Water-saving devices to be installed

Environment agency aims to reduce Abu Dhabi's usage by up to 35 per cent.

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ABU DHABI // Water-saving devices will be installed in 100,000 homes and public buildings to reduce the emirate's overall water consumption. The campaign, led by the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi (EAD), will see the devices fixed to taps, showers and toilets in around 100,000 villas and residential buildings. Some 2,750 mosques, 500 schools and up to 300 public buildings are also included in the programme, said Dr Mohammed Dawoud, the manager of the water resources department at the EAD.

"The water-saving taps and shower heads work by injecting tiny air bubbles within the flow of water," he said. "This creates the illusion that the flow pressure is strong, while, in fact, less liquid is used. We are hoping to cut down water use by 30 to 35 per cent." Set to begin on August 15, the government-funded campaign will take between 18 and 24 months. With an average of 550 litres per person per day, the UAE tops global water use charts.

Earlier this year, the Government announced a strategic water master plan. A committee of high-ranking officials from the EAD, the water and agriculture sector and other public bodies has been formed to implement it. Abu Dhabi now has its own plumbing code for new buildings, while trials will soon begin on using treated sewage effluent in agriculture, the economy's most water-intensive sector. While installing water-saving devices will address usage in homes, it will not address high consumption in private gardens.

Apartment residents in Abu Dhabi consume on average between 170 to 200 litres of water a day, while those living in villas use between 270 and 1,760 litres each per day. Most of Abu Dhabi's potable water is provided through desalination, which is expensive - Dh7 (US$1.90) per 1,000 litres - and has adverse effects on the marine environment, said Dr Dawoud. "As a customer we feel water is free, it is cheap, but we do not know what goes on behind the scenes and that water is subsidised by the Government," he said.

Dr Dawoud made his comments before an audience of engineers and utilities managers at Wastewater Tech, a specialised event in the capital last week. Jeff Willis, the director of the engineering, design and project management consultancy Arup, said one of the first priorities was to obtain a clear idea of how much water was being used by various sectors and what was lost due to leakage. "We need to understand where all this water is going," he said. "If we put enough measuring devices in place we will be able to find out where the leaks are and monitor them."

Every day, 2.4 billion litres of desalinated water are produced in Abu Dhabi. However, it is not known where a substantial part of this water goes, and experts believe much is taken illegally by farms. The problem is also allegedly exacerbated by people filling tanks with potable water and transporting them by lorry to their private rural farms. Work is still going on to identify the scope of the problem, but published figures on leakage point to losses of between 18 to 20 per cent.

"My estimate is that we are losing at least Dh200,000 a day due to leakage," said Dr Dawoud, who believes these losses alone could cost up to a billion dirhams per year. Agriculture and forestry take up the lion's share of the emirate's water supplies, with agriculture alone accounting for 56 per cent of total water demand. Most of the water supply for farms comes from groundwater aquifers, which are fast being depleted. Less than three per cent of the emirate's groundwater reserve is fresh water.

The EAD is now working on a pilot project under which up to 31 million litres of treated sewage effluent per day will be used, after additional purification treatment, to water farm crops in Al Ain. The agency is also working with the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority to develop a new agriculture policy to reduce the sector's water demand. Meanwhile, the Regulation and Supervision Bureau, which oversees the emirate's energy and water sector, is developing regulations to control trade effluent and encourage reuse of waste water.

They are expected to be unveiled later this year.