29 JANUARY 2003

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A sustainable resolution of the water problem

Minister for Economic Services Prof. Josef Bonnici recently addressed a conference at the Institute of Water Technology. In his speech entitled ‘Integrated Water Resources Management for the Maltese Islands, a Multidisciplinary Approach’, Bonnici highlights the shift from the traditional production-consumption of water approach to the improvement of water quality and the more sustainable integrated systems view

Many countries in the Mediterranean region, especially those in the southern rim, have for many years had to face the stark reality of water scarcity and often have had to endure the consequences of management-by-crises approaches to resolve immediate water problems. Malta, a small island state in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea with scant natural water resources represents a typical example where overcoming recurring droughts is of national importance.

Malta's smallness, absence of national resources, dry climatic conditions, extremely high population density and rapid economic development incorporating a relatively large tourism sector and a thriving manufacturing industry present a formidable challenge to any planner involved in the quest to match daily water demand without jeopardising the legitimate aspirations of future Maltese generations. The endemic acuteness of water scarcity has put Malta at the forefront throughout its long chequered history to explore all possible avenues of augmenting and conserving the water supply by pioneering novel technologies available at the time. Major civil and engineering feats such as the 13 kilometres masonry Wignacourt Aqueduct financed by the Military Order of St. John in 1610, the first Mediterranean distillation plant by the British at Tigne in 1881 and the MSF Distillers, which were among the largest of their kind built at Marsa in 1966, are evident major landmarks in the development of water supply in Malta. Furthermore, Malta was the first country to successfully demonstrate the application of seawater Reverse Osmosis Technology on a commercial scale. Indeed, significant investment in several Reverse Osmosis plants boosted desalination production capacity to enable Malta to overcome shortages of supply. Last year, RO production reached 18 million cubic metres, which was equivalent to 50% of total water production. This year it is estimated that production from RO plants will supply around 60% of total water supply as a result of lower extraction levels from underground resources following two years of near-drought conditions.

Through this investment, Malta has been able – perhaps for the first time in its history – to meet its water supply requirements, irrespective of prevailing drought conditions. This significant achievement has enabled a quality improvement in Malta’s standard of living. However there are also economic considerations which need to be kept in mind, especially relating to energy consumption to operate the RO plants. Today new technology is being used to reduce energy consumption through an energy recovery system in the RO pumps. The water industry in Malta is keenly aware of the responsibility to continuously seek more sustainable solutions that bring to the fore economic, financial and environmental considerations.

Over the last years, priority has shifted from increasing water production to improving the distribution network. Effectively, the Water Services Corporation has been particularly successful in reducing water losses and today we are in a position to meet a much higher demand for water but with a lower volume of water production than was the case 20 years ago. The emphasis is now shifting to the improvement of water quality.

Now also is the time to focus on the much needed shift from the traditional production-consumption of water approach to the more sustainable integrated systems view. This involves an integrated planning and management approach that builds on the complex interaction, interlinkages and interdependencies of the various water subsystems.

The subject of this conference chosen by the Institute of Water Technology could not be more appropriate. The conference theme rightfully emphasises the multidisciplinary nature of integrated water resources management. It is necessary for the Water Services Corporation to make every effort to harness and integrate the various disciplines to initiate and execute the necessary plans to achieve a sustainable resolution of the water problem in Malta.

The Institute of Water Technology is at the forefront to promote water conservation. It is a highly recommendable initiative and one to be encouraged.

The Institute in its 11th year of operation has also been very active in organizing joint courses with other institutions including the Employment Training Centre. Such co-operation with local institutions is to be encouraged and further developed.

I must take this occasion to thank the Institute of Water Technology for its sterling contribution to the Water Services Corporation and to the nation over the last years and wish it many more future successes.

Finally, when going through the Conference programme, I noticed its broadness and comprehensiveness. Themes to be discussed range from management practices, human resource development and finance to economics, engineering and the environment. This approach spans a number of disciplines and brings together at the Institute various international, national and industry experts.


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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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