Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi Issues Policy for Managing and Protecting Groundwater

Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi Issues Policy for Managing and Protecting Groundwater

Although the water scarcity index in the emirate is one of the lowest in the world, Abu Dhabi has one of the highest water consumption rates per capita

As part of its ongoing efforts to ensure the sustainability of Abu Dhabi’s groundwater reserves and to secure future water supplies and enhance sustainable water use measures, the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (EAD) has issued a general policy for managing, organising and protecting groundwater in the emirate.

The policy not only reviews the current state of groundwater in Abu Dhabi, but states the challenges and implications of its depletion, as well as the policy’s principles and legal framework.

The policy was based on Law No. 5 of 2016 regarding the regulation of groundwater in Abu Dhabi emirate, and aims to: ensure its optimal use while reducing waste; further build comprehensive knowledge of groundwater resources; and promote the use of sound irrigation techniques, methods and practices that reduce consumption.

Groundwater is one of Abu Dhabi’s main natural resources.

The total percentage of fresh water (which includes both surface water and fossil groundwater) used out of all available renewable water resources is one of the indicators used to measure water scarcity, taking into account non-conventional water sources, such as desalinated water and treated wastewater.

In this context, and although the water scarcity index in the emirate is one of the lowest in the world, Abu Dhabi has one of the highest water consumption rates per capita.

A large amount groundwater resources are surface aquifers, which are the most common reservoirs in terms of use and productivity. Most of the groundwater reservoirs in the emirate are non-renewable.

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H.E. Dr Shaikha Salem Al Dhaheri, Secretary-General, EAD, said: “Groundwater constitutes 60% 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% of water has become highly saline, 18% of it being medium brackish water, while only 3% is considered fresh water.

“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.

"The increase in groundwater salinity means the need to maintain and replace irrigation networks – adding further costs and burdens for farmers.”

From an environmental viewpoint, the deterioration of groundwater quality and levels increases the agricultural sector’s dependence on small desalination plants, which in turn cause various environmental impacts such as increased greenhouse gas emissions.

In response to the challenges, Dr Al Dhaheri stressed that the policy helps Abu Dhabi to adopt and take the necessary measures to ensure integrated and effective use of the emirate’s various water resources through sustainable management, regulation, management, and monitoring of groundwater.

This policy will be implemented in Abu Dhabi under EAD's supervision, supported by consultation, coordination and cooperation with all relevant 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.

Once implemented, the policy is expected to achieve a positive environmental impact, as it is expected to decrease groundwater extraction by up to 650 million cubic metres by 2030, in addition to improving the groundwater quality index (both locally and federally).

The policy is also expected to decrease the rate of water extraction compared to the feeding average, from 24-fold to 16-fold by 2030. The use of recycled water will also enhance feeding aquifers in areas used for irrigation – both in terms of quality and quantity.

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