Thursday, September 19, 2013
When valuable rain sets in
Alfred E. Baldacchino
The faintest smell of rain tends to make some feel wet under the collar. This trauma automatically triggers the urge to swoop on valleys ‘to clean’ them, as if valleys are some kind of water closet.
Valleys are dried river beds, which have been transformed to this state by climate and environmental changes, but still harvest rain water. The Knights of Jerusalem reluctantly settled in these islands – one of the top 10 arid countries in the world. In 1530 they planned, engineered and managed such a rare resource to serve the islands and its people and to defend them in difficult times. Later the British enhanced, and continued to manage such a rare resource.
When the foreigners left, they took with them their acumen in planning and management, but they left behind a wealth of their works, without which Malta would not be what it is today.
The indigenous then took over the management and planning. Since that time, rain water management is close to nonexistent.
Old underground water cisterns and networks all over the islands lie cracked and dry, even in the capital city. Others were destroyed to make way for streets and roads. Old bellshaped water cisterns were bulldozed to make way for underground garages. An engineered network was obliterated so that the Gozo Church could build a monument for the dead in Nadur.
An 1854 regulation obliging every dwelling to have a well to collect rain water was completely ignored and rain water collected by buildings was channelled, illegally, to the sewers or let loose in the streets.
In 2012 the gruesome political intelligence (GPI) repealed this regulation enabling rain water to be directed to the sewers, in the interest of development. Sewers used to empty their load out at sea, till treatment plants were built. Again the GPI saw that these were built close to the coast, to dispose treated water in the sea. Politicians boasted that Malta was the first EU Member State to do so.
Malta will remain the one and only country in this field because no sane political intelligence would throw treated water (which with a little bit of more planning and management could have even become potable water) in the sea, only for it to be pumped up again a couple of meter further away to be distilled by energy-intensive desalination plants and redirected back to households and industries.
New buildings mushroomed with increasing momentum, to the extent that today there are more than 70,000 vacant buildings (and still counting), equivalent to 9 times the number of all households at Birkirkara. Footprints of these buildings used to absorb rain water nourishing the water table.
Water is today managed either by letting it run in the streets or by connecting it with the sewers. Sewers have a limited carrying capacity and they show the first signs of stress when water fountains sprout from the inspection holes; a replica of the dancing water fountains in St. George’s Square Valletta, opposite Parliament House, as a gentile reminder perhaps.
More water, added pressure, increased momentum, eventually lifts the sewer’s inspection hole covers, throwing up excess water in the streets, carrying solid and liquid wastes, some toxic. Such ‘rivulets’ combine with water running the streets, gather momentum, increase volume, and roar their way to the lowest part of the nearby land – valleys.“If the Grand Masters were to judge the management of rain water today, they would impose years of rowing on the Order’s galleons on those concerned.”
No wonder the water table needs protection from seeping chemicals. And the environmental watchdog, MEPA, and its predecessor, approve and endorse such plans and mismanagement, perhaps with some political help!
All along valleys were neglected, though always rising to their natural role to deal with rain water. But even valleys have their maximum carrying capacity. If they are fed excessive water the level rises more than they can handle. This will dislodge rubble walls, erode soil and uproot trees. When the GPI ‘clean’ valley
courses, water momentum can then play with cars and houses like toys. The GPI has invested millions, including EU funds, to dig tunnels to direct such rain water to the sea. Foreigners used to dig such tunnels to fill cisterns and recharge the water table.
If the Grand Masters were to assess, evaluate, examine, and judge the planning and management of rain water today, they would undoubtedly impose years of rowing on the Order’s galleons to those concerned. So different from today’s democracy where nobody seems to be accountable, and society and the environment pays for such life-threatening mistakes.
Why not go and experience such mismanagement when it rains? Do not take any boots or umbrellas; they would be more of a hazard.
And if one can go with an amphibian it would be better than a car. Be careful too because traffic signs designed for future use have yet to be installed, drawing attention to crossing coffins, of all shapes and sizes, both literally and metaphorically. One will then understand how the GPI let loose its reins, such that when it rains, cats and dogs reign supreme.
The postponement and accumulation of mismanagement problems in this wet business make the people hot beneath the collar, though seemingly happy to swim with the current.
PS – Photos and graphics were inserted after the publication of the original article