Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Water Quality and Supply in Malta

We often get contacted by expats and travellers inquiring about the water quality in Malta. It's a topic you're likely to find more myth than fact about online, and we'd like to throw our experiences (of course, not backed up by scientific research, although that would be fun) into the mix, and chat about water supply problems on this little island.

Here's what you need to know about water quality in Malta:
  • Water in Malta is safe to drink straight from the tap, and will not make you sick. (Don't let bottled water sellers tell you otherwise!) Of course, there may be exceptions to this. We lived at the University of Malta's student residence in 2008, where we were explicitly instructed not to drink the tap water (it was brown). 
  • A lot of tap water in Malta is desalinated. In other words, its essentially sea water with the salt removed. We'll talk about what this means, and about the sad state of water resources in Malta, later.
  • Tap water in Malta does have a 'taste.' When you really think about it, all water has a taste that varies widely geographically. The same holds true even for this tiny island - water tastes different from village to village, and even flat to flat, depending on your pipes and filtration systems. I, personally, hate the taste of water in Malta but Mike finds it tolerable, so its obviously super subjective.
  • Many locals and tourists drink bottled water. I suspect this is because in older homes the taste of the water is quite strong. But I'm almost 100% sure this isn't because the water is unsafe to drink. In any case, bottled water is quite inexpensive here (€0.50 for a small bottle, €1 for a 1.5L bottle), but we all know the pitfalls of polluting our planet with plastics. (And I often wonder how we would explain to aliens that we sell water...)
  • The taste of tap water in Malta is greatly improved by using an at-home filtration system. We use a Brita, which makes our water taste just as good as any bottle of water I've ever had. Plus, it's cheaper than buying bottles. 
  • Water (as a utility) in Malta is (from a Canadian perspective) expensive. Water prices in Malta are priced per cubic meter, and vary according to the number of residents registered to each housing unit, and consumption rates. Domestic usage prices start at €1.47 per cubic meter, and go up to €5.41 per cubic meter. 

Here's what you need to know about the water supply in Malta (source):
  • Malta is on the list with Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, the Maldives, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen as being the ten poorest countries globally in terms of water resources per inhabitant. 
  • This is because Malta is surrounded by seawater, has a small catchement (water collection/reservoir) area, has a semi-arid climate (no rain from June to September) and a high population density (one of the highest in the world!)
  • Malta has below the accepted threshold of 1000 m3 of water per inhabitant, considered to be the minimum to sustain life and agriculture. 
  • Water that is extracted from the ground has a high level of salinity, due to over-extraction. That makes sense: If you extract more water from an aquifer than you are supposed to, seawater rises up and fills it. 
  • Malta has a problem with illegal water extraction. No one really knows how many unregistered boreholes are on the island. 
It seems that the logical solution is to continue to desalinate water since, after all, Malta is surrounded by the stuff. But desalination is an energy and cost intensive process, and it's not a sustainable solution in the long term.


So, here's what you can do to cut your water consumption in Malta:
  • Take shorter showers. In the summer especially, it's easy to turn the water on and get wet, turn it off and lather up, then turn it on and rinse. Mike and I call it a 'Mediterranean shower.'
  • Do not leave the tap running when you brush your teeth (this was drilled into my head in Canada growing up and drives me crazy!)
  • Consider purchasing house or terrace plants that require less water (succulents and cacti are great, and - bonus - hard to kill!)
  • Many dishwashers and clothes washers in Malta have low-water usage settings. Use 'em.
What has your experience with water been in Malta, or wherever you live? Do you drink it from the tap? How do you cut your consumption? I'd love to know.

- Jess

11 comments :

  1. I had never really thought about water in Malta but it makes for an interesting topic.
    I was always a Brita user in Canada but the tap water in Stavanger is so darn good that we drink it straight from the faucet. On our brewery tour, the guide told us that Stavanger has some of the best city water in the country and they use it as is for brewing.
    As you can guess, tap water in Gabon was horrible. It was dirty and dangerously filled with parasites and bacteria meaning there was no way I'd ever drink it. In fact, I didn't even use it boiled for cooking as I didn't think the risk was worth it and I just recently broke my habit of clenching my mouth shut in the shower.

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    1. I've always wondered what it would be like to live somewhere where the water is clench-your-mouth-in-the-shower bad. What a big change from Canada, eh!

      Super jealous of your delicious Norwegian water!

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  2. There's a whole section in the Environmental Studies curriculum dedicated to water in Malta. We even had to learn the names of the reverse osmosis plants.

    Most residences and retreat centres advise you not to drink from taps, but there's no real reason not to. As far as I can tell they just want to make sure there's no way you can blame them for getting sick while you're staying there.

    Water in Mellieha definitely tastes better than water in Sliema. If it weren't for the fact that you get free six-packs of water when spending over a certain amount at our local supermarket, we'd drink tap water all the time.

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    1. Thanks for joining the conversation Rachel! I figured there was no reason not to drink it (except for its funky colour and taste). Isn't it funny that the water taste varies from village to village, even on this tiny island?

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  3. Water is perfectly safe to drink in Malta, and is regularly monitored by the local utilities company, 'Water Services Corp.'. You were probably instructed not to drink from it since it's very hard given it is obtained from the water table, after filtering through the layers of rock in the ground, and from the sea through desalination. It therefore has a large number of minerals dissolved in it, even though salt is removed. This leads to it's taste. It might be a cause for kidney stones in the long run, but otherwise there's no way water here will make you ill due to bacterial or viral diseases.

    Further information about water quality checking in Malta can be found here: http://www.wsc.com.mt/content/water-wastewater-quality-laboratory

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    1. Thanks for joining the conversation Luke!

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  4. I didn’t know and never heard before on the quality of water in Malta. I’m just amazed to learn that there are parts of this world where even the necessary element of life, the water, is very scarce. I am refereeing to the tap water to drink here. This only reminds us that water conservation is a must.

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  5. being in my mid 30s I remember when I was a kid everybody used to drink straight from the tap and it was delicious while bottled water tasted funny.... later on in life tap water started tasting bad and today I find it too heavy to drink... my theory is (and its not confirmed) that because reverse osmosis are so expensive to run and people all over the island used to drink it, they made the water taste bad on purpose so that 1st the RO wont have to make so much water and also so bottled water which most companies who sell them are Maltese (Kristal, Fontana, San Micheal) and can generate business after all bottled water from Maltese companies is actually made from RO water but better cured (used to work for one of these companies)

    :)

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  6. 1,47Eur/m3 is a cheap price!
    I just paid my water bill, 100Eur/16m3/3months.
    Of course this isn't from Malta ;)
    Could You please check You numbers from Your bill?
    We would like to compare prices ... before moving ;)

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  7. What about Fluoride ?

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