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Boosting plant life

Abu Dhabi has become the garden city of the Gulf. But with this has a come a growing demand for water.

Steve Turner reports on how one UK consultant is helping boost supply.

Driving from the airport into Abu Dhabi, the most striking feature of the landscape is the lush green vegetation.

Vast expanses of grass stretch back from the roads with millions of palm trees and shrubs, making up more than 17km 2of landscaped and planted areas across the city.

Huge parks with spectacular water features are spread throughout the city, mosques are set in mini oases, and spectacular golf courses abound. But just how is this sustained in the desert region?

The greening of Abu Dhabi stems from the earliest days of the leadership of His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyed. The ruler was adamant that waste water be put to good use for irrigation.

'Give me gardens and I will give you civilisation, ' he has frequently stated.

Over $1.9bn has been spent over the past quarter of a century on construction and water treatment at the Mafraq treatment works nearly 50km to the south of the city, from where water is transferred and used to support cultivation.

But in more recent years, expensive potable water has had to be used to supplement the treated water.

In 1999 the Abu Dhabi Sewerage Projects Committee commissioned Hyder Consulting to study how water usage could be optimised and reliability of the supply network improved.

Untreated water is pumped to the Mafraq sewage treatment works for screening, grit removal, aeration, filtration and chlorination treatment. This produces a daily flow of 180,000m 3of treated effluent, described by Hyder biochemical engineer Huw Thomas as 'the environmental engine driving Abu Dhabi'.

The treated water gravitates through a 1,300mm diameter main to a distribution centre in the city and into the distribution network that serves the irrigation connections and reservoirs.

The sludge is mixed with biodegradable compounds and used as compost.

Hyder is now acting as management consultant overseeing an upgrade of the network.

Eight underground concrete reservoirs, and nine pumping stations and 15km of pipes are being built to boost supply from the plant.

The study of the system has included economic as well as operational aspects. Future studies into maximising the overall efficiency of the scheme are planned.

Some 70 flow meters have been installed to allow Hyder to monitor use and see where leaks are occurring.

Changes to the species and planting have also led to major water savings. Grass consumes large quantities of water, up to 16 litre/day/m 2in some areas.

Trees and shrubs however, only use up to 4.9 litre/day/m 2.In locations where flow meters have shown up erratic water supply, grass has been replaced with shrubs, which has not detracted from the overall visual effect.

Watering patterns are also being altered. Instead of routine manual watering, automated systems will regulate the amount of water used.

Hyder's study outlines specifications and criteria that should be built in to the planning of all future landscaping projects. It is hoped that this will help ensure that the ruler's dream of extending his garden city can continue.

Rich rewards Abu Dhabi is the largest of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) comprising about 85% of the land mass. It is also the richest of the seven Emirates, with the majority of the oil reserves.

The island city of Abu Dhabi, has undergone a massive transformation in recent years, from a small fishing village, when oil was first exported in 1962, to modern high rise city.

It is the capital of both the Emirate and the UAE as a whole and as president, Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan has used revenues from oil exports to benefit all Emirates.

Gulf roots Hyder Consulting has been operating in the Middle East for over 25 years.

It has permanent offices in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, as well as in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait that in total employ more than 450 staff. Staff originate from more than 25 countries and provide expertise in transportation, highways, land development, oil and gas, water supply and water treatment.

Study note example - airport road Hyder's review of the existing landscape showed.

Too much grass, trees in unimaginative rows, no tree surgery lFew skilled maintenance staff and reliance on manual watering, leaking hose connection points and corroded valves.

No changes of ground level or maintenance edges.

Hyder recommended a number of maintenance changes and a complete redesign of the landscaped area leading to an estimated 40% saving in water requirements. The proposals, now being implemented, include:

Restricted manual watering and replacement of equipment.

Training of staff and introduction of metering.

Grass used in strips, with gravel surfacing introduced behind maintenance edge and screen hedge.

Drought tolerant species to be introduced behind 500mm maintenance edge.

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