The Government has launched a public consultation on new regulations on groundwater abstraction, to introduce environmental measures to protect this important natural resource. Farmers will continue to receive sustainable quotas of free water for irrigation
Minister for the Environment, Energy and Enterprise Miriam Dalli and Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights Anton Refalo explained that the green paper that is being presented for public consultation is a determined step towards the groundwater abstraction as a critical natural resource for the sustainability of Malta and Gozo.
The green paper emphasises the importance of groundwater for the agricultural sector and proposes that farmers in Malta and Gozo continue to receive sufficient water supplies for efficient irrigation at no cost, as long as there is no wastage. Meanwhile, the document is proposing tariffs for domestic and commercial users of groundwater, to discourage unsustainable use of this resource.
The Energy and Water Agency (EWA) explained the regulations that are being proposed during a media briefing in the presence of the two ministers, and officials from other entities involved in the drafting of the green paper, including the Environment and Resources Authority, the Malta Resources Authority and the Water Services Corporation.
There are more than 7,700 boreholes and other similar groundwater extraction systems for agricultural, domestic and commercial purposes in Malta and Gozo.
Environment Minister Miriam Dalli explained that the Government’s vision is to put groundwater extraction on the path to sustainability. “In this regard we upheld a central principle to avoid creating burdens for the agricultural sector. In collaboration with the Agriculture Ministry, all agricultural operators that are currently using groundwater will continue to have a sufficient quota of free water.”
The Minister explained that EWA and other entities within the same Ministry will continue helping families and businesses adopt practices and technologies that increase water efficiency. EWA offers free water and energy audits for SMEs while larger companies can benefit from support schemes for these audits as well. Businesses will be able to implement the measures required to increase their energy and water efficiency through other support schemes offered by Malta Enterprise.
“To continue incentivising sustainable practices, we are proposing that companies that implement all measures identified in their audits will get a 25% rebate on their groundwater abstraction bills. The green paper also proposes that businesses that invest in environmental initiatives that promote water conservation also receive rebates on their water extraction tariffs,” Minister Dalli said.
Agriculture Minister Anton Refalo noted that circa 80% of the private abstraction of groundwater is utilised by the agricultural sector.
“We talk to farmers everyday and they all emphasise the importance of groundwater for the irrigation of their crops. This green paper proposes the way forward for the utilisation of this resource, primarily by farmers. At the same time, this initiative will also help to inform people how to use water efficiently and sustainably, whilst avoiding wastage,” Minister Refalo explained.
EWA Chief Executive Officer Manuel Sapiano said that the feedback received during the public consultation will help Government draft legal notices to regulate groundwater abstraction, including a tariff that encourages efficient use of this resource. A regulatory framework on the required permitting processes will also be prepared. In this regard, permitting will be regulated by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA).
The Water Services Corporation, which utilises groundwater to supply potable water to consumers in Malta and Gozo, is also implementing several projects and initiatives to support the regeneration of this source. It is increasing the production capacity of its reverse osmosis plants and is also investing in the provision of the New Water service for the agricultural sector. The Corporation is implementing a €25 million EU-funded project to extend New Water to another 350 farmers, while increasing its daily production of this reclaimed water by 6,000 cubic metres.
The Green Paper on the Regulation of Groundwater Abstraction in the Maltese Islands can be downloaded from here. Submission can be uploaded on konsultazzjoni.gov.mt or here. The public consultation ends on Thursday, 18th January 2024.