Some 95 million litres of groundwater were guzzled up by factories producing concrete in 2019 alone, official figures show.
Data published in parliament earlier this week shows that Malta’s batching plants have been drawing groundwater at an extraordinary rate in recent years.
And given that groundwater extraction is not charged, batching plants have not paid a single cent for any of the water they used.
The recorded volumes of water being extracted have skyrocketed, but that is because Malta went from monitoring just one borehole in 2014, to monitoring 20 by last year.
237 million litres of water in three years
In 2019, when extraction was at its highest, these 20 boreholes were used to extract some 95,036m3 worth of water to be used in making cement for the construction industry.
That is the equivalent of around 47.5 million two-litre bottles.
Extraction then dipped, to 80,484m3 in 2020 and down to 62,231 last year.
In the past three years alone, the cement industry in Malta is estimated to have extracted an eye-watering 237 million litres of water.
That would be enough to fill nearly 95 Olympic swimming pools.
Those figures are likely to be lower than the actual total amount of water extracted by batching plants from Malta's water table, as not all boreholes are registered and metred and some batching plants have been allowed to operate illegally for years.
According to a table presented in Parliament on Monday by Energy Minister Miriam Dalli, the industry has not paid a single cent for any of the water it used.
She was replying to a parliamentary question from Opposition spokesperson for planning and construction Stanley Zammit.
Despite having been warned by the EU way back in 2010 that it must start charging for groundwater extraction, Malta continues to allow boreholes to draw water for free.
As one of the EU’s driest member states, groundwater, found in subterranean reservoirs and in fractures of rock formations, is one of Malta’s most precious resources.
Experts routinely warn against over-extraction as this results in increased salinity in the remaining water.
However, it is not only used in the cement industry. Groundwater is commonly extracted for agricultural purposes, in some cases used to fill swimming pools, and is even used as bottled drinking water.
According to the EU’s environmental watchdog, Malta has “significant problems” with its groundwater levels.
The European Environment Agency’s European Waters has repeatedly warned that Malta is among the EU’s member states where groundwater levels are drying up fast.