Over 108 million bottles of water extracted for free by companies in six years

Beverage companies have extracted the equivalent of 108 million two-litre bottles for free from the ground, to be sold again as water or carbonated soft drinks over the past six years

The equivalent of 108 million two-litre bottles was extracted for free from the ground to be sold again as water or carbonated soft drinks by beverage producers in six years.

Statistics presented in parliament by Energy Minister Miriam Dalli in reply to a question by Nationalist MP and planning spokesperson Stanley Zammit show that a staggering 216,479 cubic meters of ground water between 2016 and 2021 which is the equivalent of nearly 216 million liters.

The information shows that extraction by beverage producers increased from just 7,643 cubic meters in 2016 to 72,531 cubic meters in 2019, falling to 36,310 cubic meters in 2021.

According to the Minister no statistics are available before 2016 as this information was not compiled at the time.  The information is now being “evaluated” by the authorities.

Another parliamentary question by Zammit in October last year had already revealed that the amount of water extracted from the water table to produce concrete has shot up from 3,996 cubic metres in 2014 to 62,231 cubic metres in 2021.

Data presented in parliament had shown that the equivalent of 200 million bottles of water was extracted by construction companies between 2014 and 2021.

Although the extraction of ground water from the water table is metered, companies making use of this scarce public resource are not metered.   

In this case beverage companies are extracting water for free which is subsequently treated, bottled and sold to consumers or given away as freebies from supermarkets.

Statistics provided to MaltaToday by the Energy and Water Agency in 2019  had already show that extraction from 244 commercial, non-agricultural boreholes amounted to 833 million litres.   This means that the commercial sector - which includes water bottling companies, bowsers and concrete plants - accounts for one-fifth of all metered extraction.

The over-extraction of groundwater not only depletes the scarce resource, but also contributes to increased salinity inside the acquifer.

Malta’s most important aquifer system, the Mean Sea Level aquifer system, consists of a freshwater lens that actually floats on seawater, and therefore this aquifer is bounded by saline water at the sides and the bottom.

Over-extraction ends up changing the shape of the aquifer, and draws in more saltwater and increases salinity in the remaining groundwater.

The problem is recognised in the recently-published National Strategy for the Environment 2050, which is currently open for public consultation.

The strategy states that ensuring sustainable water resources is one of the key objectives of Malta’s environmental plans and actions for the next three decades.

In October last year a spokesperson for energy minister Miriam Dalli told MaltaToday that the government is considering “measures and incentives” to encourage sustainable use of this natural water resource by commercial sectors, including industry and construction.

On his part Stanley Zammit, an engineer and the PN’s spokesperson for planning, research and innovation, had proposed  that large scale activities like concrete plants which are regulated through an environmental permit issued by the Environment and Resources Authority should be disincentivised from extracting groundwater through specific conditions in the same permit requesting the collection and use of rainwater, recycle and re-use of water.

He also proposed a planning gain contribution imposed on those who continue extracting groundwater “which should be transparently directed to initiatives and projects aimed to replenish the groundwater and reduce the amount of rainwater being lost to the sea.”