Dubai: The United Arab Emirates University’s National Water Centre is providing solutions for the efficient exploration, development, use, storage and sustainability of water in the country by working on several projects.

Launched last year, one of its projects includes capacity-building for the Environment-Agency Abu Dhabi. Through a two-year programme, staff and professionals are trained on geological, hydrogeological, and geochemical investigations, groundwater simulation models, assessing water availability and quality in aquifer systems, as well as predicting future scenarios for water-pumping that would ensure sustainability of the system.

Staff continuously receive training on advanced numerical models to simulate water flow and solute transport in groundwater systems.

Another vital project, launched in September 2018 in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Municipality, investigates the feasibility of unconventional storm water drainage systems as a replacement of the conventional “underground” closed systems.

“If you have heavy rainfall in cities, you need to have a subsurface draining system composed of pipelines that collect the water and dispose it to the sea to avoid flooding in the streets after rainfall,” said Dr Mohsen Sherif, Director of the National Water Centre.

Unconventional drainage systems:

Dr Sherif explained that most cities have pipelines that are open channels or water collection systems installed below the surface that would drain the rainfall.

“We are studying unconventional systems because the current systems are very expensive, and they are utilised once or twice a year when, sometimes, you do not even have rainfall for an entire year,” explained Dr Sherif.

Subsurface systems are also prone to clogging due to sand, which requires costly maintenance.

Looking into alternative models for drainage, the centre is considering collecting rainfall water and reallocating it for irrigation requirements.

Alternatively, once the rainwater is collected, it is injected into deeper aquifers to avoid construction of long, expensive pipelines, which could also disturb traffic flow and inconvenience residents.

Dr Sherif pointed out that unconventional systems are being considered in areas that are not connected to main drainage systems.

“Another method is to create evaporation ponds, where we collect water to add to the natural beauty of the area, like a lake, and keep it to evaporate naturally into the atmosphere and develop the area into a recreation resort for tourists,” he said.

Such ponds might also be used to control the groundwater table rise problem in the city of Abu Dhabi.

Projects in Ajman:

While the center works in all seven emirates, one of its projects is a five-month project also launched in September, funded by the Ajman Municipality. The project focuses on the development of a telemetry groundwater monitoring system for the emirate. “It monitors groundwater resources, quantitively and qualitatively, to assess their availability and if there is any depletion of the aquifers, using the telemetry system,” he explained.

Dr Sherif pointed out that through a wireless system, they would be able to directly connect to Ajman Municipality. Just the same, through the computer system, they would be able to monitor the groundwater resources 24/7 in the emirate of Ajman’s aquifers.

So far, work has completed on the drilling of almost all the emirate’s key wells with depths of between 20 meters and 100 meters in the field, as well as the installation of data loggers, computer systems and others, to connect to the municipality.

Progress in Sharjah

Sharjah has also worked with the center on aquifer storage and recovery in the Nizwa area. Along with the Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority (SEWA), the center investigated the possibility of freshwater storage in the aquifer system during the excess water period from desalination plants, and water reuse during periods of drought or summer, when water is in high demand. “Instead of having surface water tanks or storage facilities, they store the water in groundwater systems and reuse it when there is a need,” said Dr Sherif.