ABU DHABI // Municipalities must end the "wasteful" summer habit of sprinkling lawns during the day, the Emirates Environmental Group (EEG) has warned. The group outlined its concerns last week in a letter to the Minister of Environment and Water, Rashid Ahmed bin Fahad, which called for a reconsideration of the UAE's irrigation plans in this water-stressed region.
"This is an issue that's been going on for years," said Habiba al Marashi, the chairman of the Dubai-based non-governmental organisation. "Aside from bringing it to [the ministry's] attention, we have discussed the watering lawns matter with Dubai Municipality before." Water is scarce in the Gulf region, yet UAE residents use an average of 484 litres a day, more than anywhere else in the world, according to Dubai Municipality figures from 2006. "The practice of using sprinklers in the morning and at midday during the summer, when [the] evaporation rate is very high, is truly wasteful and should be re-assessed by concerned authorities," said Ms Marashi.
During heat waves in Europe and North America, some cities impose outdoor watering bans or limit sprinkler use to the early morning, when it is cooler and more humid. The restrictions are meant to limit water evaporation by the sun. Although the EEG has complained before, automatic sprinklers in Abu Dhabi and other emirates are turned on as early as 8am and continue into the afternoon. However, Gerry Liangco, the EEG's project development manager, said "there was no clear answer" for why there were no restrictions on watering public green spaces during scorching summer days.
"We asked some people from Dewa [the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority] and Dubai Municipality and they said they noticed this, too," Mr Liangco said. "We don't know the actual reason why this is still happening and we want to find out. "At the moment, we've written a letter to the minister, so we will wait for an official reply. "Something should be done about it. Or, at least, we hope to get a better explanation about why this action is continuing."
Mohammed al Rashed, who heads the Water Resources division at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, said the GCC was "suffering from unwise water management practices" and emphasised that irrigation should be done in a "conservative manner". "There should be some rules regarding the use of water for gardening," Mr Rashed said, and suggested that governments optimise watering systems by only using sprinklers during cooler, less windy periods.
"We should be taking care about using the water in the early morning or during the sunset time," he said. However, Mr Rashed commended the UAE as a leader in the GCC when it came to water conservation technologies, noting that all landscape irrigation in the country used recycled and treated municipal sewage water. "The UAE is using its treated waste water most efficiently in the GCC," he said. "Waste water is a very good choice for irrigation of greenery, so I think environmentally this shows they have good management of water resources."
As permanent sources of surface water are scarce in the GCC, countries in the region depend largely on desalination - the expensive and energy-sapping process of extracting fresh water from undrinkable seawater. "Desalinated water for irrigation is not good, so the UAE is doing this right," Mr Rashed said. But Ms Marashi said governments should be more aware of how they used water, desalinated or not.
"Water is a renewable resource and we should be more vigilant in this particular part of the world in this arid region," she said. "I would hope whether it's a public or private development, whether it's sewage water or desalinated water, that more care and attention should be exercised." The Ministry of Environment and Water and the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi could not be reached for comment.