x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Abu Dhabi steps up efforts to ration groundwater as depletion looms

Experts warn that usable groundwater will be exhausted in just over 50 years unless action is taken.

Without rationing the use of groundwater, supplies could be exhausted in a little over 50 years, says the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD).
Without rationing the use of groundwater, supplies could be exhausted in a little over 50 years, says the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD).

Efforts to further ration the use of groundwater at farms and forests in Abu Dhabi are to be implemented in the coming year.

A revision of the law surrounding groundwater well-drilling will give the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) greater powers, while other efforts will focus on expanding monitoring to better gauge the quality and quantity of available groundwater.

The 2006 law that gives the agency authority over issuing permits for groundwater wells – credited with putting a stop to uncontrolled drilling for farming projects – will be revised to give the agency control over how much water can be drawn by permit holders, and to specify what the water is used for.

Meanwhile, monitoring will also be stepped up. Among the agency’s 700 groundwater wells, 230 are equipped with electronic monitoring devices and 80 with devices that collect data on a daily basis.

Without rationing the use of groundwater, supplies could be exhausted in a little over 50 years, the agency believes.

Dr Mohamed Al Madfaei, executive director of the Integrated Environment Policy and Planning Sector at EAD, said groundwater in the UAE is largely a non-renewable resource and thus requires careful management.

“Due to our arid environment and low rainfall we use 20 times more groundwater than is replenished every year,” he said. “As a result, the level of the groundwater is dropping. This drop is most significant in the areas where the water is fresh. We estimate that the usable groundwater will be exhausted in just over 50 years unless we take action.”

While the UAE relies mainly on desalination to provide potable water, groundwater supports the major share of agricultural activities and is important for food security. It also supports a significant number of forestry plantations.

EAD is responsible for managing forests and monitoring groundwater quantity and quality, regulating well-drilling activities and overall management of groundwater.

The agency’s detailed plans, including a five-year groundwater strategy and an action plan for 2013, will be shared later this month with delegates at the International Water Summit, taking place in the capital.

Attended by scientists, government officials and high-ranking representatives of important international organisations, the event is part of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, which starts on January 13.

vtodorova@thenational.ae