x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Thirst for water and perception of waste

Nearly half of respondents disapprove of fountains and planting thirsty foreign flora to grace the urban landscape.

Nearly half of respondents disapprove of fountains and planting thirsty foreign flora to grace the urban landscape, while golf courses answer critics by using recycled sewage effluent. Jonathan Gornall and Vesela Todorova report Nearly half of respondents to a survey by The National/YouGov have frowned on the water-intensive beautification of the UAE's towns and cities, highlighting the difficult balancing act in continuing the nation's development sustainably. Curiously, perhaps, perceptions of water waste may be tied to how prominently the resource was used: bodies of water were highly frowned on, golf courses were less so. Of those surveyed 25 per cent of the total said artificial lakes and fountains represented the least appropriate use of water, while 20 per cent said they disapproved of the municipal planting of grass, trees and other plants that are not naturally suited to the climate of the region, and require excessive and constant watering. Ironically, only 17 per cent felt golf courses were an unacceptable use of resources, while water parks were disapproved of by 16 per cent. In May the UAE was criticised for wasting water on its more than dozen golf courses by the first independent report on the state of the environment in the Arab world, published by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development. It said the average consumption of water by a golf course in the region was 1.16 million cubic metres rising to as much as 1.3m cu m in Dubai - enough for the freshwater needs of 15,000 ­people. "Expansion of water-intensive projects like grass golf courses cannot go on unchecked," it said. Recycled water may prove to be part of the solution. Brian Hampson, course superintendent at the Els Club, Dubai, acknowledged that the course's water use was "within or sometimes less than" the amounts quoted in the report. However, he said that the water used on the greens was not fresh or desalinated water but treated sewage effluent provided by Dubai Municipality's plant in Al Aweer. "If the treated sewage effluent is not used for irrigation, what else can you use it for?" he asked. Although technically there is no reason recycled water cannot be used for other purposes, such as agricultural irrigation or even drinking, the quality of effluent currently produced by the UAE's sewage treatment plants is not sufficiently high. In Dubai, the municipality recently prohibited the use of fresh water for district cooling and that is another industry that will have to use recycled water. At present, Dubai produces a surplus of treated effluent, which is merely dumped into Dubai Creek. Mr Hampson said the municipality had been encouraging golf courses to switch to recycled water for the past five years and that Dubai's new golf courses did not have connections to the freshwater main. "Golf courses are a very easy target for environmental groups and this is the case all over the world," he said. "It is easy to forget the other side." Turfed areas, he said, performed some useful environmental roles, offering habitats for birds, producing oxygen and helping to keep neighbouring areas cooler. Many respondents had an open mind towards recycling technologies that could help them reduce their water use, revealing an appetite - and, perhaps, a market - for such developments. A large proportion would be happy to use "grey" water - recycled from their own baths, showers and sink waste - for a range of uses about the home, including flushing lavatories (73 per cent), watering plants (67 per cent), cleaning the house (42 per cent), washing cars (57 per cent) and laundry (20 per cent). Only seven per cent said they would have nothing to do with grey water; a different and adventurous seven per cent would be prepared to use it, properly treated, for drinking. The survey shows ambivalent attitudes towards tap water, even though extensive independent testing carried out in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and much of Sharjah in 2006 found it fell well within the World Health Organisation's yardstick for "totally dissolved solids". However, when it comes to drinking it, very few (6 per cent) said they trusted what came out of the tap, although irrationally 22 per cent were happy to use it to make ice. Almost a quarter (22 per cent) drank tap water after filtration or boiling, 36 per cent used it to make hot drinks and 55 for cooking. More than a third (38 per cent) used it for none of the above. For an overwhelming 75 per cent, five-gallon (18-litre) bottles are the main source of drinking water. There is some ignorance about where water in the UAE comes from. Asked what they thought were the two main sources of drinking water, 66 per cent correctly identified desalination, but 45 per cent put their faith - wrongly - in underground aquifers and oases (26 per cent). Almost a quarter (23 per cent) assumed drinking water was imported, while a geographically challenged handful believed it came from non-existent streams or rivers (5 per cent) and lakes (4 per cent) and even rainfall (7 per cent). In fact, there is less than 100mm of rainfall per year in the UAE. * The National