A 12-month moratorium hangs over applications and permits for new boreholes as the government takes stock of the scale of extraction from the water table.

The government plans to draw up a strategic plan on water production that ensures sustainability and part of the process involves the notification of boreholes drilled since 1997.

With the proposed water and electricity tariffs looming large, the government faces the risk of people scrambling to extract water illegally. However, Resources Minister George Pullicino said it was vital to get a picture of the whole situation, before taking measures against this.

The ministry is working hard to crack down on borehole drilling -extraction of ground water is estimated at about 34 million cubic metres a year, 11 million cubic metres more than the Malta Resources Authority's recommendations for sustainable extraction. Farmers use 16 million cubic metres a year.

Mr Pullicino expects that, by the beginning of next year, a strategy would have been formulated and presented for public consultation.

Although no new boreholes can be drilled, those who do possess one can still extract water until the government's plans are announced and decisions made. As part of its measures, the government yesterday published a legal notice to start the notification process of boreholes and artisan wells, which had not been included in a previous legal notice issued in 1997. The notification fee is €230.

In 1997, the Water Services Corporation had been notified of 6,000 boreholes but Mr Pullicino said the government was aware of the fact that since then more boreholes had been drilled. The notification of new boreholes would give a clearer picture of the situation.

Mr Pullicino emphasised that the notification of a water source should not be interpreted as an automatic permit for water extraction. This all depended on where the source was situated, what volumes were being extracted and whether this left a detrimental effect on the quality of water.

He said anyone who failed to notify the MRA about the boreholes during a month period, starting yesterday and running until November 7, risked facing a fine ranging from €9,300 to €18,300. These fines were established in 1997.

Another legal notice published yesterday establishes a regulatory framework for the drilling of new boreholes. It lays down fines ranging from €20,000 to €50,000 and the confiscation of the equipment used for unauthorised drilling.

Mr Pullicino said owners of equipment used for drilling of boreholes also had to notify the authorities. According to the 1997 legal notice, those who failed to notify the authority about such equipment risked fines ranging from €9,000 to €18,000. Anyone who drilled during the moratorium using equipment that had not been notified would be liable to a maximum fine of €68,000 and the confiscation of the equipment.

Notification of boreholes can be made through an application form, which can be downloaded from the MRA website, www.mra.org.mt, and filled in by an architect.

All those who had a borehole, be they farmers, owners of pools or lawns etc., had to notify the authority but those who had already made a notification after the 1997 legal notice was issued did not need to do so again.

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