Words by Manuel Sapiano, CEO of the Energy and Water Agency
Published on the Talking Point of the Times of Malta.
Why everyone’s actions count in ensuring that we need better water use efficiency
It’s time to kickstart a conversation about water conservation and create awareness about how we can use water more efficiently and effectively. Whilst we are accustomed to finding water every time we open our taps, this level of security in our water supplies has been achieved through significant efforts undertaken throughout the years to diversify our water resources and ensure increasingly reliable distribution facilities. Long term security can lead us to take water availability for-granted – BUT although as a country we do have the capacity to produce sufficient water for our needs and for the years to come, widespread wasteful use can severely limit this capacity.
Let’s put some numbers in there for perspective. The average Maltese person consumes an average of 110 litres of water per day. In total we consume around 50 billion litres of water per year. Around 20 million litres of that is for domestic use only with the other 30 million litres used by our economic activities such as industry, tourism and agriculture.
Whilst our daily water consumption is relatively low compared to that in other EU countries, a general improvement in our standard of living and increased economic activity is resulting in a slow but consistent overall rise in our national water demand. This simply reminds us that its time to think about how we can use water more efficiently and hence conserve this scarce commodity.
On a positive note Malta is at the forefront of water resources management having had to address a general scarcity in natural water resources throughout its history. This is visible within our landscape where features such as rubble-walls, valley dams and open cisterns were all introduced to optimise the management of our main source of water – rainwater. As early as the mid-1500’s – at the time of building our capital city, Valletta – it became mandatory to construct rainwater harvesting cisterns with new urban developments Undoubtedly, the lack of enforcement of such legislation in recent decades marks one of the main national failures in the field of water resources management, and which needs to be urgently addressed by our planning and building regulators.
The inherent lack of natural water resources has meant that we have had to diversify our water resources. Desalination of sea-water started all the way back in 1881.Fast-forward to a century later, in the 1980s and we built our first reverse-osmosis desalination plant at Ghar Lapsi. At the time, this was the largest plant of its sort in the Mediterranean. Investment in desalination continued along the years. This was coupled with significant efforts in the reduction of leakages in the distribution network. Investments in the diversification of water supply continued, with the most recent development being the launch of the New Water programme, which treats wastewater to a high level of quality enabling its use as a safe alternative water resource for the agricultural and industrial sectors.
Water conservation means using our limited water supplies wisely and effectively. It does not mean reducing our standard of living, it means maintaining our current level of comfort, whilst using less water. Hence it is definitely our individual responsibility to learn more about water conservation and how we can help keep our water resources safe for generations to come.
We also need to look at initiating behavioural changes which will help reduce our personal water demand. We need to get smarter about water consumption and get informed on the technologies, tips and designs available which will help.
There are so many small ways in which we can do our individual part to conserve water and reduce waste. Using simple water conservation techniques can help to significantly reduce the amount of water you consume. From closing taps when brushing teeth and using a glass to rinse out, to using a bowl to wash fruit and vegetables in, or having a short shower rather than a bath, all are small but substantial ways to use less water. The list is endless.
So, by simply thinking ahead, being aware of water and making small changes like shorter showers or washing your car with a bucket of water instead of a hose, each one of us can make a big difference. Everyone’s actions, small as they can be, count. Let’s be the change.