Conflicting signals on water
Earlier this month the chief executive of the Water Services Corporation ‘reassured’ us all that Malta can never run out of water, with the worst case scenario being a decline in the quality.
What I found even more worrying was that the Resources Minister was reported to have reaffirmed the CEO’s statement.
Ironically such a statement was made during the launch of the Water Policy for the Maltese Islands, which up to a week later was not even available online – as most environmental experts and hydrologists complained in their blogs. So did the rest of us.
The minister not only conceded that the EU targets for the implementation of a water catchment plan for groundwater will not all be met by 2015, but he also attributed this to the failure to ensure that all the necessary structures will be in place on time.
The minister also admitted that the quality of our own water has gone down, when figures published in 2000 already drew a rather grim picture of the overall situation.
What I found somewhat strange was that the day after that the minister made such a statement, he told a news conference to mark World Environment Day that water quality over the years had improved.
I find it equally baffling when I contrast the WSC CEO’s reassurances on water supply with the fact that the EU Commission has long singled us out, together with Cyprus and the Czech Republic, as one of the member states with the worst water scarcity problem.
On the other hand, when the minister recently published the Climate Adaptation Report, which has been in preparation since the summer of 2009, he understandably devoted large chunks of the report to the need to address the urgent water problem.
Which version are we to rely on? The over-cozy reassurances? The business-as-usual approach? Or the alarmist scenario?
There is one certainty that emerges from the whole situation: that water was and remains a strategic resource for Malta and that although the Labour Party introduced the revolutionary concept of reverse osmosis in the country, which at the time was the largest plant of its kind in the world, over the years this process has been implemented little was done to concretely improve the ‘capture, recovery and storage’ of water from other sources.
With reverse osmosis plants now being among the largest consumers of energy in the country, while also increasing our dependency on fuel, this undoubtedly has an adverse effect on our greenhouse gas emissions, thus urgently calling for us to seek new solutions and technologies to overcome such obstacles.
It is pointless referring to water as blue gold unless we show the political will to address one of the most damaging elements of this dire situation: nitrate levels, which in certain parts of the island have long been at an atrocious level.
Many people might argue that climate change will only impact our water supplies when in actual fact it also impacts directly on our water quality, thus risking making a bad situation worse.
In the light of such a scenario we need to avoid fragmentation and duplication when addressing such daunting tasks.
I am saying this because although the main regulator remains the Malta Resources Authority, we have had input from various sources which risk stepping on each other’s toes – the WSC, the MRA, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority as well as the Climate Adaptation Report.
Under such circumstances a holistic plan is urgently needed to also address the further rise in nitrate levels, as well as the challenges of the EU Water Directive itself.
Our country requires a water resource plan that is doable and practical.
We cannot expect to solve a 25-year-old problem through shock therapy within the period of a single legislature.
On the other hand, complacency is a luxury we can ill afford.
In my humble opinion, complacency is exactly the message the WSC CEO and his minister sent when they tried to put our minds at rest that only water quality might suffer. Particularly since we were given to understand that water supply will remain an unproblematic non-issue.
Leo Brincat is the Labour Party's main spokesman on the environment, sustainable development and climate change.