Summer visitors to Malta rarely experience an ankle-deep stroll through smelly stormwater - or a surprise splash in the face. Closing the car window is an afterthought when driving through rivers of combined sewage and rainwater runoff is something to be carefully avoided in the rainy season.

The last few drops of rain before summer scorches the land are worth enjoying while they last. Flooded streets after a heavy autumn or winter shower may now seem very far away, yet a Water Services Corporation (WSC) draft plan for stormwater is up for public comment until Tuesday. The plan sets out to mitigate flooding to a "socially acceptable degree".

There is a federation for almost anything imaginable in Europe. Water services providers have a federation called EUREAU, of which our WSC is a member. The European federation of national associations of water and waste water services shares a common view on combined sewer overflows (CSO) which are affecting the environment.

The problem stems from an infrastructure - or lack of it - which allows rainwater to flow into sewers, playing havoc with sewage treatment plants, not uncommon across member states. The WSC must come up with measures to reduce or divert the deluge which threatens Malta's low-lying areas whenever the sky turns dark with rain.

EUREAU notes the influence of climate change, which is making rainfall more frequent and intense. This would increase how often CSOs would be put into action. Recognising that events are made worse by increasing areas of impermeable surfaces in town and city developments, the federation supports increasing use of permeable surfaces in urban areas.

When properly managed, controlled overflows can prevent overloading of sewers and waste water treatment plants. Avoiding the all-too-familiar scene of manhole covers floating away after an upwelling of dirty water during storms seems to be a priority.

A directive on urban waste water treatment sets out to limit pollution from stormwater overflows. It is simply not possible to treat all the waste water generated when sewage is swollen by heavy rains.

Diverting rainwater directly into the sea may solve the immediate problem of flooding although it may also have a visual impact on some coastal beauty spots.

One measure proposed by the directive offers "a certain acceptable number of overflows per year", suggesting that water could be stored and then released into the sewerage system during dry weather for treatment.

However, real-time management to maximise capacity of sewers requires regular and costly maintenance. It goes without saying that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the different member states with variable conditions to meet.

Looking landward from the pier at Xlendi Bay it is striking to see the transformation from dry land to an alternative inland sea after heavy rain has hit Victoria and uphill areas. It is only a matter of minutes before the entire area becomes a miniature lake. The stormwater runoff which inundates Xlendi's main street is a nuisance and serious deterrent to residents and the tourist industry.

Among various measures proposed, the WSC stormwater plan and its assessment show a leaning toward diverting flood waters by means of a pipe into the pretty little fjord off Xlendi Bay at the bottom of Wied tal-Kantra.

Since interventions will likely be within a Natura 2000 protected area it would be fitting if the corporation were to offer a token nod to biodiversity. Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) calls for the plan to steer away from causing deterioration of Natura 2000 sites by avoiding, mitigating or compensating for negative effects on natural habitats.

No rubble walls are going to be knocked down as a result of this plan "in view of their importance as ecological corridors and refuges as well as their potential to reduce erosion".

EUREAU members pledge their commitment to reduce the impact of CSOs on the aquatic environment and to meet the requirements of the Water Framework Directive and other directives, including those for bathing waters and shellfish waters.

There are other areas along the Maltese coastline that have been pinpointed as possible locations for these overflows.

In certain cases, discharges from CSOs can be expected to make it more difficult for member states to achieve a good status as required by the European water framework directive and other directives related to bathing waters, shellfish waters and habitat.

As with waste, there is a hierarchy for the prevention, reuse and disposal of flood waters. Disposal to the sea is the last option. Dams in Marsa, Burmarrad and Xlendi are proposed for the "harvesting of stormwater". Bridges such as the one at Marsalforn may be replaced by higher ones.

The assessment indicates that nothing short of a major intervention will meet local needs and comply with EU directives. An aim for biodiversity gain exists, while the SEA advocates that the link between healthy ecosystems and productivity must be reinforced.

There is talk of the scope for 'green infrastructure' being seen as intrinsic parts of high quality development.

Following public consultation and assessment, the plan will be updated and the influence of public comments on the final plan will be gauged together with the environmental report.

Malta is the only country in Europe extracting water quicker than it is being replenished. The SEA of the stormwater plan for Malta finds the flood reduction plan inadequate in that it does little to solve Malta's aquifer problem.

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