Malta Malta Malta Malta


Fresh water resources Malta

Vulnerabilities - Malta

The investment, since the eighties, in the desalination infrastructure to compliment groundwater production sources has ensured reliability of supply. Groundwater, however, still accounts for 65% of all the fresh water used in the Maltese Islands (24). Desalination plants are susceptible to catastrophic offshore disasters. The Maltese islands lie amidst one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world and any accidental oil spill could cripple some, or most, of the national facilities for a relatively long time with very serious consequences on potable water production. Should Malta s current water production sources fail, Malta has only 2 days water supply to contend with (24).

An accentuated soil water deficit can only be combated by a more conspicuous irrigation demand, thereby putting further pressure on the potable groundwater supplies and thus forcing a shift towards a higher dependence on water production by desalination (17).

Assuming a sea level rise of one metre, groundwater production potential will reduce by about 40%. Even a moderate sea level rise will lead to the deterioration of the groundwater quality due to increased seawater intrusion. Moreover, the expected shift of precipitation patterns towards more frequent events of heavy rainfall, coupled with a consequent increased runoff, will cause deterioration of the aquifer recharge process (17). Apart from salinisation of the mean sea level aquifers resulting from over-extraction, the qualitative status of the water resources is also primarily under threat primarily through nitrate pollution as a result of livestock farming (24). 

Malta has reported that 30% groundwater bodies are at risk as a result of groundwater abstractions (19).

Vulnerabilities - Europe

Water availability in the Mediterranean is highly sensitive to changes in climate conditions. In the last century the Mediterranean basin has experienced up to 20% reduction in precipitation (2). Such a trend is expected to worsen with increasing demand for water and reduction in rainfall in the region (1,5). Future projection of this trend will reduce drastically water supplies in these areas, affecting considerably the population and economy of the Mediterranean countries (6).

In southeastern Europe annual rainfall and river discharge have already begun to decrease in the past few decades (7).

Water stress will increase over central and southern Europe. The percentage area under high water stress is likely to increase from 19% today to 35% by the 2070s, and the additional number of people affected by the 2070s is expected to be between 16 million and 44 millions. The most affected regions are southern Europe and some parts of central and eastern Europe, where summer flows may be reduced by up to 80%. The hydropower potential of Europe is expected to decline on average by 6% but by 20 to 50% around the Mediterranean by the 2070s (8).

Annual average runoff in southern Europe (south of 47°N) decreases by 0 to 23% up to the 2020s and by 6 to 36% up to the 2070s, for the SRES A2 and B2 scenarios and climate scenarios from two different climate models (8). Summer low flow may decrease by up to 80% in some rivers in southern Europe (9,10). Other studies (1) indicate a decrease in annual average runoff of 20–30% by the 2050s and of 40–50% by the 2075s in southeastern Europe.

Climate change must be seen in the context of multi-decadal variability, which will lead to different amounts of water being available over different time periods even in the absence of climate change. … the average standard deviation in 30-year average annual runoff is typically under 6% of the mean, but up to 15% in dry regions (11).

Temperature rise and changing precipitation patterns may also lead to a reduction of groundwater recharge (12) and hence groundwater level. This would be most evident in southeastern Europe. Higher water temperature and low level of runoff, particularly in the summer, could lead to deterioration in water quality (13). Inland waters in southern Europe are likely to have lower volume and increased salinisation (14).

Most studies on water supply and demand conclude that annual water availability would generally increase in northern and northwestern Europe and decrease in southern and southeastern Europe (1). In the agricultural sector, irrigation water requirements would increase mainly in southern and southeastern Europe (15). The risk of drought increases mainly in southern Europe. For southern and eastern Europe the increasing risk from climate change would be amplified by an increase in water withdrawals (16).

Water shortages due to extended droughts will also affect tourism flows, especially in southeast Mediterranean where the maximum demand coincides with the minimum availability of water resources (4).

Fresh water resources in numbers - Mediterranean basin

The Mediterranean basin is 3,800 km long and 400 to 740 km wide. It takes 90 years for the water in this sea to be completely renewed. Hence, it is especially susceptibility to pollution. The population is between 150 and 250 million depending on whether just the actual coastal strip is taken into account or the drainage basin of the Mediterranean (4).

Fresh water resources in numbers - Europe

By 2005 for Europe as a whole (including New Member States and Accession Countries) some 38% of the abstracted water was used for agricultural purposes, while domestic uses, industry and energy production account for 18%, 11%, and 33%, respectively (2). However, large differences exist across the continent. In Malta, Cyprus and Turkey, for example, almost 80% of the abstracted water is used for agriculture, and in the southwestern countries (Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Greece) still about 46% of the abstracted water is used for this purpose. In the central and northern countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, UK, and Scandinavia), to the contrary, agricultural use of the abstracted water is limited to less than 5%, while more than 50% of the abstracted water goes into energy production (a non-consumptive use) (2).

Southern countries use ca. three times more water per unit of irrigated land than other parts of Europe. The large amount of water dedicated to irrigation in the southern countries is problematic since most of these countries have been classified as water stressed, and face problems associated with groundwater over-abstraction such as aquifer depletion and salt water intrusion (3).

The total renewable freshwater resource of a country is the total volume of river run-off and groundwater recharge generated annually by precipitation within the country, plus the total volume of actual flow of rivers coming from neighbouring countries. This resource is supplemented by water stored in lakes, reservoirs, icecaps and fossil groundwater. Dividing the total renewable freshwater resource by the number of inhabitants leads to water availability per capita. Thirteen countries have less than 5,000 m3/capita/year while Nordic countries generally have the highest water resources per capita. The Mediterranean islands of Malta and Cyprus and the densely populated European countries (Germany, Poland, Spain and England and Wales) have the lowest water availability per capita. The water availability is an annual data which therefore does not reflect at all seasonal variations (19).

Fresh water resources in numbers - Wordwide

In the absence of climate change, the future population in water-stressed watersheds depends on population scenario and by 2025 ranges from 2.9 to 3.3 billion people (36–40% of the world’s population). By 2055 5.6 billion people would live in water-stressed watersheds under the A2 population future (The A2 storyline has the largest population), and ‘‘only’’ 3.4 billion under A1/B1(1).

Climate change increases water resources stresses in some parts of the world where runoff decreases, including around the Mediterranean, in parts of Europe, central and southern America, and southern Africa. In other water-stressed parts of the world, particularly in southern and eastern Asia, climate change increases runoff, but this may not be very beneficial in practice because the increases tend to come during the wet season and the extra water may not be available during the dry season (1).      

Adaptation strategies

EU policy orientations for future action

According to the EU, policy orientations for the way forward are (20):

  • Putting the right price tag on water;
  • Allocating water and water-related funding more efficiently: Improving land-use planning, and Financing water efficiency;
  • Improving drought risk management: Developing drought risk management plans, Developing an observatory and an early warning system on droughts, and Further optimising the use of the EU Solidarity Fund and European Mechanism for Civil Protection;
  • Considering additional water supply infrastructures;
  • Fostering water efficient technologies and practices;
  • Fostering the emergence of a water-saving culture in Europe;
  • Improve knowledge and data collection: A water scarcity and drought information system throughout Europe, and Research and technological development opportunities.

Managed aquifer recharge

Comprehensive management approaches to water resources that integrate ground water and surface water may greatly reduce human vulnerability to climate extremes and change, and promote global water and food security. Conjunctive uses of ground water and surface water that use surface water for irrigation and water supply during wet periods, and ground water during drought (21), are likely to prove essential. Managed aquifer recharge wherein excess surface water, desalinated water and treated waste water are stored in depleted aquifers could also sup­plement groundwater storage for use during droughts (22,23). Indeed, the use of aquifers as natural storage reservoirs avoids many of the problems of evaporative losses and ecosystem impacts asso­ciated with large, constructed surface-water reservoirs.

Measures southern Europe

In southern Europe, to compensate for increased climate related risks (lowering of the water table, salinisation, eutrophication, species loss), a lessening of the overall human burden on water resources is needed. This would involve stimulating water saving in agriculture, relocating intensive farming to less environmentally sensitive areas and reducing diffuse pollution, increasing the recycling of water, increasing the efficiency of water allocation among different users, favouring the recharge of aquifers and restoring riparian vegetation, among others (18).

Measures Malta

Adaptation measures are necessary to alleviate stress on the natural water resources and to mitigate flood water damage (17):

  • A concerted effort is necessary to reduce water demand by promoting water efficient devices, use of alternative water sources for activities that can be satisfied by non-potable supplies and careful aquifer monitoring, coupled with carefully drafted conservation policy.
  • Implementation of a storm water management plan is necessary and should comprise a flood mitigation system. The plan should improve rainwater catchment and storage through the use of more numerous and higher capacity water reservoirs for longer self-sustained irrigation, while averting flood water damage.

Notwithstanding the implementation of adaptation measures, a net negative impact on natural water resources is still expected. It thus seems inevitable that there will be an increased dependence on seawater desalination.

Measures and policies being proposed as an integral part of the National Action Plan are a.o. (17):

  • Demand-side management of water resources; Encouragement of the use of alternative water sources for activities that can be satisfied by non-potable supplies.
  • Creation of an educational and awareness campaign on efficient use of water.
  • Enforcement measures and possibly a revision of water tariffs on the basis of usage.
  • Sustainment of efforts to reduce water losses by way of leakage and repair detection, meter repair/maintenance and pressure management systems.
  • Enhancement of groundwater recharge to improve the groundwater/reverse osmosis water production ratio by curtailing illegal groundwater abstraction.
  • Monitoring and assessment of the impacts of sea level rise on the groundwater aquifer.
  • Development and finalisation of an integrated storm water management plan that comprises a flood mitigation system and improved methods of harnessing storm water (increasing retention times and conserving infiltration areas to enhance groundwater recharge, improving rainwater catchments and storage through the use of more numerous and higher capacity water reservoirs for irrigation).
  • Promotion of the use of suitably treated effluent according to international standards especially in the industrial and agricultural sectors.
  • Use of treated effluent in areas that fall outside the groundwater protection zone.
  • Improvement of irrigation techniques and their engineering.
  • Development of more energy efficient infrastructures in the water production and water supply sectors and wastewater treatment and disposal.

Demand-side management: An integrated water management strategy is necessary for more effective harnessing of rainwater, to control misuse, reduce demand for potable water and to diversify the utilisation of water supplies by seeking alternative sources for nonpotable use. The planned building of three new sewage treatment plants will offer the opportunity to further use this additional source of water in the agricultural and industrial sectors. Furthermore, an energy efficient infrastructure for water production should form part of the integrated water management strategy (17).

Introduction of dual water supplies for domestic and community use is one important measure. Non-potable water requirements constitute a significant portion of the overall household consumption. Planning regulations require buildings to have underground cisterns to collect rainfall deposited on the roof area. However, there is no specification as to how such water may be used and in consequence most premises lack the necessary infrastructure. Management of water resources requires consumer education on feasible practices, awareness of the real cost of water and provision of incentives for installing dual water systems (17).

In Malta, according to a report published in 2007, no water pricing policy has been developed so far to provide adequate incentives for users to use water resources efficiently (19).

Groundwater resources: Groundwater recharge helps to rehabilitate the aquifer and improve the groundwater-to-desalination water ratio. A simulation model is necessary for the scientific assessment and monitoring of the aquifer condition to estimate damage by seawater intrusion due to sea level rise and overextraction, as well as to calculate recharge duration for its sustainable exploitation. Illegal extraction of groundwater is not yet under adequate control. A voluntary registration scheme for groundwater boreholes was launched some years ago, but there is lack of information on usage. It is now important to identify remaining illegal boreholes, and to monitor extraction (17).

Storm water: Storms generate significant fluxes of rainwater which need to be properly controlled and directed into improved catchments. This can be achieved by the design and implementation of an integrated storm water collection and control network to harvest rainwater more efficiently, as well as to direct such water to locations which minimise damage and where increased infiltration may occur without adverse effects. Measures should be taken to increase retention times in regions where it can contribute to groundwater recharge. Non-potable water demand in agriculture can be partially satisfied by the construction of water storage reservoirs in rural areas for more effective storm water collection and use (17,24).

Second class water and wastewater: Use of treated effluent for irrigation is currently only permitted outside the groundwater protection zone. Improved effluent quality will further encourage use of such water, possibly in lieu of groundwater. Industry can also benefit from use of second class water in applications such as for cooling systems and for cleaning purposes. Polishing of the final effluent may be necessary in some cases and the technology required should be investigated. Comparatively large developments such as hotels and industrial estates should be encouraged to carry out on-site treatment of their sewage. Besides alleviating the burden on the public infrastructure, the treated effluent could be directly reused for non-potable activities (17). Promotion of improved waste water reuse where appropriate could result in the replacement of approximately 26% of the future water abstractions of Malta (19).


The references below are cited in full in a separate map 'References'. Please click here if you are looking for the full references for Malta.

  1. Arnell (2004)
  2. Eisenreich (2005)
  3. EEA (2003); EEA (WQ03b), both in: Eisenreich (2005)
  4. European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  5. Rosato and Giupponi (2003), in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  6. Trigo et al. (2004), in: Eisenreich (2005)
  7. Hulme (1999); UNEP/MAP/MED/POL (2003), both in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  8. Alcamo et al. (2007)
  9. Santos et al. (2002), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  10. WHO (2007)
  11. Arnell (2003), in: Arnell (2004)
  12. Eitzinger et al. (2003), in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  13. Mimikou et al. (2000), in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  14. Williams (2001); Zalidis et al. (2002), both in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  15. Döll (2002) in: European Environment Agency (EEA) (2005)
  16. Lehner et al. (2006), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  17. Republic of Malta, Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment and the University of Malta (2004)
  18. Alvarez Cobelas et al. (2005), in: Alcamo et al. (2007)
  19. European Commission (DG Environment) (2007)
  20. Commission of the European Communities (2007)
  21. Faunt (2009), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
  22. Scanlon et al. (2012), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
  23. Sukhija (2008), in: Taylor et al. (2012)
  24. Climate Change Committee for Adaptation, Malta (2010)