The water consumption issue in Malta – moving towards a crisis?

Water is essential in any facet of the human life and it is none more essential in a country like Malta with high population density, ever decreasing arable and virgin land as well as a hot and dry climate. The last year has seen several warning signs with regards to global warming since the total rainfall was about half of what should be normally experienced throughout the year. This has set off an urgent and earnest discussion on the water issue in Malta which is ever so slowly reaching crisis mode especially with the rampant illegality still going on with extraction from the water table proceeding at a fast rate.

Apart from the extraction from boreholes, for the last 30 years or so, Malta has relied on costly and energy hungry reverse osmosis plants to keep up with the demand that is placed upon the water supply. With tourist arrivals exceeding the 1.8 million mark last year, the island’s infrastructure is already under severe strain and this means that the demands for water production are consistently increasing. The constant building boom that is still going on and shows no signs of abating also puts pressure on infrastructure with new residents obviously increasing the consumption of energy and water.

An interesting statistic would be to show the total water supplied by the Water Services Corporation over the past ten years although the latest statistics are those which date up to 2011. The total volume of water supplied by the WSC has shown a marked decrease in the last ten-years – mainly as a result of the reduction in leakage rates from the distribution network. However in the same period, the volume of water supplied for exclusive domestic use has registered an increasing trend. Total water consumed went up from around 23 million cubic metres in 2007 to 25 million cubic metres in 2011 – an increase of around 10 per cent over four years. The percentage of domestic consumption also rose from 64 per cent in 2007 to 69 per cent in 2011 with latest figures indicating that it has risen further up to 2015.

Possible actions and their potential saving effect are:

  • Distribution of water saving devices in households. Saving effect: 15% of all water used in taps, showers and toilet flushes. Assuming a 100% uptake, potentially achievable savings range between 1 -1.5hm3 /annum.
  • Installation of water saving appliances in households, (possibly incentivised by tax-rebates). Saving effect: 20% of water used by appliances. Assuming a 100% uptake, potentially achievable saving range between 0.5 – 0.75hm3 /annum.
  • In-house recycling : Of all water used in households: 24% is used for toilet flushing 46% is used for personal hygiene and clothes washing. Can the water used for ‘washing’ be diverted to ‘toilet flushing’? Potential annual saving (assuming 100% uptake): app 4hm3 .
  • Harvesting of rain-water runoff . “It is estimated that a 25m3 cistern or equivalent in every household would result in the collection of about 4.5hm3 of stormwater runoff.” FAO – Malta Water Resources Review. Assuming a 1.5x use-coefficient, on a national scale this would amount to making available 6.75hm3 of water for secondary uses. This volume can well substitute the need for washing waters (demand is estimated at 5.5hm3 ). This potential figure may be constrained by factors related to creating storage as part of high-density apartment developments.

There are other statistics which might be seen to be quite alarming. In fact, the average water footprint of Malta is no less than 2216 m³/yr per capita with part of footprint falling outside of the country at 91.7 % . To put things into perspective, the global average water footprint (for comparison) is 1385 m³/yr per capita – around 40 per cent less. So we are consuming water at an alarming rate.

The statistics are there for the taking so something really needs to be done urgently if water is not to become a scarce commodity in the coming years creating an alarming race for survival.