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.

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.

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.