ABU DHABI // A new wastewater treatment plant on Al Ain Dairy farm will help save up to 22,000 litres of water a day.
The high-tech Dh16million plant is now treating 700,000 litres of water a day and came fully into operation at the end of last month.
"We've doubled our herd to 6,000 cows, so the amount of effluent is obviously going to double," said Abdullah Saif Al Darmaki, Al Ain Dairy's chief executive.
The farm installed a pilot plant eight years ago, treating 500,000 litres a day with a mechanical filter. The new plant also combines that with organic breakdown, making the waste it produces more biodegradable.
And while the pilot plant treated only manure, the new one will also deal with office and accommodation effluent from around the farm.
"The first plant was more of a trial," Mr Al Darmaki said.
"Now, more water is being expelled out as waste water so we needed to get a more modern plant."
The system should cut the farm's water use from 100,000 litres a day to 78,000 litres.
While nowhere near good enough to drink, the recovered water can be used for landscaping and cleaning the cowshed floors.
And some of the separated solids are sold as organic fertiliser.
Experts believe treating waste water is vital to preserve the UAE's natural resources.
"We live in a place which is arid with barely any rainfall and limited renewable resources, so it's a must to look for other alternatives," said Dr Khalil Ahmed Ammar, a hydrogeology scientist at Dubai's international centre for biosaline agriculture.
"Using it [waste water] in better ways, instead of losing it to the sea or desert, is of great importance," he said.
"It has nutrients that plants need and it's a valuable resource."
Agriculture is a key factor in the Arabian Gulf's water management.
"At present, GCC countries recycle no more than 47 per cent of their total treated waste water, which contributes less than 2 per cent of their total water supply," said Dr Waleed Al Zubari, a professor of water resources management at Bahrain's Arabian Gulf University.
Dr Al Zubari estimates that the treatment and recycling of just half of the domestic water supply for agriculture could meet more than 11 per cent of the Arabian Gulf's total water demands.
"That could reduce groundwater withdrawal by more than 15 per cent by 2020," he said.
"Therefore, wastewater and reuse is one of the most important options available to the GCC to close the supply-demand gap.
"If treated and reused properly, it can help reduce groundwater over-exploitation significantly."