Relying almost entirely on desalination plants for drinking water, and with approximately 90% of its groundwater unfit for drinking, Abu Dhabi’s water security is deeply uncertain. A major oil spill or a serious case of sea pollution could ground the plants; without them for even a few days, experts say Abu Dhabi’s constituents will face tremendous suffering.
The government recently announced the details of Plan B: millions of dollars of desalinated water – taken from excess winter supplies – are slated to be pumped into underground aquifers. Though cheaper, less environmentally destructive, and more secure than above-ground holding tanks, this plan does not come without risks.
The Government’s emergency water strategy was unveiled at the recent International Symposium of Managed Aquifer Recharge, according to The National.
Ten times cheaper than water storage tanks, pumping the water underground will prevent exposure to bacteria, provided that Abu Dhabi’s Environment Agency and the Ministry of Environment and Water are able to keep the area surrounding the aquifer free of contaminants.
Pipes inserted from 60-900m deep will pump desalinated water into underground aquifers that have existed for millions of years. There it will mix with existing, dense brackish water.
An estimated one tenth of the water will be lost to create a protective layer between the fresh and salty water, though it will be necessary to monitor this to ensure that expensive desalinated water is not re-salted.
Rolf Herrmann, a hydrogeologist and the technical manager for Schlumberger Water Services has been appointed to develop the piping infrastructure and monitor the wells and pumping stations in three Abu Dhabi locations.
“When you put millions of dollars worth of water into the ground, you want to check if it’s still there,” he told the paper.
The pipes could also erode if left stagnant for too long. As a result it will be necessary to constantly circulate and test the water to ensure its continued viability.
Experts suggest that the underground aquifers will only be effective if water can be accessed easily and quickly. It is also crucial to choose the right location – away from polluting influences.
“If you fail in finding the right location, the project itself will become a failure,” Mr Herrmann told The National.
:: The National
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