x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Water is simply too precious to waste

As a thirsty population in an arid part of the world, we need to be smarter about using– and re-using – our water supplies.

It is no surprise that water is a major issue in a nation as dry as the UAE. But it may come as a surprise to some that one of the driest places on Earth also has one of the world's highest per capita water consumption rates. At 350 litres per person per day, Abu Dhabi is up there with places that have high annual rainfall and a relative abundance of naturally occurring fresh water.

It's not that we drink more water than people elsewhere, it's that we need to use more of it than people in more temperate climates just to keep our vegetation, including food crops, alive.

But, as The National reported on Tuesday, we are not mindful enough in the way we use this essential but limited resource. In particular, we need to re-examine the way we deal with recycled water.

Of the 600 million cubic metres of wastewater treated in Abu Dhabi each year, only 352 million cubic metres are reused for landscape gardening, cooling of industrial processes and golf-course maintenance. The rest is discharged into the sea. The situation is similar in Al Ain and Sharjah, where half the wastewater is allowed to evaporate from lagoons and wadis.

This excess water could easily be treated further, stored for use throughout the year and used for landscaping or agricultural process.

Nobody is suggesting that recycled sewage be used as drinking water - although some parts of the world do indeed purify household water, or "grey water", to drinking purity - but there is a strong case to invest in the "fourth-level" treatment technology now in use in Kuwait and Bahrain that allows wastewater to be used on edible crops such as lettuce.

The process is environmentally friendly and, most importantly, significantly cheaper than desalination. Infrastructure upgrades notwithstanding, long-term savings would be significant.

One challenge will be educating people that properly treated wastewater is perfectly acceptable for a variety of purposes. And these efforts should not be used as an excuse to keep guzzling: the planting of thirsty non-native grasses and trees for decorative reasons is a habit to be curbed, not encouraged.

Often with tricky problems, especially of the environmental variety, the easiest solutions are the ones right in front of us.