Exchange of experience and comparative analysis for Integrated Coastal Zone Management

Improved water resource management in areas with acute water shortage - MT       

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1. Policy Objective & Theme

  • ADAPTATION TO RISK: Managing impacts of climate change and safeguarding resilience of coasts/coastal systems
  • ADAPTATION TO RISK: Integrating coherent strategies covering the risk-dimension (prevention to response) into planning and investment

2. Key Approaches

  • Ecosystems based approach
  • Technical

3. Experiences that can be exchanged

Water leakage control from supply pipelines has been developed to become a strategically important component for water resource management. It has been used to reach an optimum economic balance between water supply and water demand. The case is particularly relevant for many coastal areas of the Mediterranean which face water shortages. The gap between supply and demand is likely to get bigger as the effects of climate change become more pronounced in the coming decades as the Mediterranean region is predicted to become both hotter and drier.

4. Overview of the case

In Malta, extreme water shortage has led to integrated water resource management being used to improve water supply. With limited options to either decrease demand or increase supply without large-scale, expensive solutions, the problem of water leakage has been tackled. A process has been set up whereby water lost to leakage has been reduced by 50% eliminating the need for expensive desalination plants along the coast.

5. Context and Objectives

a) Context

The Maltese archipelago consists of 6 islands and islets, the main islands being Malta, Gozo and Comino. The total surface area is approximately 316 km2. The Islands have a population of approximately 376,000. Water is a scarce resource, particularly in view of the local hydro-climatological conditions, including the low rainfall and high evaporation and transpiration, relatively long dry season, small surface area, the irregular topographic relief and the characteristics of the local aquifers. The Maltese islands, like other parts of the Mediterranean region, is an area of acute water shortage. Malta not only faces shortages of water but also has only limited groundwater (exacerbated by illegal abstraction in the agricultural sector). Increased use of groundwater is therefore not an option for municipal water supply and there is little potential for reduction on the demand side. Malta has the lowest water resources index (at 40 m3/year/capita) and the highest water competition index (24,800 inhabitant/hm3/year) in comparison with other countries from the Mediterranean basin. Six reverse osmosis plants have been built locally, supplying 50% of needs. However, this water is expensive. Leakage management therefore became to be seen as an important contributor to balancing supply and demand, and the prime aims of reducing production costs, improving the economies of the water supply organisation, and postponing capital investments in water network renewal. The challenge has been considerable: the total length of water mains below ground, excluding consumer services, is around 2,000 km and the total number of water services is at around 200,000 km.

b) Objectives

To improve water supply as part of an integrated water resource management strategy and reduce the investment cost of coastal dependent, sea-water desalination plants.

6. Implementation of the ICZM Approach (i.e. management, tools, resources)

a) Management

The Water Services Corporation (WSC) is the corporate body in charge of water management in Malta. In February 2001 the WSC handed over its regulatory responsibilities to the newly set-up Malta Resources Authority (MRA). For the achievement of the defined objectives, teams from the University of Malta, the International Water Association and the Malta Institute of Water Technology participated with specific roles.

b) ICZM tools

Leakage control in the Maltese Islands is more than just capital investment into modern technology; it is an exercise in proper strategic management at a corporate level as part of an integrated water resource management programme. An innovative economic leakage intervention model has been developed. This model is designed to act as a tactical planning tool focused towards daily resource utilization and tactical planning decisions with one objective: guiding the practitioner towards reaching the long-range goals and targets of the Corporation as quickly and economically as possible. Additionally, an Integrated Water Management System has been developed. This is essentially an information system that utilizes a data model and a geographical information system which is used primarily as a mid to high-level decision-making and decision-assisting tool.

7. Cost and resources

No costs are available.

8. Effectiveness (i.e. were the foreseen goals/objectives of the work reached?)

The Water Services Corporation was able to more than halve its national leakage within 5 years; from 2,800 to 1,200 m3/m, as well as achieving  an internationally recognized water saving target for Gozo. This has been achieved despite the technical difficulties of a dense and complex water network. Whilst it is difficult to compute the true savings that a leakage reduction brings about, an audited accounting exercise was carried out in 2001. The accumulated marginal cost of water saved was computed to be in excess of €37 million over a 20-year period. The calculation was considered a conservative one.

9. Success and Fail factors

Despite severe technical difficulties, leakage reduction has played a significant role in minimising dependence on (high cost) water supply from desalination.  To be effective, leakage control should be seen as a major component of a strategy for water resource management, involving sophisticated management techniques as well as technical innovation. Interaction with other institutions is important. The performance of the staff is critical to success. The teams from the different participating institutions have been developed into self directed work teams, setting their own targets in line with the more broad master-targets. This teamwork approach has been found to be most effective although it has taken time to build capacity. The engineers themselves are held fully accountable for results obtained and the achieving of targets. Strategic planning with long, medium and short-range targets are also seen as important. The new detection programme to cut leaks from the supply mains is now helping the WSC to focus on better water quality rather than quantity.

10. Unforeseen outcomes

11. Prepared by

A. H. Pickaver, Coastal & Marine Union (EUCC), The Netherlands

12. Verified by

 It was not possible to have this case verified.

13. Sources

  • Malta: use of leakage control in water management strategy (downloadable from

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