We have just experienced the driest October in living memory. This is not a new experience. In the past few years, the climate has changed substantially. We are experiencing longer periods of drought and then suddenly we are faced with a storm and floods which wreak havoc all along their path.
After heavy rainfall most of our streets are flooded. The question which seeks a reasonable answer is: why is it that when it rains, so much water is flowing in our streets?
It has been 143 years since our laws imposed the duty to have water cisterns in our buildings.
How come that our regulatory authorities keep ignoring this blatant waste of a natural resource, provided by nature free of charge?
These same authorities which continuously speak about sustainability have proven themselves incapable of managing a natural resource. As a result, a substantial part of it goes to waste into the sea, either directly or else as a result of being filtered through the urban wastewater treatment plants, also referred to as sewage purification plants. Then, after having disposed of the purified wastewater into the sea we recover the same water through desalination plants for our use. In the process we incur substantial costs which are mostly avoidable. This is anything but sustainable!
Unfortunately, a substantial amount of rainwater incident on our roofs, in many instances, ends up in our streets or else in the public sewers instead of being collected in mandatory rainwater cisterns. In a number of cases these rainwater cisterns are either too small or else inexistent!
It is no wonder that our streets are flooded whenever it rains!
In addition, the rainwater ends up overloading our urban wastewater treatment plants which use a considerable amount of energy to produce treated water (called new water) or else to be dumped into the sea.
Two authorities are responsible for this mess.
The main culprit is the Planning Authority (and its predecessors) which in many cases failed to identify and halt development which did not have provision for rainwater harvesting.
An additional culprit is the Water Services Corporation (WSC). Over the years, the Water Services Corporation (WSC) has taken over responsibility for the management of the public sewers from the former Drainage Department. This responsibility includes authorising the owners of newly- constructed properties to connect the drains of these properties with the public sewer. Is the WSC verifying that it is only the drains that are connected and, in particular, that rainwater pipes are not connected to the public sewer too? The obvious answer is provided by our streets on a rainy day. Clearly, no one is bothering to check what is connected to the public sewer.
Last year, government had embarked on a consultation on stormwater management. In the consultation document entitled Green Stormwater Infrastructure Guidance Manual we were informed that only 36 per cent of dwellings have a water cistern. Compliance with rainwater harvesting regulations, we were then informed, varied from 80 per cent in the case of villas to 4 per cent in the case of apartment blocks. On a geographic basic, Gozo had a 25 per cent compliance!
Millions of euros of public funds, local and EU funds, have been utilised in useless projects. The incompetent authorities have employed many to manage the resource. We have many “managers” but no results. If you seek a proof take a look at our streets during a rainwater storm. You will have all the answers you require.
Our forefathers had no authorities to monitor rainwater harvesting. They had no managers to enforce compliance! They had common sense which led them to understand nature and to use natural resources respectfully.
If we are to solve the problems that we have created over the years we need to rediscover our forefathers’ skills. Making peace with nature and appreciating its free gifts would be a good start.
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 26 November 2023