When the rain sets in

September 19, 2013

times of malta

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.

The MEPA approved development not only deprived the area from accumulating rain water, but also intercepted the undergreound veins which fed the Knight's engineed system to water the fields. Ironically the developer it is the Gozo Church which has build a momument for the dead at the expense of the living.

The MEPA approved development not only deprived the area from harvesting rain water in the aquifer, but also intercepted the undergreound veins which fed the Knight’s engineed system to water the fields.
Ironically the developer is the Gozo Church which has build a momument for the dead at the expense of the living. May the Lord forgive them.

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In 2012 the gruesome political intelligence (GPI) repealed this regulation enabling rain water to be directed to the sewers, in the interest of development.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.

Mismanagement par excellance - polluted street waters, mixed with overflowing sewer water, dumping the resource in the valleys.

Mismanagement par excellance – polluted street waters, mixed with overflowing sewer water carrying chemicals, dumped in the valleys. Some politician must have been accountable for this planning!

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

slehiet-2

A breach in a rubble wall at Chadwick Lakes immediately after the valley was ‘cleaned’ last year.

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.

The result of the 'cleaning' of vallyes, making it easier for an increase in momentum, and the destruction even of infrastucture.

The result of the ‘cleaning’ of vallyes, giving water additional momentum. One has now to clean or patchup the infrastructure.

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.

When street become rivers, valleys become destructive.

When street become rivers,
valleys are rendered destructive.

Traffic signs of the future

Traffic signs of the future

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

see also:

http://wp.me/sL6Mk-water

http://wp.me/pL6Mk-sb

http://wp.me/pL6Mk-nw

http://wp.me/pL6Mk-62

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A vision buried at Nadur cemetery

April 6, 2013

times

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A vision buried at Nadur cemetery

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Archpriest of Nadur applied for the development of a cemetery on May 20, 2002. An outline development permit was issued on January 28, 2004 and a full development permit, valid for five years, was granted by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority on May 31, 2007. An appeal was submitted by Nature Trust on July 16, 2007 and works on the cemetery started in summer of that same year.

2012.10.00 - works in progress while the appeal keeps being postponed

Work in progress on the cemetery while the appeal board deliberated

The following documented data was made available to the Appeals Board: The development is in an ODZ (outside development zone).

There never was any public consultation.

EU Water Framework Directive obligations regarding ground water were not taken in consideration.

The locality is designated as an area of high landscape sensitivity and a land of agricultural value according to the Gozo and Comino Local Plan.

Technical staff at Mepa repeatedly recommended a refusal for such development.

Refusal was also recommended by the planning authority’s Heritage Advisory Board.

The proposed cemetery lies within the catchment area of one tributary that feeds Wied Għajn Qasab, one of the most important in Gozo.

This 6,500-square-metre cemetery footprint is on upper coralline limestone (garigue), overlying blue clay that contributes to a perched aquifer covering 5.6 square kilometres, “filtering on a good rainy season 16,000 gallons (73,000 litres) of potable natural water daily at Għajn Qasab springs”.

It is estimated that the recharge of water through percolation or infiltration amounts to 785,109 cubic metres annually.

The water catchment area around the cemetery covers 33,000 square metres.

The rock formation contains various faults, crevices and fissures, which channel rainwater to the farmers’ cisterns.

The fields dependent on the aquifer have been used for agricultural purposes for hundreds of years.

The engineering works regarding water use and storage, including bell shaped wells, galleries, channels and cisterns, date back to the time of the Knights of St John. Such network has been physically destroyed or rendered nearly useless by the cemetery.

The report by the geologist appointed by the developer, indicated that the project is unlikely to have an adverse impact on the water resources.

No hydrologist’s report was ever submitted.

The precautionary principle, a guiding principle in the EPA 2011, was completely ignored. The developer reports that the cemetery plans to cater for 643 graves, despite the fact that only 50 persons die annually in Nadur, some of whom are buried in the old cemetery.

The commercial value of the cemetery’s footprint estimates each grave at €4,000 at the time of the submisison of the appeal in 2007, showing the commercial vision of the project.

A number of letters were officially, personally and publicly written to the Prime Minister and to the minister responsible for the environment.

A number of social entities, farmers and the public expressed disapproval both of this development and of the way it was being handled.

The appeal case was heard and postponed for 19 times and, finally, a decision date was appointed for September 27, 2012, only to be postponed again.

The legal representative of the farming community wrote to the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal, emphasising that postponing the decision was jeopardising the interests of the farmers.

A hydrological report by Marco Cremona was eventually presented to the Appeals Tribunal. The study clearly states that there is no doubt about the direct hydraulic connection between the site of the cemetery and the farmers’ water source.

Affidavits by affected farmers show that, before the work on the cemetery, they had enough water for their fields. However, when the works got under way, they had to buy water for their fields and products decreased in quantity and quality.

On March 15, 2013 – the ides of March and six days after the last election – the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal informed the objectors that the original permit dated May 31, 2007 was superseded by another permit dated July 23, 2012, where the applicant presented an amended application to the original permit.

Since there was no appeal to the latter permit, the original one was now exhausted, having been superseded by the latter. Because of this, the tribunal abstained from taking further notice of the appeal.

Mepa’s vision “is to pass onto our children a better country than we inherited. It is for this very reason that we (Mepa) compare our environment to a treasure, something we dedicate our energies to, to protect, care for and improve. The environment encompasses all – nature, cultural and architectural heritage, towns and villages, the countryside, the seas and air. We (Mepa) believe that together we should carefully plan so that our heritage, this gem that we treasure, will not fade away.”

Who can possibly believe this when Mepa buried its vision at the Nadur cemetery?

2009.02.00 - The remains of a protected carob tree

The water catchment area of garigue which replenished the perched aquifer feeding and supplying water to the farming community and the valley ecosystem – BEFORE the approved rape of the ecosystem started.

Was this cemetery, to be run on a time­share basis, really needed in Nadur? Why was the precautionary principle not applied in such a sensitive and delicate ecological area with such a rare natural resource? Why where the above social and ecological negative impacts all cast aside, importance being given only to economic aspects? Was ‘the hand of god’ coerced to give the green light for such an injustice?

Jesus once entered the temple area and drove out all traders and shoppers. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. What would He have done had He found the selling of graves in His name? It is easier to deliver 10 sermons than to live one.

“Our lives end the day we become silent about things that really matter”…“and, in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King).

2009.06.01 water from the acquifer

The murky water feeding the farmers’ cisterns after the work started – definitely not the clear pure potable water they were used to use before.

The dead at Nadur cemetery will haunt and curse the living.

For God’s sake, remove environmental matters from Mepa before the social and ecological fabric of these islands is completely destroyed.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com

The original article in The Times, with comments posted by readers, can be seen at the following link:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20130406/opinion/A-vision-buried-at-Nadur-cemetery.464394


Behold, the promised Eco-Gozo

December 14, 2010

Tuesday, 14th December 2010

Behold, the promised Eco-Gozo

Alfred E. Baldacchino

I  must admit that Eco-Gozo was a brilliant idea. The launching of this bright idea, however, lacked adequate communication, education and public awareness and cannot be said to be that brilliant.  Stakeholders did not have enough chance to meet to discuss, to suggest and to feel part of this concept. Public consultations lacked any brilliancy. All subsequent development, in its widest sense, does not necessarily dovetail in this concept and is indeed bizarre, to say the least.

Gozo is a small island, endowed with a topography and a geology that make it a unique ecological gem. But, because of its smallness, every mismanaged and short-sighted development has drastic effects on its ecosystem, defying the whole Eco-Gozo concept.

Just a few examples would suffice to show how this concept is unfortunately being torpedoed, with the official blessing of the same authority that should be in the forefront to stop them.

Wied il-Qasab, meandering from Nadur to Ramla l-Ħamra, is fed by natural springs, originating from the upper garigue. The water percolates down through the strata to the valley bed, sustaining both the valley ecosystem and cultivated fields. A short-sighted permit issued against all technical advice saw the excavation of the water source, devastating historical planning techniques dating back to the times of the Knights, shattering bell-shaped wells that stored precious water resources, eventually cutting off one of the valley springs, while negatively impacting the others. All for the sake of a cemetery, where the dead, directly and indirectly, will now contribute to the destruction of this part of Eco- Gozo.

Dwejra is one of the landmarks of Eco-Gozo.  Looking through the azure window reveals the Mediterranean culture, biodiversity and history. Dwejra is a special area of conservation, part of the EU Natura 2000 network, also proposed as an International Heritage Site. A few weeks ago, Dwejra was made to play prostitute in exchange for economic gain. Tom, Dick and Harry were officially assured that there was no ecosystem in this part of the SAC. They were also lectured on the fact that if the economy does well, the environment usually does better. A couple of horses were eventually filmed trotting on the quarry-sand covering the fossil-rich rocks, with the azure window in the background. The covering of sand sent the eco-sensitive public in a rage, seeing the authority who should have ensured that this did not happen, giving its official blessings. Another under-the-belt blow for Eco-Gozo.

This is the International Year of Biodiversity. Someone, a few weeks back, had another “brilliant” idea for this eco-island – to clean the valleys. With myopic ingenuity, devoid of any ecological sensitivity, and of any environmental management, the Marsalforn Valley was bulldozed.  By all means, let the valleys be cleaned to be in a better position to hold more water, as they used to do in the distant past. But for heaven’s sake this is not the way: descending on valleys and destroying all ecosystems in the bulldozers’ path. The end does not justify the means. The valleys have been neglected, abused and mismanaged for so long.

The bottom line again was the economic gain – time-wise at the expense of social and ecological expense. Who would think of using a bulldozer in St John’s Co-Cathedral to clean the accumulated dust in every nook and cranny and so save on time and expense?

eco-scars and eco-wounds

The extant indigenous protected mature trees in the said valley show the scars and wounds left behind, some with exposed and mutilated roots, in a bed now devoid of species that once flourished in the valley ecosystem. The saplings are all gone. Once, there was an authority that used to protect the environment and would have issued permits with conditions regarding such work in delicate ecosystems.  It also used to monitor the works to ensure no damage was done.

It would not be surprising if Tom, Dick and Harry are again informed that, if the economy does well, the environment will do better and there was no ecosystem in the path of bulldozers.  From the economic short-term point of view, the aim might have been achieved but the social and environmental accounts now show an alarming deficit. Another Eco-Gozo concept sunk beneath the waves. Another case of missing the wood for the trees.

The next step towards the concept of Eco-Gozo now seems to be the proposed development of that idyllic place Ħondoq ir-Rummien. Will the authority that used to protect the environment be taken in by the great financial glitter and dismiss the fragile, little understood and uncared for social and environmental unique values?  Will Tom Dick and Harry be told again such a financial economic weight will raise the social and environmental (deficit) sky-high, which will definitely contribute to the Eco-Gozo myth?

The brilliant idea of an ecological island seems to be slowly but surely fading away into extinction, like so many indigenous species. Eco-Gozo can only bear fruit if the entities that cannot and do not want to take into consideration the social and environmental wealth keep their hands off Gozo.

One is now bound to ask:  Is it Eco-Gozo … or Ecce Gozo?

aebaldacchino@gmail.

 


Budget 2011 – The Budget jury gives its verdict

October 27, 2010

Tuesday, 26th October 2010 – 11:47CET

The Budget jury gives its verdict – Environmentalist

 

Alfred E.  Baldacchino, 64 Now a pensioner, Mr Baldacchino used to be an assistant director at the planning authority’s Environmental Protection Directorate and has a master’s degree in environmental management and planning. He lives in an Attard maisonette with his wife with whom he has two children, now married. He drives a five-year-old OpelCorsa – “the cheapest possible on the market”, and his income falls in the €7,501 – €14,000 bracket.

Mr Baldacchino said although the environment was addressed, there were some disappointing inclusions or omissions and some were “worrying”.  One such point was the announcement of the roads linking Mellieħa to the Red Tower and the Red Tower to Ċirkewwa. Apart from passing from “virgin natural environment, one of them has to pass through two Natura 2000 sites”.  He was also disappointed to see that the environmental deficit was not so strongly addressed. “No plans for the collection, management of run off and protection of underground water;  no management plans for Natura 2000 sites, either terrestrial or marine, no plans for job opportunities in the environment fields, no plans and measures for the negative impacts of climate change.”

He also saw as disappointing the fact that only slight importance was given to the economic opportunities in the environmental fields and only small limited incentives were given to photovoltaic panels and solar heaters.

“The Budget also ignores present economic burdens borne by society because of unsustainable mismanagement, such as in the field of water,  particulate matter, disappearance of biodiversity and toxic waste, be it liquid or solid,” Mr Baldacchinosaid.

Mr Baldacchino said environmental investment was still minimal compared to other fields such as health, industry, education, infrastructure, development, commercial activity and economic gain. He added this was a “clear indication” the environment was still regarded as being a mere appendix, “notwithstanding the fact that its mismanagement has such a great negative economic and social impact”.


Water

May 21, 2010

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Water – ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO

The international scenario – Today there is quite a healthy awareness of global environmental problems such as climate change, global food   crisis, the spiralling cost of fossil fuel, and the melting Arctic ice cap. However, one can rightfully conclude that these global crises have somewhat overshadowed the water crisis, despite the fact that water is a central resource, both directly and indirectly related to all the others. This may be due to the fact that global concerns have been tackled separately rather than in a holistic way. It is therefore not surprising that a serious management approach for such a scarce resource has dwindled due to the lack of, or weakened, strategy. This despite the fact that at the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg in 2002, it was agreed that countries should integrate water-resource management and water-efficiency plans by 2005. One can understand that tackling such a complex subject differs from one country to another so it is not that easy to formulate a generic “roadmap”.

The Maltese scenario – Malta is one of the top 10 arid countries in the world. It has always been so. This was one of the main reasons why the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem were not at all keen on setting up house in Malta. It was Hobson’s choice that established them here in 1530. With regard to the supply and availability of water, the Order’s professional tailor-made management plans are still valid and still serve the islands and its people. This despite the fact that today some of their management measures are neglected, while others have been abused or completely eliminated in the very recent past. The legal obligation that every dwelling should have a well to collect rainwater was a very intelligent measure; it still is and still serves the inhabitants who are fortunate enough to have such a system. Still in force today although hardly enforced, if at all: “Every house shall also have a cistern in good condition, of a capacity of at least three cubic metres, for every five square metres of the surface of the floor of each room of such house.” (Chapter 10 of the Laws of Malta – Code of Police Laws).

The affluent world we live in today could tempt some to convince themselves that Malta does not have any particular water problem, because the islands are surrounded by sea, has unlimited water access, and so can never run out of water. Try drinking a drop of such water! One can, but only after it has been processed by energy-intensive desalination plants, which contribute to climate change as well as to the food crisis that is demanding more water. And, God forbid, what if there is an oil spill or other toxic leaks in the vicinity of the desalination plants? The Mediterranean is one of the most frequented seas in the world, and European news speak with alarming enthusiasm about the nuclear plants being planned around the Mediterranean coast.

A management plan – Sadly, the word “management” is one word that seems very difficult for us to comprehend, to administer, enforce and implement. We are more accustomed to mismanagement with crisis management being our rule of thumb. The water management plans drafted and implemented by the Knights of Malta are barely implemented or strengthened, despite the fact that the demand for such a precious resource has increased substantially. The consequences of centuries of neglect are now becoming evident. To be able to have a sustainable management plan one must have the necessary data, besides the necessary tools, to consistently monitor and enforce. Some points to address for data gathering are:

  • Water tables:  both the perched and the lower water tables have contributed substantially, and still do, to the welfare of the Maltese community, both from an economical, social and ecological point of view. The ever increasing demand for water and the availability of mechanical and technological facilities have made it much easier to access, and also have an negative impact on such a resource. The number of bore holes, legal and illegal, all reach deep down and pump up this water. The legal and illegal use of pesticides, herbicides, natural and artificial fertilisers, can, and some do, finish in the aquifers. The state of the environment indicators for 2007 published by Mepa, clearly show that the increase of nitrate levels in the aquifers exceeds EU standards. How long will the ground water be available and be potable?
  • Protection of sensitive springs:  dried river beds, known as valleys (widien), traverse the islands from west to east. Today we are more familiar with springs (għejjun) that feed precious water to the surroundings, some a sorry reminder of their glorious past. Some springs are behind closed and chained doors, others have been sucked dry, while others still laboriously function, without doubt carrying the hidden chemicals of “progressive” farming and landscaping. Others, managed as a whole network of planed tunnels and culverts ensuring that not a drop of water is wasted, engineered by the Knights of Malta, have watered hundreds of trees and vegetables for centuries. Yet some of these networks have been cut off from their source, like the ones at Nadur, which have been extensively damaged to make way for a glorified place for the dead – a cemetery. Progressive planning for our future demand for graves perhaps!
  • Afforestation:  it is not only denuding the land of its vegetation that has an impact on water resources, but also the choice of species that are planted. The thousands of alien Eucalyptus trees planted in valleys, on garigue, in fields, in abandoned fields, and in urban areas, do have a tremendous negative impact on water resources. The fact that these trees are used to drain marshes will help one conclude that they contribute to the waste of ground water. A relatively recent trend is the laying of open spaces with turf, some even in roundabouts. Aesthetically they are pleasing. They are however irrigated by electrically powered sprinklers, which at times water even the roads. In the context of the local environment, it is like filling a valley with ice where one can go skating in summer. Not impossible, but at what cost! Thank God that plans for golf courses seem to have been shelved.
  • Urban planning:  every footprint of any building has its impact on water. This was fully understood by the planners and professional resource managers of the Knights of Malta. They ensured that every drop of water that fell on buildings was meticulously saved. In today’s technological era, it is ensured that every drop of water that falls on such buildings is mechanically channelled into the streets so that it can find its own natural and at-no-cost way to the sea. The amount of water going to waste is unbelievable. It does not have to rain cats and dogs: just a shower, like the Birkirkara and Qormi residents, among others, can attest. Due to the aridity of the islands, the Maltese have always prayed for rain. Today, the more rain God sends us, the more water will flood the streets on its way to the open sea. We desperately need to pray to God to illuminate our planners and resource managers and help them get to grips with the management of such a scarce resource similar to the management plans implemented by the Knights of St John 400 years ago.
  • Wise use:  this waste of water is the result of our acceptance and dependence on energy consuming desalination plants, despite their fragility and financial cost. We are so obsessed with desalination plants that the precious second-class water, which according to the EU is being produced from sewage treatment plants, has been officially declared as water of “no economic value”, and is being discharged into the sea. Only for the RO plants a couple of metres away to take it up again with more concentrated salinity, to be processed into potable water. Even if such plants were to use wind or solar energy, it would still be a waste of energy and resources and lacking any management plan.

Conclusion – We are treading on very, very thin ice, and if no urgent attention is given to implement a professional management plan for such a fragile, delicate, and rare resource, we could find ourselves in very deep waters, ironically enough without the possibility of having a drop to drink. Such a management plan has to be part of a holistic national sustainable development plan, having the input of all other entities which directly or indirectly use or have an impact on water resources, incorporating health, agriculture, industry, waste, tourism, finance and the environment. Everyone has to play his part for a real sustainable future. Procrastination is the thief of time. Where there is water there is life. There is no life where there is no water.