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Abu Dhabi to tap ‘high water strategy’

Water studies in the emirate say only three per cent of ground water is of good quality, and quality of ground water deteriorates because of extraction.

By Silvia Radan/staff Reporter

Published: Sun 28 Jun 2015, 11:56 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:09 PM

Dr Mohammed Abdel Hamid Dawood. -Photo by Nezar Balout

Abu Dhabi - No doubt, the Emirate of Abu Dhabi needs a water strategy as consumption has risen through the years, and natural water resources hardly get replenished.

Every day 2.2 billion cubic metres of water — over two trillion litres of water — are extracted from the underground, used mostly for agriculture and forestry irrigation.

With barely any rain reaching the ground water, these natural water reserves, formed billions of years ago, hardly get replenished, and the more the water get extracted, the saltier the reserves become.

According to water studies in the emirate of Abu Dhabi, only three per cent of the ground water is of good quality, the rest being brackish.

“Ground water quality keeps deteriorating because of extraction, but we cannot stop using groundwater because we have investments, we have the agriculture sector — what will you do with them?” said Dr Mohammed Abdel Hamid Dawood, advisor for water resources, environment quality sector at Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD).

“Now we are working on what we call a high water strategy, involving all governmental agencies to achieve new water targets,” pointed out Dr Dawood.

“We cannot demolish the farms or the forestry, because they are an investment and part of the heritage and economy of the country for the last 20 to 30 years,” he added.

For several years now, EAD has stopped giving permits for digging up new water wells for agricultural purposes and although the number of farms has increased, the ground water extraction is kept under control.

“What we are doing now, through the water strategy programme, is to improve the water usage. For example, instead of using one cubic metre of water to produce four kilogrammes of tomatoes, we can use the same one cubic metre to produce hundreds of kilogrammes of tomatoes, by using new farming technologies such as the hydroponic system,” explained Dr Dawood.

“Thus, we are keeping the extraction at the same level, but we are working on the demand side to improve the use,” he added.

Still, at 65 per cent, ground water takes the biggest slice from the total water consumption in the emirate. Only 6 per cent of water consumption comes from recycled water and the rest from desalination.

“The desalination production has increased from a few thousands gallons of water per day to one billion gallons of water per day,” informed Dr Dawood.

Highest in the world

Over 80 per cent of desalinated water is for domestic use and much of it is rather abused than used, as Abu Dhabi — and thus the UAE — remains as the world’s highest water consumer with over 600 litres per person per day.

In line with Abu Dhabi Vision 2030, EAD proposes that water consumption to be reduced to 418 litres per person per day by 2018 and 340 litres per person per day by 2030. By comparison, Spain consumes about 320 litres of water per person per day, UK 150 litres per person per day and most of Africa is below 100 litres per person per day.

Better technologies to minimise water leakage, increasing water tariffs, new plumbing requirements introduced by the municipality are all part of the strategy to reduce water wastage and thus consumption.

Presently, all of Abu Dhabi emirate sewage water is treated, but most of this recycled water remains unused. Not for long, though, according to Dr Dawood.

“There is a plan now from the government to enhance treatment facilities and to improve the quality of treated waste water to be used for agriculture in the future,” he said.

“There are two or three projects in the pipeline with the government and as soon as they are approved, we will start by 2017 or 2018 to reuse all the treated sewage water not only for agriculture, but other sectors, according to the priorities given by the government.”

After years of research, construction, trials and assessments, EAD is also about to start injecting water into UAE’s first underground water reserve, located in Liwa, meant to supply potable water to Abu Dhabi in case of a water crises.

When filled up, the man-made aquifer will have a capacity of five billion gallons of water, enough to meet the basic water needs for Abu Dhabi city and its surroundings for 90 days.

“From October we will inject seven million gallons of water per day for 27 months,” said Dr Dawood.

A second aquifer, near Al Ain, is also being planned, currently being under feasibility study.


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