under the EU’s Drinking Water Directive. The comprehensive impact of the initiatives being taken by the WSC will result in a significant improvement in the taste of tap water, thereby increasing its acceptability as drinking water amongst the population. In turn, this will reduce the dependence on bottled water, and can therefore result in a significant reduction in the plastic waste generated from bottled water usage.
These important investments by the Water Services Corporation will be complemented by the launch of a nationwide water conservation campaign led by Malta’s Energy and Water Agency. This campaign aims to achieve a high level of awareness in the population on how water should be used efficiently and effectively, thereby demonstrating that current lifestyles can be maintained and improved whilst lowering the water usage. The national campaign will include a strong public engagement component including a water conservation road show which will reach every town and village in the islands, provide advice to all households on improving water use and distribute a water saving kit to empower them to improve their water usage.
The national campaign also includes an effective educational component targeting the younger generations which is based at Malta’s National Water Conservation Awareness Centre – GĦAJN, in Rabat. This centre provides an educational experience which portrays water conservation in a fun and interactive environment, thus ensuring that our future generations are conscious of the need to use water more effectively.
These important projects are further supported by a LIFE Integrated Project which seeks the development of new approaches and technologies to further support this comprehensive national water management framework by piloting new approaches and technologies to ensure that Malta benefits from the current innovation in the global water sector. Moreover, the LIFE Integrated Project will foster an increased collaborative environment in the management of the local water sector through the establishment of a National Water Table with representatives from both the public and the private sectors.
These key projects, in accordance with Malta’s 2nd RBMP (River Basin Management Plan), aim at enabling Malta to reach the environmental objectives of the EU’s Water Framework Directive. These projects will therefore ensure an increased sustainability of water use in Malta, one of the main water stressed regions in Europe, hence ensuring that the continued development of the country is based on a sustainable foundation.
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