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Authorities say extraction of groundwater ‘stabilising’

Malta is among the world’s most water-stressed countries

Water abstraction, or pumping, is used for public supply, agriculture and industry. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Water abstraction, or pumping, is used for public supply, agriculture and industry. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Underground water reserves were “stabilising”, the Energy and Water Agency told Times of Malta.

The agency was reacting to the European Environment Agency’s European Waters Report for 2018, published earlier this month, which said Malta continued to have “significant problems” with its groundwater levels.

According to the report, based on data provided by national authorities, Malta is among three southern member states, with Cyprus and Spain, where groundwater levels are drying up fast.

Read: Malta warned of low groundwater levels

The main pressure on the subterranean reservoirs is what is known as water abstraction – the pumping out of water for public supply, agriculture and industry.

Acknowledging the prevailing issues with groundwater, the national agency said the data was based on Malta's two main groundwater bodies, which account for around 80 per cent of Malta’s groundwater body area.

Despite both these sites being described as in “poor status” in the EU report, the Maltese agency said water level measurements in gauging extraction from these sites were slowly stabilising. Overextraction was “progressively reducing”.

Meanwhile, the agency said, Malta’s remaining 14 perched groundwater bodies, extensively used by the agricultural sector, were classified to have a good quantitative status.

Groundwater is found below the surface in the fractures of rock formations and in soil pore spaces. Overall, in terms of what is known as the European water balance, groundwater aquifers only receive around a tenth of the overall precipitation but provide around 42 per cent of the total water abstraction in Europe, most of which is used for public water supplies and farming.

In May, it was reported that groundwater extraction was being measured by the Water Services Corporation but the State entity would not comment when asked about serious concerns that the water table was being depleted.

The Water Agency said the island aimed to reduce the amount of groundwater taken from boreholes, whether for drinking or for agriculture.

All the boreholes that are controlled by the WSC are monitored in real time from a specialised control room.

The WSC is now installing an automated system which will identify when one of these extraction points is in distress and shut it down in favour of another.

The EEA report was not the first to highlight the groundwater problem in Malta.

According to the World Resource Institute, Malta is among the world’s most water-stressed countries. In its latest report on the situation, published in 2016, the institute said the island’s groundwater reserves were being depleted and were severely affected by both nitrate pollution and increasing salinity – consequences of largely unregulated human activities.

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