Measures to identify water leakage and new irrigation methods will be introduced to reduce the per capita water use.
Capital seeks to tighten the taps
ABU DHABI // A new plumbing code, measures to identify water leakage and new irrigation methods, will be introduced in the capital in an effort to reduce the highest per capita water use in the world. "We have already started some initiatives," said Dr Mohammed Dawoud, the manager of the water resources department at the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (EAD), which aims to reduce water use per person from 550 litres a day to 350.
The emphasis on saving water comes as decision-makers are becoming increasingly aware of the negative environmental effects of inefficient use of the precious resource. Extensive and unplanned drilling of groundwater wells has depleted aquifers and damaged farmland, while the desalination upon which the Emirates depends requires considerable energy and is responsible for damage to sensitive marine ecosystems.
The EAD is working with the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority and other distribution companies to find out why only half of the 2.5 billion litres of desalinated water produced every day reaches the country's residents. "The figure in other parts of the world was 80 to 85 per cent," said Dr Dawoud, who added that it could be because of leakage and illegal use. "There was no water meter to tell us," he said, explaining that nine water meters had now been installed along the main water transportation pipe.
Five of the meters are in the Eastern Region, where there is extensive farming and officials suspect large amounts of water are being consumed. The EAD is also looking to ensure water is used more efficiently. A team of analysts has drafted the first specification for water-supply and sanitary networks in the country. At present, said Dr Dawoud, private contractors were free to decide what specifications to follow. "If it is a German company, they follow German specifications; if it is French, they follow French specifications," he said. This could mean that the UAE's specific requirements were not taken into account.
Dr Dawoud said new technology could also help to improve the efficiency of the emirate's agriculture and forestry sectors, which used nearly 70 per cent of the water in 2006. The EAD will run pilot projects at four forestry areas in Al Gharbia, where officials hope a new technique, subsurface irrigation, will help to cut water use by 40 per cent. The technology ensures that no water is wasted from evaporation, a big problem in a hot country such as the UAE.
The project will be operational in December and, if successful, will be replicated in other parts of the country. EAD has set targets to reduce the amount of water used by farmers from the current 23,500 cubic metres per hectare to 18,000. Consumption by the forestry sector will have to be reduced from 3,500 cubic metres to 2,500. The targets have to be achieved by the end of 2012. Abu Dhabi is topping global water-use charts, with each resident consuming an average of 550 litres per day. Data from Dubai, Sharjah and other big cities in the country show similar use.
The United States is the second-biggest user of water after Abu Dhabi, with each resident consuming 485 litres a day, followed by Canada on 425 litres a day. Proportionately, the capital uses several times more water than countries with similar climates. In Jordan, for example, each resident uses an average of 85 litres of water per day. A recent survey showed only 42.8 per cent of people in the UAE were aware of the need to conserve water.