Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in Abu Dhabi

Authorities in Abu Dhabi plan on reducing water consumption in agriculture after new data showed agriculture takes up 72 per cent of the emirate's water supply.

ABU DHABI // Farming authorities are planning to cut the use of water used for agriculture, forests and parks from about three quarters of total consumption to less than half.

New figures show such purposes account for 72 per cent of the emirate's water use, says a report by The National's Arabic-language sister paper, Al Ittihad.

The Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority has set a target of cutting agricultural water use by 40 cent from its September 2011 level by the end of this year. That would double the amount available for other purposes.

Mohamed Jalal Al Rayssi, communications director for the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, said the move would "affect our environment and the future of the next generations".

A study on the sustainable management of ground water in Abu Dhabi, issued by the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi and ADFCA, found that agriculture, forests and parks accounted for 72 per cent of water use, but contributed less than 1 per cent to the economy.

"Agriculture is the largest consumer of water in Abu Dhabi," said Mr Al Rayssi. "Rhodes grass uses the most water with 59 per cent of all the irrigation water used in the emirate, followed by date palm trees with 36 per cent."

He said the authority was focusing on using the most water-efficient technologies and the most appropriate plants related to the UAE's climatic conditions.

"This kind of environment has very low rain throughout the year and a very harsh environment," Mr Al Rayssi said.

"The area that uses the majority of water in the UAE and other places in the world is agriculture."

Demand for desalinated, processed and ground water is expected to rise by 30 per cent by 2030.

The agency recently embarked on a new project to save ground water. It now uses 27 million litres of treated waste water a day to irrigate food crops on 220 farms across Abu Dhabi.

"Water demand is expected to rise," said Dr Mohamed Dawoud, the agency's manager of water resources. "But we can try to control water used in agriculture by using new technologies and new irrigation systems. This might lead to its decrease."

A five-year action plan is currently being prepared. It will require residents as well as government bodies to drastically cut their water use.

"It all depends on the actions that are done towards this," said Dr Dawoud. "If it's business as usual, then the situation will not improve."

He said the first step was more efficient irrigation systems. "Using more efficient technologies for agricultural production such as greenhouses, new technologies for irrigation, hydroponics and soilless systems is [vital]," he said.

"We should also use cash crops, instead of growing high water-consuming crops like Rhodes grass. All this will lead to a dramatic decrease in agricultural water use."

"I'm hopeful it will decrease in the future, especially with this momentum of improving the agricultural and irrigation sectors, I think we can do it."