New technologies and fresh thinking are being poured into Malta’s water management sector as population growth and uncertain weather patterns are placing increasing demands on the island’s scarce freshwater resources. The semi-arid climate with minimal rainfall meant Malta had to invest early on in water infrastructure and solutions. Already in the 1600s, the Knights of Malta built aqueducts that transported water by gravity from one village to another. In more modern days, desalination plants became a key part of the puzzle, and the first reverse osmosis (RO) unit was established in 1983. The island is now incorporating solutions to recycle and reuse wastewater, and this is an area that could be expanded in the years ahead. Meanwhile, Malta has developed top-notch expertise in leakage detection and repair, and the island’s engineers are regarded among the best in this field and are winning international contracts.
The Water Services Corporation
Malta’s Water Services Corporation (WSC) was founded in 1992 and is responsible for the complete drinking and waste water cycle in Malta and Gozo. During the past decades, Malta has become increasingly dependent on desalination, and WSC operates three RO plants. They contribute some 60% to Malta’s water supply, with groundwater sources accounting for 40%. Desalination is an energy-intensive and expensive technology, and the country has recently invested in new membrane technology to make the process more energy-efficient and more cost-effective.
WATERING AN ISLAND: Ghar Lapsi reverse osmosis plant in the West of Malta
Additionally, Malta has started to use water reclamation to recycle water. Three Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) are currently operating on the Maltese islands, two of which are in Malta and another in Gozo. STP plants treat sewage water by removing solids and impurities and producing treated sewage effluent, which meets the requirements of the Urban Wastewater Directive and is therefore safe to dispose into the sea. While this water has traditionally been released into the Mediterranean, Malta is in the process of reaping the benefits of a €22 million investment in three polishing plants. These plants are treating wastewater to so-called ‘NEW water’ for agricultural and industrial purposes. However, this water can also be treated further and be used to replenish Malta’s groundwater sources. It is estimated that more than seven million cubic metres of NEW water could be produced annually.
The Water Services Corporation has also developed technology that assists in locating and fixing leakages in water distribution systems. The extensive work on the national networks helped curb leakages substantially. The corporation is now exporting this know-how to other countries and was chosen by the World Bank to carry out a water leakage management project in Lebanon. The project consisted of working on a three-kilometres-zone in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, by arranging and controlling water pressure, repairing damage and providing a 24-hours water supply. WSC’s monitoring technology could also be replicated for application in other industries, for instance in the oil and gas sector. While hopes are high that many international contracts will follow, including through other World Bank projects in North Africa and the Middle East, the island is also aware that it needs to find ways to make more efficient use of water to support its growing economy.
Global Water Intelligence has estimated the global water market to be worth US$862 billion. Investors from around the world are now paying more attention to the water- tech sector as new companies and start-ups are experimenting and developing new solutions at a rapid pace. Recognising the complex and evolving challenges to its water supply system, Malta is looking to adopt new technologies in partnership with the private sector in a number of areas including water reclamation, water engineering, water safety and water quality.
"We are really making a big push to introduce innovative solutions and sophisticated technology. We have made significant progress in recovering wastewater for agricultural purposes. This water was once considered permanently lost. We believe that collaboration and joint thinking can bring about further change."
- Mario Zammit, Chairman, Water Services Corporation