x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A vain hunt for water

With Abu Dhabi's population growing by the day, finding potable water became a priority. Step up Col KW Merrylees, a British army officer and professional water diviner, to lead the search.

With Abu Dhabi's population growing by the day, finding potable water became a priority. Step up Col KW Merrylees, a British army officer and professional water diviner, to lead the search. While expectations were initially high, as previously confidential reports from Aug 1 and Sept 3 1962 to Her Majesty's Political Residency in Bahrain reveal, the unconventional experiment was not a huge success.

The first letter recounts the arrival of Col Merrylees, who sought to obtain an oil drilling rig to look for water, but was told this was "exorbitant". A meeting was then arranged with Sheikh Shakhbut, then Ruler of Abu Dhabi, on the causeway to the island, where "a remarkable thing happened. Merrylees tried his hazel twig and said at the spot where he was standing, there was no water. There was water to the south and water to the west; where they were standing was oil! Indeed Merrylees has a theory that there are two oilfields still untapped in Abu Dhabi territory.

"Shakhbut said that he had enough oil for the time being, but is now wondering if the oil companies have been holding back on him. Merrylees could have sown a dangerous seed and he should be dissuaded from mentioning oil (even if he thinks he has found some) to Shakhbut at this stage." A month later things had gone from bad to worse. Col Merrylees, the dispatch explains, "returned to Abu Dhabi on Aug 17 to supervise the drilling of test wells at two selected points on the island. There were many, particularly amongst the oil company employees, who were sceptical of the whole venture, but Merrylees was abounding in confidence in an almost alarming way, and he has convinced many of his sincerity. He has predicted the depth at which the water would be flowing and the quantity and the quality.

"After many minor setbacks... drilling began," the report continued. "Progress was not rapid and it took three days to reach 77 feet, where Merrylees said there would be water. After six days, on Aug 31, the hole was abandoned at a depth of 138 feet. "One of the reasons for giving up was that the rig is incapable of going much deeper. "Merrylees is still convinced that if he can get to the correct depth, he will find water. He has decided not to try for water at the second point, which is near the old RAF landing strip, at least not for the present.

"He has selected another site nearby the first unsuccessful hole and hopes the two new holes will be tested out by the oil company later this year. Merrylees says he will not be present then." Sheikh Shakhbut "will be disappointed when he learns of the dowser's failure," the report concluded. "He had great hopes of him being successful and told Bill Clark that if Merrylees were successful, his reward would be handsome - £100,000 (Dh595,000)."