x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Abu Dhabi plans desert lakes to save wildlife

The word "oasis" is about to be given a new meaning by Abu Dhabi, which is building 30 artificial lakes in the surrounding desert area.

The word "oasis" is about to be given a new meaning by Abu Dhabi, which is building 30 artificial lakes in the surrounding desert area. No one expects the new landscape to rival the Serengeti, but it ought to provide indigenous animals with a habitat - even if rather unnatural. If all goes well it will also boost environmental tourism and act as a model for solving problems of water scarcity, officials said yesterday.

The Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD) plans to construct the lakes in protected areas, said the EAD's secretary general, Majid al Mansouri. The reason for the development is simple: existing water sources are drying up in a notoriously thirsty country. "This is part of the research and development to create new ways to produce water, while at the same time using less energy, which is also renewable and does not have an environmental impact," he said.

Details of the project, which was commissioned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, were disclosed for the first time yesterday. It is coupled with the reintroduction of endangered, indigenous animals like the Arabian oryx into protected habitats. A source who worked on the project outlined the steps of building the lakes. He said the EAD would dig wells over underground water sources to determine whether they were sustainable.

Contractors would then build pumps inside the wells and pipes extending to the lake, where the saltwater would pass through small desalination plants powered by solar cells. Some of the saltwater, as well as leftover fresh water, will be used to irrigate surrounding plants. The water will be circulated every day through purifiers that ensure it does not become stagnant. The technology at work in the lakes could potentially be used to provide drinking water to the UAE's homes.

After a pilot project that began a year ago to test the feasibility of the project, the EAD commissioned another lake to be built in Hameem, a wadi more than 200km south of Abu Dhabi island. The lake is part of a tourism project that includes a hotel called Al Sarab ("The Mirage" in Arabic), which had been scheduled to open on the same day the lake was delivered. Arabian oryx and deer have already been released in undisclosed numbers near the lake, Mr al Mansouri said. The agency is billing the location as a tourist attraction.

The second lake was completed on October 1, prompting it to sign a contract with two companies to build the rest of the 30 lakes by early 2011. The deal could cost close to Dh100 million (US$27.2m). Each lake is expected to measure about 350 square metres, with surrounding plants that will be irrigated to create small oases. kshaheen@thenational.ae