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Sun 1 Apr 2007 05:06 PM

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Waste not, want not

Water is a scarce regional resource, we should use what we have more wisely.

On 22 March the United Nations marked its annual World Water Day. The theme chosen for the day this year was water scarcity. This is particularly relevant in the Middle East, a region where renewable fresh water sources are few and far between, yet where consumption is among the highest in the world - and rising.

Though it is not exactly a new subject, water conservation cannot be sidelined at a time of unprecedented demographic and industrial growth.

The sight of supermarket shelves lined with commercial brands of drinking water does not itself imply that water is in short supply. For wealthy individuals, water bills are easy to ignore. The bigger picture, however, cannot be ignored. The region will face severe water shortages in the future if water management issues are not addressed.

GCC countries have responded to the warnings by undertaking campaigns to reduce water usage and raise awareness of the problem in all areas of society. They are also investing heavily in desalination plants. Today, approximately 50% of the world's desalination capacity is in the Middle East and up to US $100 billion could be spent on increasing this in the next ten years.

The UAE may have the Arabian Gulf on its doorstep and the financial clout to build additional desalination capacity to satisfy demand. But it should still exercise restraint. Besides the high cost, the desalination process uses vast amounts of energy and releases significant quantities of brine, which can damage marine life.

With this in mind, we should at least make sure desalinated water is being put to good use. Sadly, though progress is being made, large amounts of drinkable water are still being used for agriculture and private irrigation, where recycled wastewater would be perfectly safe and acceptable.

Similarly, desalinated water is used in district cooling systems, when seawater or treated effluent are viable alternatives. Much of the desalinated water used is lost to evaporation.

Seawater is used for district cooling in only a few cases in the Middle East, such as at the water and power plant in Fujairah, and is not without its own problems. It requires big capital expenditure and can be detrimental to the environment by raising the sea temperature when a warm water mix is expelled back into the sea.

Treated effluent, however, is suitable for both irrigation and cooling purposes. Enough has been invested in wastewater facilities and networks to warrant their full implementation. Sewage treatment companies have surplus capacities and are waiting for their treated effluent to be put to proper use.

We should choose to use it. In future, we may not have the choice.

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Alan R. Joines 13 years ago

There are products available which can dramatically reduce the amount of water needed to provide cooling using conventional cooling tower systems - literally millions of cu.m per year can be saved! With paybacks on investment estimated between 15 months to 3 years, depending on specific plant particulars, there should be no excuse for continuing with existing extravagent wasteful methods! Anyone interested in more information on this aspect can contact me as below. Alan R. Joines Engineering Professional Services (FZE) Alan.EPSae@eim.ae