The Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) is proposing the adoption of an all-inclusive water budget for Abu Dhabi to ensure the emirate can more sustainably meet a significant anticipated surge in demand that is projected to occur as a result of future population and economic growth.
The adoption of a water budget would contribute to the development of an integrated and efficient approach to managing the emirate’s water resources, a process that would encourage the moderation of average water consumption, further the use of recycled water, and seek sustainable management of groundwater resources.
The water budget would address imperatives based on forecasts that the emirate’s economy and population could very well triple in the next 15 years – with an anticipated three-fold growth in water demand. This growth is likely to occur against a backdrop of rapidly depleting groundwater reserves.
“At present, it is estimated that Abu Dhabi uses 3.3 billion cubic metres of water a year,” explained Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General, EAD. “In 15 years, Abu Dhabi may be as much as three times bigger than it is today leading to extraordinary demands on the emirate’s water resources. All aspects of society need to ask: ‘where will we find the water to sustain this growth and at what environmental and financial cost?’” she added.
Currently over two-thirds of Abu Dhabi’s water budget comes from groundwater, with desalination accounting for 29 per cent and recycled water contributing about 6 per cent.
Key issues we face are domestic consumption rates which far outpace the world average, diminishing ground water supplies, the prospect of expensive and unsustainable desalination plants and an underutilization of recycled water. These are the issues that a water-budget approach would help address and we have laid the groundwork on a number of initiatives that will help balance this vital demand and supply equation.
EAD seeks the collaboration and support of the emirate’s key water-consuming sectors – agriculture, amenities and domestic and commercial forestry – as the future prosperity of these sectors are significantly enhanced by policies that ensure the sustainability of future water supplies.
“The initiatives we are proposing require a distinct change-of-business approach in some areas and we would ask that our stakeholders come to the table with open minds and a readiness to assist in delivering an outcome that ultimately will benefit all,” added Al Mubarak.
EAD forecasts show that if usage patterns and attitudes go unchanged, the emirate will require three times more desalination capacity by 2030 as well as more and deeper groundwater wells. The consequence of this growth on the emirate’s groundwater reserves will be significant, with forecasts showing that usable groundwater may be completely depleted within 50 years and much sooner in many areas of intensive irrigation.
“With the water budget initiative EAD is driving towards more sustainable water use, so that Abu Dhabi can meet its economic and social development goals while limiting the construction of new desalination plants and preserving groundwater reserves for future generations,” added Al Mubarak.
EAD has designed an eight-pronged strategy to address the sectors for which it is directly responsible. It includes: advocating more efficient and strategic groundwater use; closely monitoring groundwater supply; improving forestry efficiency; forestry management through strict, science-based irrigation standards; utilising treated waste water for forestry irrigation; the creation of treated waste-water wetlands when necessary; the management of strategic reserves and the forging of a protective, regulation infrastructure.
“We encourage those wanting to support the water budget campaign to seek out the support of EAD’s technical experts to advise on their organisation’s water strategy, visit our model forest to better understand alternative agricultural practices, visit our Al Wathba Wetland Reserve to learn more about how recycled water can attract wildlife, and work with our scientists and strategists to adopt a water budget,” explained Al Mubarak. “There’s a popular saying that people only appreciate their water when the well runs dry – it’s a saying we hope to prove outdated and old fashioned in Abu Dhabi,” Al Mubarak added.