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Water is everybody’s business

Regulations, entitled Energy Performance of Buildings Regulations 2012, were published by Resources Minister George Pullicino on October 30 through Legal Notice 376/2012 under the Malta Resources Authority Act.

The regulations, which have since come into force, are intended to transpose European Directive 2010/31/EU on the energy performance of buildings. In fact, the legal notice states: “42. (1) The Energy Performance of Buildings Regulations and the Minimum Requirements on the Energy Performance of Buildings Regulations are hereby being revoked and article 97 (1) (f) (i) and (n) (viii) of Part V of the Code of Police Laws is hereby repealed.”

The deleted clauses of the Code of Police Laws are the following:

“(f) (i) the cistern required under paragraph (n) (viii) shall be made to communicate with the roof of the house by means of pipes sufficient for the passage of the rainwater falling on the said roof: none of such pipes shall be used to act as a ventilator of any privy, sewer, or cesspool, septic tank or sewage treatment and disposal plant; and no overflow pipe or conduit, for the carrying off of the water exceeding the capacity of the cistern shall be connected with any sewer or cesspool, septic tank or sewage treatment and disposal plant, nor shall any other pipe or conduit for the carrying off of rainwater be, without the permission of the sanitary authority, communicated with any part of the house, so as such rainwater may find its way from such part of the house into a sewer;

“(n) (viii) every house shall also have a cistern in good condition, of a capacity of at least three cubic metres, for every five square metres of the surface of the floor of each room of such house.”

Effectively, what has happened is that the clear legal requirement for all buildings to have their own rainwater harvesting has been lost. Therefore, as things stand today, Malta not only has no laws that require the construction of a rainwater cistern in a newly-built property but, moreover, it is now no longer illegal to connect rainwater drains to the main sewer.

The practice of excavating or constructing a well within each property to take roof water, which dated from the time of the Knights, was an intelligent and important use of the scarce water resources of this country.

Over the last 50 years, this was unfortunately abused of widely, mainly due to a lack of enforcement and ownership.

At the same time, a large number of cisterns, which were built before these days of indifference, have fallen into abandon. The consequences of this neglect are clearly seen after nearly every rainfall event: flooding in properties, streets and valleys.

Moreover, failure to enforce the regulations prohibiting the connection of rainwater drains to sewers result in the surcharging of sewer manholes with every storm event, with the result that Malta takes the semblance of a developing country, with sewage flowing down the streets until eventual discharge into (and pollution of) the sea.

The Malta Water Association is mystified at the rationale behind the removal of these regulations. This ‘new’ legally-binding guidance contradicts fundamentals of every sustainable policy the Government has subscribed to, including, among others, the water policy, the climate change mitigation and adaptation policy and the national environment policy.

As recently as in the 2012 Budget, the Government had proposed measures supporting the repair and use of cisterns.

We, thus, hope and presume that this repealing was merely a colossal administrative error.

As Parliament is due to meet again on Monday, only to be dissolved, and no legislation is expected before the next sitting of the new Parliament, it is not likely that this measure could be reversed before June 2013 at the earliest.

All building development permits issued by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority hitherto have had a standard clause referring to the requirements for rainwater storage conforming to the Code of Police Laws.

As this has now become obsolete, we propose that Mepa in this interim period imposes unilaterally a condition requiring a cistern storing a year’s average rainfall (volume in cubic metres to be roof area in square metres multiplied by 0.6) in all permits issued since the issuing of LN 376/2012 in order to retain a continuity of practice and to avoid a generation of water-unsustainable buildings.

We further take this occasion to suggest to the political parties to take on board the recommendations made by the Malta Water Association in July 2012.

This would introduce sensible yet bold water policies, administratively reinforce good practices and not repeal one of our very best customs: rainwater harvesting at source.

Making water everybody’s business has to be a cornerstone of our environmental action and survival.

Philip Grech is vice president of the Malta Water Association.

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