Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi has issued a general policy for managing and protecting the emirate’s groundwater, one of its main natural resources.
Once implemented, the policy is expected to decrease groundwater extraction in the emirate by up to 650 million cubic metres by 2030. It is also expected to improve the groundwater quality index both locally and federally, and decrease the rate of water extraction compared to the feeding average, from 24-fold to 16-fold. The greater use of recycled water that is projected will also enhance feeding aquifers in areas that are used for irrigation – both in terms of quality and quantity.
Developed by the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD), the policy reviews the current state of groundwater in Abu Dhabi, while also looking at the challenges and implications of its depletion. In a statement, the EAD said the policy has been based on Law No. 5 of 2016 regarding the regulation of groundwater in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. It aims to ensure the optimal use of groundwater while reducing waste, to build a comprehensive knowledge of groundwater resources, and to promote the use of sound irrigation techniques, methods and practices.
High consumption rate
Groundwater is one of Abu Dhabi’s major natural resources. The total percentage of fresh water that is used, which includes both surface water and fossil groundwater, is one of the indicators used to measure water scarcity. Scarcity measures also take into account non-conventional water sources like desalinated water and treated wastewater.
“Groundwater constitutes 60 per cent of the total water resources consumed in the emirate and is mainly used to irrigate crops in the agricultural sector, and – to a lesser extent – to irrigate crops in forests and parks. Depletion is one of most significant groundwater challenges, as it exceeds normal feed rates. This depletion causes a decline in groundwater levels and a deterioration in quality in many areas, as 79 per cent of water has become highly saline, 18 per cent of it being medium brackish water, while only three per cent is considered fresh water,” said Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, EAD secretary-general.
Risks of depletion
“The deterioration of groundwater quality affects its use, especially in the agricultural sector, which plays an important role in achieving food security and stimulating relevant economic activities. Resorting to other water sources such as desalinated and recycled water induces other economic effects, requiring investments for transportation and distribution. In addition, the increase in groundwater salinity means the need to maintain and replace irrigation networks – adding further costs and burdens for farmers,” she explained.
From an environmental point of view, the deterioration of groundwater quality and levels increases the agricultural sector’s dependence on small desalination plants, which, in turn, causes various environmental impacts, such as increased greenhouse gas emissions. Dr Al Dhaheri said this new policy will help Abu Dhabi adopt and take necessary measures to ensure integrated and effective use of the emirate’s various water resources through sustainable management, regulation, management, and monitoring of groundwater.
The policy will be implemented in Abu Dhabi under EAD’s supervision, supported by consultation, coordination and cooperation with other authorities in the public and private sectors. It will also be supported by analysis of the economic, social, environmental, technical, health, and organisational impacts, based on a systematic approach to help achieve its objectives.