Plans to reuse 100% of Abu Dhabi’s waste water in four years

Currently, 60 per cent of the 284 million cubic metres of treated sewage the emirate generates each year is reused.

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Abu Dhabi will treat and re-use all of its waste water to irrigate farms and parks within four years, in an ambitious environmental plan.

As it stands, 60 per cent of the 284 million cubic metres of treated sewage generated in the emirate each year is re-used, said Dr Mohammed Dawoud, water resources manager at Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (Ead).

The remaining 40 per cent is discharged into the sea, affecting the environment and wasting a precious resource, Dr Dawoud said.

“Now Abu Dhabi is targeting to reach 100 per cent utilisation for all treated waste water in the future by 2017 or 2018 maximum,” he said.

“The main challenge facing Abu Dhabi now is the existing infrastructure to transfer the waste water to where it is treated or where we can re-use it.”

A proposal last year by a technical committee to look into how this infrastructure can be provided is under review.

The committee comprised representatives of the Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company, Ead, the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, municipalities and the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority.

The proposal focused on “where the infrastructure is required, how much it will cost and the benefit-cost analysis for the return of this project”, Dr Dawoud said.

Since December 2012, farms in Al Nahda, a 30-minute drive from Abu Dhabi city, have been using a total of six million gallons of treated waste water a day to grow fodder and fruit, and to help irrigate green corridors.

“They did not change any crop patterns since they started using the treated waste water,” said Dr Dawoud, who was on Wednesday at the start of a two-day Dubai conference on the issue.

The water is passed through additional filters before being given to the farmers, although it would be safe to use without the extra treatment.

The pilot project is being run by the sewerage services company, the food control authority and Ead.

Farmers around the UAE rely on ground water or desalinated potable water to irrigate their crops, but environment experts have questioned the sustainability of both practices.

“There is a lot of pressure now because the ground water has deteriorated dramatically during the past five to six years, and if we continue some areas will face severe problems,” said Dr Dawoud.

“We have either to rely on desalinated water, which is costly, or treated waste water, which is relatively cheaper and with good quality and nutrients.

“So it is a promising resource in the future compared to others.”

While the concept of using treated waste water has met with social resistance globally, the project was welcomed by farmers in Al Nahda, said Dr Dawoud.

“The people understand the pressure on their water resources so they understand the idea,” he said.

“From our experience in Abu Dhabi, the most important issue is to prove to them that the quality is good and will have no health impact on their labourers and themselves, it will have no impact on their land and it will not affect the fertility of the soil.”