Water budgeting pivotal in meeting Abu Dhabi’s growing population demands, environment chief says
ABU DHABI // With the UAE capital expected to grow as much as three-fold in the next 15 years, the emirate of Abu Dhabi should resort to water budgeting rather than continuing to meet the rise in demand with more supply, a high-ranking government official has said.
Razan Al Mubarak, secretary general of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), said determining a fixed volume of water to sustainably supply in the long term would mean the emirate becomes more productive in the way water is used.
“We must think carefully and debate how we allocate our water, by developing a sophisticated system that recognises scarcity,” she said. “These systems will recognise that by allocating more water in one sector in the economy, we may need to reduce it in another sector.
“This broad mental switch from continued reliance on conventional desalination to greater efficiency and water reuse will have substantial benefits in terms of health, environment, and will minimise damage to the marine environment, free up capital and enable us, as a nation, to become more competitive as we compete in a resource-constrained world.”
The agency will award an annual research grant to further develop the water budget concept.
It is estimated Abu Dhabi uses 3.3 billion cubic metres of water a year. Two thirds of the emirate’s water budget comes from groundwater, which is used in agriculture and forestry.
The EAD has been tasked with the management of groundwater resources.
Dr Al Mubarak also stressed the need for the management of desalinated water, used in residential, commercial and industrial sectors, to be looked at in the same way.
Abu Dhabi residents use between 550 and 900 litres of desalinated water per person per day, compared with a global average of 250 to 300 litres of potable water per person per day.
By reducing Abu Dhabi’s domestic consumption to meet the world average, the emirate can accommodate its projected population growth without increasing supply infrastructure.
In order to limit groundwater use, the agency is using technology to determine the needs of the emirate’s 450 forests, that cover 228,000 hectares.
The EAD has set a strategic goal of reducing the forestry sector’s water demand by 80 per cent by 2030. It is also encouraging the use of treated sewage effluent in forestry and agriculture.
Mohammed Dawoud, water resources manager at EAD, said farms in the Al Nahda and Al Wathba areas are already successfully using recycled water that is treated to a high quality.
The Higher Committee for Water and Agriculture, which is comprised of several institutions related to water use, has put forward a proposal to increase water reuse by supplying treated sewage effluent to other parts of the emirate, said Dr Dawoud. The construction of a 35-kilometre-long pipeline to carry recycled water to the Al Samha area is about to be awarded to a contractor.
Alan Thomson, managing director of the Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company, said two other projects to carry recycled water to farms and forests near Al Ain and in the Western Region are also being considered. He said only 44 per cent of 616,000 cubic metres of recycled water produced every day by sewage plants in Abu Dhabi, is reused. The rest is pumped in the Arabian Gulf.