Reusing waste water could be a major solution to agricultural water problems, if coupled with the closure of both legal and illegal boreholes, according to experts from the Malta Water Association.

In a brief report published yesterday following an environmental seminar in March, Marco Cremona and Brian Restall propose replacing freshwater used by agriculture with reclaimed affluent by at least 50 per cent by 2030.

The report notes that water use in agriculture is projected to increase in the coming years, especially if the current drought persists, as farmers will not be able to utilise rainwater.

“The deterioration of ground­water quality is already limiting farmers in this respect, and if left unaddressed this issue will certainly result in the death of the sector,” the experts warned.

At present, groundwater pumped by private entities constitutes 44 per cent of all Malta’s water resources, with a further 24 per cent drawn by the Water Services Corporation and 32 per cent derived from the desalination plant.

However, the existence of several unregistered private boreholes means the official figures could be an underestimation. The replenishment of the aquifer is a slow, natural process that could take 30 to 40 years.

The situation has been exacerbated by a winter that was one of the driest on record. Total rainfall scraped a record low of only 265 millimetres since last September, a third of which fell in October, compared to some 550mm the previous year, with wide-reaching effects on agriculture produce.

The report states that, despite water scarcity being a serious issue for an island suffering from drought, there is no declaration of a crisis-management plan or concrete steps towards improving the situation.

The experts call for illegal boreholes to be identified and closed down as soon as possible, with a moratorium scheme including heavy fines for infringements.

Legal boreholes should all be metered and a decent price allocated to any water use, related to the amount and intention of the use.

The report also proposes investment in large-scale catchment of rainwater, similar to the government flood-relief initiative, directed towards replenishing groundwater reserves, which are under heavy pressure due to increasing borehole use.

“A holistic plan for water management is needed, and this needs to be created in line with agricultural policy, since the sector is the largest stakeholder on the issue,” the report states.

“Working with farmers, rather than against them is necessary both to safeguard our water resources and in turn the agricultural sector.”

The proposals were among several to emerge from Right to Nature, a seminar organised last March by Front ─Žarsien ODZ and Friends of the Earth Malta.

The seminar was intended to inspire active citizenship through discussions on main environmental issues.

Other discussions centred on the Planning Authority, ODZ land and scheduled areas, and sustainable agriculture and rural development.

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