Investment in infrastructure and the development of new inhouse technologies has seen Malta’s water sector become one of the strongest in Europe. Many parts of the continent faced severe water shortages and in some cases drought this summer. Malta – despite being one of the most arid locations in Europe - did not encounter any problems. The island’s semi-arid climate meant Malta had to invest early on in water infrastructure and solutions. As far back as the 1600s, the Knights of Malta built aqueducts that transported water by gravity from one village to another. In more modern days, desalination plants have become a key part of the puzzle, while a planned technology upgrade will make its reverse osmosis (RO) plants even more efficient. Malta has also incorporated solutions to recycle and reuse wastewater for agriculture and has become a leader in network leak detection. The island’s engineers are regarded among the best in this field and are now exporting their technology and know-how internationally.
The Water Services Corporation
Malta’s Water Services Corporation (WSC) was founded in 1992 and is responsible for the complete drinking and wastewater cycle in Malta and Gozo. During the past decades, Malta has become increasingly dependent on desalination, and today WSC operates three RO plants. They contribute 60% to Malta’s water supply, with groundwater sources accounting for 40%. Desalination is an energy-intensive and expensive technology, and the country has already invested in new sophisticated technology to make the process more energy-efficient and more cost-effective allowing it to produce much more water with less energy. WSC is now embarking on a new €130-million EU-funded investment project, which includes upgrades to the latest RO technology, a new RO plant for the island of Gozo as well as the construction of a new water tunnel which blends groundwater with desalinated water. These initiatives will increase the share of desalinated water in Malta’s water mix even further, while, at the same time, future-proofing Malta’s water infrastructure, which needs to cater for a booming economy as well as population growth. The investment is also based on the highest environmental standards and shall serve as a blueprint to solve water challenges across the globe.
“We have invested heavily in innovative solutions and technologies, including state-of-the-art reverse osmosis plants. Today, we actually distribute more water while producing less due to a very effective leak prevention and detection system.”
Joe Mizzi, Minister for Energy and Water
Wastewater as a Resource
Additionally, Malta has started to use water reclamation to recycle water. The Minister for Energy and Water, Joe Mizzi explained how 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 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.
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The Water Services Corporation has also developed technology that assists in locating and fixing leakages in water distribution systems. Extensive work and investment on the national networks have helped curb leakages to see Malta achieve the lowest rate in Europe. WSC has built know-how in this area that is attracting attention from not only water utilities but wider sectors. The Corporation is now exporting its solutions to other countries and was chosen by the World Bank to carry out a water leakage management project in Lebanon. WSC’s monitoring technology could also be replicated for application in other industries, for instance in the oil and gas sector. Interest in Malta’s expertise is growing – developing countries, as well as international companies, have reached out to WSC, which is ready to showcase its utility management, app technologies and expertise to the world.