Dubai’s rise as one of the world’s best cities to live and work has been underpinned by a sustainability strategy that prioritizes harmony with nature. At the core of this strategy is a commitment to optimizing the use of the emirate’s natural resources.
An ambitious water reclamation program, spearheaded by Dubai Municipality for over five decades, has been a crucial component of the city’s efforts to prudently manage its ecological assets. The program has seen Dubai achieving an impressive water reuse rate of 90 percent and significantly curbing its reliance on desalinated water and groundwater. By 2030, Dubai aims to increase recycled water utilization to 100 percent.
The dividends of achieving this target go beyond the domain of resource management. Dubai Municipality’s water reuse strategy aligns with the goals of the emirate’s Net Zero Carbon Emissions Strategy 2050. Apart from safeguarding vital groundwater resources for future generations, water recycling also substantially saves the electricity needed for energy-intensive desalination, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In the next seven years, Dubai has set itself the target of reducing the use of desalinated water and related power consumption by 30 percent.
His Excellency Dawoud Al Hajri, Director General of Dubai Municipality, said: “Dubai’s leadership recognized at an early stage that water conservation is key to ensuring sustainable development. Today, the recycling of water resources has evolved to form a key part of Dubai Municipality’s efforts to realize the leadership’s vision to turn the emirate into a green economy hub. Our city’s success in water reclamation demonstrates that harmonizing rapid economic growth with environmental conservation is not only achievable but also provides a strong impetus for further progress. As Dubai sets its sights on becoming one of the most sustainable cities in the world, we continue to launch new initiatives to raise water reuse rates and progressively diminish the city’s reliance on desalination and precious groundwater.”
Dubai’s water conservation journey
Dubai embarked on its water reclamation journey back in the late 1960s. The emirate’s first wastewater treatment plant was built by Dubai Municipality in Al Khawaneej in 1969. As the city underwent rapid urban expansion, demand for wastewater treatment and recycled water surged. In 1981, a new plant was established in Warsan that evolved to a capacity of 260,000 cubic meters per day, while the Jebel Ali plant, founded in 2006, raised the city’s water recycling capacity to approximately 560,000 cubic meters daily.
Subsequent expansions, such as the 2015 upgrade of the Warsan plant to 325,000 cubic meters daily and the 2016 enhancement of the Jebel Ali plant to 675,000 cubic meters daily. These expansions played a key role in meeting the rising demand for reclaimed water across diverse sectors and fostered sustainable water resource management.
Today, Dubai extensively uses reclaimed water to irrigate green spaces and landscaping, distributing it through a network managed by the Waste Management and Sanitation Department of Dubai Municipality. Stretching approximately 2,400 kilometers, this network, which covers most areas of the city, has facilitated the use of about 265 million cubic meters per year of water for green spaces.
Reclaimed water is used to irrigate an area of about 10,400 hectares in Dubai, including public gardens and green spaces, as well as landscaped areas in property developments. On average, about 22 million cubic meters of reclaimed water is used monthly for irrigation purposes in the city.
Between 1980 and 2022, Dubai has produced over 4.5 billion cubic meters of reclaimed water. By limiting the consumption of desalinated water and groundwater, the use of reclaimed water has resulted in substantial annual savings of approximately AED2 billion. By 2030, Dubai aims to double its production of recycled water to over 8 billion cubic metres.
Diverse uses of reclaimed water
Apart from the irrigation of green spaces and landscaping, recycled water is used for multiple purposes in the emirate ranging from central cooling to firefighting. In 2022, over 6 million cubic meters of reclaimed water were used in central cooling stations, resulting in cost savings of around 47 percent (AED7.1 million). Using recycled water in resource-intensive infrastructure operations like central cooling stations has helped reduce costs and drive the expansion of energy-efficient technologies, leading to further reductions in power consumption and carbon emissions.
Reclaimed water is also used in physical treatment processes such as washing operations in sewage treatment plants and pumping stations. Further, it is used in firefighting operations as a more eco-friendly alternative to desalinated water.
Innovating for a greener future
Consistent with Dubai’s forward-thinking approach to sustainability, the emirate has been a leader in implementing innovative technologies in its wastewater treatment plants. Advanced triple and tertiary treatment technologies enable the cost-effective production of high-quality reclaimed water for multiple purposes including irrigation, central cooling and artificial lakes.
To reduce carbon emissions resulting from sewage treatment processes, Dubai Municipality’s Waste Management and Sanitation Department has implemented anaerobic digestion in central treatment plants. This minimises energy consumption and produces biogas, which facilitates significant reduction of carbon emissions from methane gas. Some of the biogas is also used for heating aerobic digestion tanks and drying sludge to produce thermally treated organic fertilizer.
This year, Dubai Municipality launched a project to use biogas as fuel in power generation stations at the treatment plant in Warsan. About 50 percent of the plant’s electricity needs are met by biogas-generated electricity, accelerating the transition to a green treatment facility.
Dubai’s excellence in water recycling has been recognized by global organizations. In 2022, Dubai Municipality won first place in the International Water Reuse and Recycling Award, organized by the International Desalination Association (IDA). The Jebel Ali Sewage Treatment Plant Expansion Project (Phase 2) clinched the award in the Exceptional Utility Leader category.
As the UAE celebrates the Year of Sustainability this year, Dubai’s water recycling and resource management program serves as an inspiration for other cities and regions. Through new investments and meticulous planning, the city seeks to further transform its water recycling infrastructure. With every drop of reclaimed water, Dubai continues to propel itself towards a more harmonious, resource-conscious tomorrow.
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