‘Flooding by design’
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‘Flooding by design’

‘Marsa would have drowned’

This dam in Qormi, built by the British for flood relief, is all silted up, rendering it ineffective. Photo: Jason Borg

This dam in Qormi, built by the British for flood relief, is all silted up, rendering it ineffective. Photo: Jason Borg

Some of Malta’s worst flooding problems could be solved by simply maintaining British-built flood prevention infrastructure which has been abandoned, according to geologist Peter Gatt.

In their time, the British built strong dams in Wied il-Kbir and the adjacent valleys, Wied Ħanżir and Wied Xkora. These make up the largest natural flood water basin in Malta and end in the road close to Marsa. But this infrastructure has been ignored over the years leaving the surrounding areas exposed to flooding.

“For instance, the English built an arch dam which can store a lot of water and was planned to retain more water than the dams in Chadwick lakes.

“Now, with the silt that has collected in it, water just flows over it,” Mr Gatt said.

“All these have been built for flood relief but they have been ignored; it is like leaving Chadwick Lakes silted up, which would have flooded Attard. There’s potential for other, properly designed dams. It’s not rocket science,” he insisted.

His comments come as the government just last week committed €56 million to a massive storm water collection project.

Mr Gatt said he hoped the project would not create new problems, as similar large-scale infrastructural work by the government had done.

He pointed out, that the storm water gallery which formed part of a Lm4 million Santa Venera road infrastructure project, inaugurated in 1992, was designed to end up in a Qormi road, dumping water from a large catchment area into a valley already prone to severe flooding.

“It’s no surprise that Qormi is flooded time and time again, as the rainwater tunnel in Santa Venera ends in Wied il-Kbir,” Mr Gatt said.

“The problem is, we have flooding by design.”

His thoughts echo in part those of Carmel Pulè, an electrical engineer by profession who has been studying the Qormi and Marsa area for the past seven years after the area had been flooded in 2003.

Prof. Pulè insists that the channels beneath the Aldo Moro Road area in Marsa are not well designed and exacerbate the flooding in the area. Four galleries beneath Aldo Moro Road have to turn a right angle, which creates further pressure.

“This backpressure slows down all the floodwater, filling the channel all the way to the historic skewed arch in Qormi, where the council should remove the boundary in the square slowing water into the main channel,” Prof. Pule’ said.

“Every time it rains more than 80mm, the Marsa/Millennia junction goes into a state of emergency. Immediate attention should be given to the blockage which always occurs due to the locality’s poor hydrodynamic design,” the engineer said.

He said that after Monday’s flood, workers had turned up with pick-axes for a big job of debris clearance that had to be done quickly. “If it had rained in the night at the same rate (as it did the night of the flood last week) with the accompanying debris, Marsa would have drowned,” Prof. Pulè said.

The situation is made worse by what happens on the surface, according to Prof. Pulè, who pointed out that the Millennia showroom and a big wall next to the Marsa Open Centre hold water, pushing it back into the racetrack on the opposite side of the road.

“When the level keeps going up, it can’t go beyond the Millennia showroom, and whenever it rains over 100mm, the water rises and flows into the racetrack while water keeps coming,” Prof. Pulè said.

However, a crucial underlying point for Mr Gatt is that Malta remains the only EU country with no geological survey. This means the government does not have enough scientific knowledge on the country’s geological makeup for structural and strategic decisions to be taken properly.

Mr Gatt said the first step in a National Flood Relief project should have been to check the flow coming from each of Malta’s natural basins and he wondered whether the new tunnels would just be shifting the flood waters from one area to another.

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