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Sat 2 Sep 2006 04:00 AM

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Tapping into a water-saving future?

The UAE is the third-largest consumer of water in the world. And in an effort to bring the local construction industry into line, Dubai Municipality is now calling for an increased number of water-saving measures in buildings. Rupert Cornford reports from the tip of this environmental iceberg.

|~|135tech200.gif|~|The level of water consumption in Dubai has led the authorities to clamp down. With the demand for desalinated water outstripping supply, the construction industry is being asked to do its bit to save water.|~|The level of water consumption in the UAE is one of the highest in the world. According to statistics from Middle East Electricity 2006, the UAE consumes more water per capita than any country in the world with the exception of the US and Canada.

And because the Middle East contains only 1% of the world’s fresh water, countries in the region, including the UAE, have been turning to alternative methods of fresh water production — desalination and wastewater recycling — since the 1960s.

But in an effort to reduce demand for the city’s alternative production capacity, Dubai Municipality is now calling on the construction industry to save water by specifying low water-usage plumbing devices during the design phase of building projects.

“The rational use of water is an important step we have to take for the benefit of future generations,” says Khaled Mohammed Saleh, director of the building department, Dubai Municipality.

“Our own lives depend heavily on how much water we save for the future. The idea here is to design and implement new buildings that help save as much water as possible.”

And DM has said that it will ensure that all the prevailing standards and specifications are met during both the licensing and construction stage, which has been welcomed by consultants.

“Any effort to reduce water consumption is welcome, and this is a step in the right direction,” says Jeff Willis, principal, Arup. “There are a number of things that can be designed and installed that will consume less water than traditional installations.”

According to Willis, consultants can specify double-flush toilets and sanitary/plumbing systems that are smaller and use less water. There are also low water-consumption washing machines and dishwashers available on the market.

But despite the availability of water-saving alternatives, he warns that a rigid system would have to be implemented in order for the right equipment to be installed.

“There could be an additional cost related to some of these [specifications], so the whole process needs to be enforceable and enforced to ensure they are carried through to the end of the project,” he adds.

“A consultant can write a specification but in order not to be prescriptive or restrictive he will have to say ‘like this or other equal and approved’. So the guy who ends up making the approval is the client. You can start off with something good but then the contractor will offer an alternative that the client thinks is pretty good because it may be cheaper.”

He says that, currently, DM can withhold a building permit unless they are happy with what’s specified.

“So at that level they have the power to do that. What they don’t have [at the moment], I don’t think, is the power to ensure that what is specified is not changed later. It’s what happens after the event that is significant.”

But Tony Williams, vice president resorts and projects, Emirates Group is calling on developers to change their outlook during the design and construction process and take responsibility for saving energy on building projects.

“Dubai could be a model of energy efficient and sustainable design as it sets regional and international records with the speed and scale of its developments. [But] to do this, developers need to focus beyond the initial costs of construction, and invest in technology systems, methods and equipment that regulate and manage energy consumption, water use and health and safety aspects of building management,” he says.

“These systems deliver long-term savings to developers. In most countries, local authorities have now mandated use of energy efficient, environmentally sustainable infrastructure, While being initially more costly for developers, the benefits do accrue quickly.”

And in a call to the authorities to push on further with these water-saving initiatives, Willis says that any systems designed to reduce water consumption could have a wider reach beyond plumbing devices.

“I think that such measures should go further to encourage the installation of systems to reclaim grey water for re-use within buildings.”

“It’s coming, but it needs to be enforced because it costs more money. You get two systems instead of one, and then you have a small treatment plant to recycle the grey water — so it is additional capital cost to install and only makes ecological sense rather than financial sense at the moment because water is being provided too cheaply.”

He adds that it would be more beneficial for DM to charge a significant amount of money for water: “Something that relates to what it costs to produce would be very sensible. At the moment it’s heavily subsidised.”

But in addition to the installation of recycling plants in buildings Willis says that public awareness is at the core of any paradigm shift on water usage.

“Wastage of water depends upon the user, and if users are not educated and encouraged to change their habits, many measures will have little effect. The best way to do this is to increase the cost of water. If it costs people more money to use they would use less.”

And this wider view is shared by specialist energy firms in the region. “Dubai is today the regional hub for commercial, industrial, trade and leisure activities. This has resulted in a huge spurt in economic activities and led to a massive influx of residents, investors and tourists, which places and ever-increasing burden on … water supplies and the environment,” says Khaled Busnaq, managing director, Energy Management Services.

“In such a scenario, energy and water conservation plays a vital role in environmental protection by slowing down depletion of scarce, renewable resources and ensuring the availability for the future.

“This can be achieved through behavioural change, operational improvements and investment in new technology and better design,” he adds.

Statistics from Dubai Electricity and Water Authority show that, during 2004, total water consumption in the city equalled 243.2 million m3. And this figure is thought to be rising year on year. The average annual increase in demand for desalinated water in the Middle East is around 6%; compared to the global average of 3%.

So we can be sure that even though water conservation in buildings is a step in the right direction for the UAE, the construction industry can only do so much in the face of pressure to conserve water. A wider education campaign on water usage across the country may have a wider impact on saving a resource that is becoming as fragile as oil.

Water-saving technology solutions

Reducing water consumption by specifying low water-usage plumbing devices is the first step being called for by Dubai Municipality. Here are some examples of what can be done:

*Dual flush cisterns give the option of reducing the amount of water used in a single flush. The current standard for a full flush is 6 litres with 3 litres for the lesser flush. It is thought that designers are currently working to reduce the full flush to 4.5 litres.

*Electronic mixers ensure that taps only work when hands are placed under the tap and the flow of water stops immediately they are removed.

*Thermostatic mixers allow for the blocking of hot water, which avoids turning on the boiler, or obtaining the correct mix of hot and cold water flow, therefore opitimising energy use.

*Flow restrictors are fitted to reduce the amount of water passing through a pipe. They increase the pressure of the flow but decrease the amount of water used.||**||

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