The Water Framework Directive
The Water Framework Directive is the European Commission's tool to effectively manage freshwater reserves throughout Europe. Through this Directive the Commission has set out a framework through which member states may ensure that their freshwater reserves are maintained in a good status.
Good Status explained – quality of groundwater
The Water Framework Directive sets a limit for the amount of substances which may be present in freshwater reserves. In Malta's case two substances are of particular concern – nitrates and chlorides.
Nitrates are present in water which has come into contact with excessive fertiliser applied to fields and to a lesser extent, leaks from sewage networks or manure pits. Excessive chlorides are a feature of groundwater bodies which are being over-extracted, causing seawater to incur into the freshwater reserve.
90% of Malta's groundwater bodies contain excessive nitrates or chlorides, failing to meet the Water Framework Directive's 'Good Status'.
Good Status explained – quantity of groundwater
Groundwater is dependent on rainwater for recharge. The amount of freshwater that is sustainably available for extraction therefore depends on the amount of rainwater replenishing groundwater bodies.
Taking more groundwater than is sustainably available decreases the quality of the remaining groundwater, threatening the status of the aquifer. To ensure that this does not happen in Europe, the Water Framework Directive requires that extraction of groundwater is balanced with recharge.
48% of Malta's groundwater bodies are currently over-extracted.
Targets and deadlines
Two targets member states are required to achieve under the Water Framework Directive are particularly relevant given local conditions.
The first was that by 2010 a resource and environmental cost would have been attached to extracted groundwater and passed onto consumers. In Malta groundwater is heavily extracted by the Water Services Corporation, forming 45% of town water supplied. A larger volume of groundwater is additionally extracted by various other sectors. As yet, by 2012, no environmental and resource cost has been attached to this extracted groundwater.
The second target of particular relevance is the requirement for member states to ensure that their groundwater bodies are in a Good Status by 2015. Malta's aquifers are heavily over-extracted and almost all have excessive nitrates and chlorides. It will be very difficult for Malta to restore the aquifers to Good Status by 2015.