First and foremost, praise and thanks to God, the Almighty, for His blessings to finish this research.
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Many people have helped me during the development of this research. No words would do justice to their endless efforts. I would like to express the deepest appreciation to my advisor Dr. Samuil Hassan, Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at the United Arab Emirates University for his valuable comments, remarks, and engagement throughout t this master’s thesis. It was a great honor to work with him’ without his guidance and constant support the completion of this thesis would not have been possible.
Furthermore, I would like to thank the participants involved in the study for sharing their valuable time and experience during the process of interviewing.
Finally, I acknowledge the people who mean so much to me: my family for believing in me throughout the research; and my friends for their understanding and cheerfulness during moments of crisis. I cannot list all their names here, but they are always in my thoughts.
In Abu Dhabi, rapid population growth, exponential changes in lifestyle, shortage of water resources, and the increased reliance on desalinated water are all major challenges to the water sector. Considering this, there is a strategic need for understanding the current water use patterns and resource management practices in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Thus, the research aimed to analyze current demand management measures and explore possible integrated water demand management regimes. It also aimed to evaluate if the soft-path for water can be feasibly implemented there. Additionally, the research intended to suggest potentially effective measures for water regulation in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi based on identified weaknesses and strengths.
The four principles of the soft-path approach encompass multiple dimensions of water consumption including behaviors, attitudes, practices, and technologies. Thus, it offers a comprehensive framework for sustainable water management. The criteria for the implementation of the soft-path principles were identified and consequently used to evaluate the current managerial activities in Abu Dhabi.
Regarding institutional capacity, the low level of community involvement in decision making was identified as the main challenge. With the current robust implementation of public campaigns and advocacy for water conservation, communities will become more involved. The results of institutional capacity for soft-path implementation show high scores in seven out of the eight themes. The main areas of strength are information resources, human resources, financial resources, policy, and legal environment, political environment, practical considerations, and technological solutions. The main aspect of institutional capacity that requires much improvement is the level of community awareness and involvement in matters of water conservation.
Other areas that the water sector will need to address include the reduction of water loss through leakage along distribution lines, as well as the significant loss of treated wastewater to the environment. The high financial cost of building desalination plants is another challenge that requires innovative solutions to meet the water needs of the growing population at an affordable cost.
In this regard, the recommendations for a successful transition to the soft-path approach in Abu Dhabi include maintaining a high momentum of creating public awareness and involving communities more actively in water conservation initiatives. The water sector should also shift from allocating huge amounts of resources to constructing desalination plants, in favor of strengthening its institutional capacity such as by training full-time staff dedicated to water conservation and making the latest research on water issues readily available to staff. Therefore, the soft-path approach is a practical alternative to water management in Abu Dhabi.
|°C||Degree Celsius – Centigrade scale|
|AADC||Al-Ain Distribution Company|
|Abu Dhabi Emirate||The Capital of the United Arab Emirates|
|ADDC||Abu Dhabi Distribution Company|
|ADSSC||Abu Dhabi’s Sewerage and Services Company|
|ADWEA||Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority|
|ADWEC||Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Company|
|Al-Ain region||Eastern region of Abu Dhabi|
|Al Dhafrah region||The western region of Abu Dhabi|
|EAD||Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi|
|Emiratis||United Arab Emirates nationals|
|ESCO||Energy Services Companies|
|Expatriates||Expatriates in U.A.E|
|GDP||Gross domestic product|
|HCWAS||Permanent Committee for Water and Agricultural Resources|
|IWS||International Water Summit|
|MIG||Million Imperial Gallons|
|OECD||Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development|
|ppm||Parts per million|
|PRS||Pearl Rating System|
|RSB||Regulation & Super Vision Bureau|
|SBAs||Separate Business Accounts|
|SCAD||Statistics Center-Abu Dhabi|
|STEP||Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme|
|STPs||Sewage Treatment Plants|
|TSE||Treated Sewage Effluent|
|U.A.E||United Arab Emirates|
|UNEP||United Nations Environment Programme|
|UNESCO||United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation|
|UPC||Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council|
|USD||United State Dollar|
|USGS||United State Geological Survey|
Water is the backbone of everything in life. Every single organism needs water to live. Despite 71% of the earth being covered by water, only 3% of the water is salt-free (freshwater). Also, 70% of the freshwater is trapped in glaciers and icebergs, making it unavailable to humans (USGS, 2016). Further, due to geographical location and geological factors, water distribution across different geographic regions is not uniform. Some regions have large quantities of readily accessible freshwater, while others experience water scarcity.
Further pressure on the demand for freshwater is being exerted by the burgeoning world population and the effects of climate change; Earth’s hydrologic system has been significantly altered in part by the impact of climate change and human activities (Science Learning Hub, 2009). Due to the massive exploitation of the different components of the hydrologic cycle, freshwater ecosystems are facing an increasing threat. The Arab region is among the parts of the world that have suffered significant sustainability challenges, especially in water resources (Hefny, 2010). The United Arab Emirates (UAE), with comparatively higher economic and population growth in the region, faces a substantial water distribution problem as well.
Abu Dhabi Emirate is the largest of the seven emirates that form the UAE, covering 87% of the total area, 67,340 square kilometers (Abu Dhabi Emirate, 2017). The climate is hyper-arid, and the annual precipitation is a mere 100 mm. At the same time, the rate at which groundwater is replenished is very low (less than 4% of the annual water consumption). The area is also characterized by high rates of evaporation, 2-3 m a year (Mohamed, 2006). Another challenge facing Abu Dhabi is the absence of surface water resources on which the population can depend year-round. In essence, no renewable freshwater resources are available.
While these water resources problems persist, the Emirate has also experienced an explosive increase in population as well as economic growth over recent decades (Dougherty et al., 2009). According to the Abu Dhabi Urban Planning Council (UPC)1, the rapid economic growth of the Emirate has been accompanied by a tripling of its population in less than three decades (UPC, 2011). The average annual population growth rate currently equals 5.6% (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017, p. 114). At the same time, the projections of the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Company (ADWEC) indicate that water demand will increase by more than 30% by 2030 (ADWEC as cited in Chowdhury & Rajput, 2015). It is anticipated that the population will be three to five million by 2030 (UPC, 2011). An increase in the size of the population and massive lifestyle changes are exponentially expanding the demand for water in Abu Dhabi, which tripled in the twelve years to2012 (Waterwise, 2017).
Based on the water demand and deficit forecasts by the Environment Agency for Abu Dhabi (EAD) (Appendix A), one has a clearer idea of why the current water management policy in Abu Dhabi needs improvement. The data predicts a continuous increase in demand, and in the absence of new resources for water production, the country will experience a deficit of 475 MIG (2,159.39 million m3)a day by 2030. Such a deficit is significant considering that it represents 60% of the current water consumption (Chowdhury & Rajput, 2015).
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According to recent statistics (Appendix B), over the nine years, 2005-2014 the supply of desalinated water in the Emirate increased from 163,217 MIG (742 million m3) to 253,184 MIG (1,151 million m3) (S. Pearson 2018, personal communication, 18 April). The total volume of desalinated water produced in 2015 by nine desalination plants was 274,875 MIG (about 1,249,606.48 m3) (ADWEC, 2016).
The water ecology of the Emirate is complex, with limited availability of natural freshwater sources, the lack of rain, and salted groundwater. As a result, it depends largely on desalinated seawater (Regulation and Supervision Bureau, 2016). Water for consumption in Abu Dhabi currently comes from three different sources: groundwater, desalinated seawater, and recycled wastewater, with groundwater representing 61.1% (S. Pearson 2018, personal communication, 18 April). Desalination makes 33.9%, and 5.1% is treated wastewater.
As groundwater resources continue to be exploited to meet the socio-economic demands of Abu Dhabi, there is a problem with how the water is being used. For example, a significant proportion of the groundwater supply continues to be channeled towards the agricultural, plantation, and forestry sectors. In 2016, the annual groundwater use for agricultural purposes in Abu Dhabi equaled 442,798 MIG (2,013 million m3) (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). Until recently, agriculture, forestry, and amenity planting have been expanding their irrigation areas without restrictions on water utilization. The concerns over water scarcity have been worsened by the demand from municipalities. For example, much of the population growth has occurred in urban areas such as Al Ain and Abu Dhabi City, causing an 8% increase in per capita consumption of water (Dougherty et al., 2009).
On the other hand, desalination plants have remained critical in the water infrastructure of Abu Dhabi. Although the desalination process ensures a continuous supply of high-quality Soft-Path water without damaging natural, freshwater resources, it has some negative impacts on the environment (Dawoud & Al-Mukka, 2012). Also, the impact of climate change has already started affecting the sustainability of the water resources in the Emirate, with an increase in demand. For example, summer temperatures have become extreme while winters are often accompanied by changing precipitation patterns and increasing temperatures. Such changes could imply that more water will be used, even during winter, than before (Dougherty et al., 2009). Therefore, the main challenge for Abu Dhabi is how to ensure an appropriate water management system to meet future consumption demands. The Emirate needs to find a new approach, like the “soft path” approach, to water demand management; this will be discussed in this study.
The increasing population, rapid changes in lifestyle that exponentially increase water demand, gradual depletion of natural sources of water, and a high level of dependence on desalinated water all call for water regulation to secure a sustainable future for Abu Dhabi. Sustainable water management is an essential part of sustainable development at a larger scale: it aims to preserve the natural environment, the community, and the economy. It means that sustainable water management has its roots in a balance between financial and social resources required to support the water system and meet competing water sector demands (Russo, Alfredo, & Fisher, 2014). The government took a water demand approach to regulate use by reducing its generous water subsidies. In January 2015, a water tariff was introduced for citizens and increased for expatriates. A higher tariff, including a progressive tariff above the threshold for Emiratis and expatriates, was introduced in January 2017 (Regulation and Supervision Bureau, 2017). So the questions are: are these measures enough and what else can and must be done for sustainable water management in Abu Dhabi? In this regard, it is important to develop the objectives of the study which are directed towards finding solutions to the problem.
Objectives of this study
There is a strategic need for understanding the current water use patterns, sources, and supply of water, analyzing the current demand management measures, surveying possible integrated water demand management regimes and suggesting possible policy measures for water regulation in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The major objectives of the research are therefore to:
- Analyze current and future water supply and demand in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
- Examine and evaluate the government’s measures and their effects on regulating water demand in Abu Dhabi.
- Assess the suitability (including applicability and implementability) of the soft-path approach for sustainable water management in Abu Dhabi.
The following research questions will be investigated:
- What are the current structure and possible forecasts of water supply and demand in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi?
- What measures have the Abu Dhabi government adopted to regulate water demand, with what effects? How has the revised tariff structure in Abu Dhabi affected the demand and consumption of water?
- Can and how an alternate comprehensive model of water management (the soft-path approach) be implemented in Abu Dhabi?
A qualitative methodology is employed in the study. The primary aim of qualitative methods is the description of a subject and the relationships between the studied phenomena/objects/events. In qualitative studies, the hypothesis is usually inductive, i.e. the assumptions are based on the collected data (Creswell, 2014). The qualitative tools are exploratory and imply a free form of data collection, e.g. interviews. As a result, the qualitative approach is characterized by a high level of subjectivity. As stated by Whittemore, Chase, and Mandle (2001), the validity of qualitative research can be estimated by the level of its dependability on other high-quality works and sources within the field of knowledge/discourse. Thus, to increase the credibility of the research findings, the interview results will be analyzed by drawing on high-quality scholarly and professional evidence and supportive theoretical data. Further details on methodology including interview structure, sampling, literature review techniques, and so on are provided in Chapter 3 of the thesis.
Significance of the study
Water can be conserved more efficiently using a soft-path approach (Brandes & Brooks, 2005), especially as the current approach to managing water resources by regulating demand is marred by certain inefficiencies that require solutions. While demand management has been the primary approach, the rate at which the water demand is growing, compared to the rate of water production, is too high to guarantee sustainability. Consequently, it is critical for the stakeholders in the water sector to integrate a soft-path strategy into the current policy.
The soft-path approach has been documented as the best policy to complement the demand approach to reduce water usage even further (Brandes & Brooks, 2005). In a nutshell, it is based on four primary principles: treating water as a service, ecological sustainability, conserving water quantity and quality, and backcasting (Brandes & Brooks, 2005). The first principle refers to all activities aimed to meet users’ needs, as well as organizational cooperation and partnerships aimed at enhancing service quality and efficacy. The principle of ecological sustainability implies the recognition of ecosystems as legitimate users of water and the development of a supportive environment for sustainable water use. The third principle is associated with the creation of cascading water systems, i.e. utilization of wastewater as input for another use. Lastly, backcasting refers to the type of planning, which starts with defining future goals and visions and then looks backward to design necessary policies and regulations.
In Asia, China has taken the lead in transforming its water resource management by implementing large wastewater treatment programs to combat water shortages. Similarly, Australia, Japan and several states in the US (Florida, California) have successfully overcome water stress by harnessing reclaimed water, a principle within the framework of the soft-path (Leflaive, 2009). In Australia, additional measures include introducing efficient appliances in the market (washing machines that use 25 gallons of water (Leflaive, 2009). The states of California, Georgia, and Texas in the US have also passed legislation in which new toilets should use no more than 1.28 gallons per flush (Christian-Smith et al., 2012). In the developing world, Namibia is a classic example of a success story where a reclaimed wastewater program serves 250,000 people with potable water (Leflaive, 2009). Abu Dhabi can borrow important lessons from jurisdictions that have applied practices that are advocated for the soft-path approach.
These examples demonstrate the application of soft-path principles in systems where water demand management is gradually being complemented by the new approach. While demand-based approaches ask the question of how water soft-path asks the question of why. For example, demand management may ask how toilet flushing or irrigation can be done using less water. Conversely, the soft-path would ask why freshwater is being used to carry out these activities in the first place. This is why California and Florida have turned to reclaimed water for purposes of watering lawns and irrigation (Leflaive, 2009).
The main goal of soft-path management is to devise ways of conserving the available water sources and adopting practices that will satisfy water needs without looking for additional sources of water. Australia, with more efficient washing machines, demonstrates the application of new technologies. In addition to implementing new technologies, water soft-path also proposes policies that overcome gaps in water resources. The approach emphasizes minimizing demand rather than increasing supply. A study in California showed that total urban water use could be reduced by 30% by applying off-the-shelf technologies that are more cost-effective than new water supply projects. The study also examined agricultural and rural water usage and showed that total water usage in California could “decline by as much as 20% while still satisfying a growing population, maintaining a healthy agricultural sector, and supporting a vibrant economy” (Brooks & Holtz, 2009, p. 161).
By studying the suitability of the soft-path approach to water management in Abu Dhabi, it will be possible to put its benefits in context. For example, areas that are prone to environmental degradation will be protected while a long-term supply of water will be guaranteed. The essence of the study is to add to the existing body of knowledge important insights about the critical institutional elements that would facilitate a successful implementation of the soft-path approach in the Abu Dhabi Emirate.
Chapter 1: This chapter has outlined the water situation in Abu Dhabi, the need for sustainable water management, the research problem, the research questions, an introduction to the methodology, and the objectives and significance of this study. It identified the research questions and highlighted the main points to be covered by the whole research.
Chapter 2: The extensive literature review provides the theoretical foundation of water policy and management, conventional (supply-side) water management, and the soft-path approach. The chapter analyzes the factors and issues related to water management, especially in an arid/semi-arid area like Abu Dhabi, the impracticality of the supply-side approach to water management, and the inappropriateness of the demand-side approach; it justifies for, analyzes the components, and highlights the requirements of the soft-path as an alternative sustainable water management approach.
Chapter 3: This chapter covers the research methodology. It covers all the steps undertaken in collecting and analyzing data, the process and outcome of the face-to-face interviews with experts and various stakeholders from the water sector, the issues related to the application of the method, and the limitations of the study.
Chapter 4: This chapter analyzes the need for the soft-path approach by reviewing the increasingly higher volumes of water demand, current measures to manage supply and demand in Abu Dhabi, and the unsustainability of the current approaches. In particular, it examines the effects of tariff reform on water demand and supply by looking at water use data before and after the introduction/raising of the tariff. The chapter is based primarily on a review of statistical data from the relevant authorities.
Chapter 5: This chapter provides analyses of the applicability and institutional capacity of the soft-path approach by reviewing the responses of interviewees from different parts of Abu Dhabi’s water sector. The chapter is divided into two parts. The first section analyses the interviews in the context of the four major soft-path principles to evaluate the identified themes in terms of their implications for the soft-path approach. The second section analyzes the Interviewees’ responses concerning eight themes that determine the institutional capacity for the soft-path approach: human resources, information resources, financial resources, political environment, policy and legal environment, community awareness, technological solutions, and practical considerations.
Chapter 6: This is the concluding chapter in which all the information and data are consolidated to draw appropriate conclusions and make recommendations. In other words, it provides an analysis of the entire research and recommends a way forward in terms of the application of the soft-path approach in Abu Dhabi. It also suggests future research that may be conducted on this topic. That is, the purpose of this chapter is to inform policy changes and future studies.
Review of Literature
This chapter deals with the basic principles of water management as recorded in the literature. It analyzes the factors and issues related to water management outlined in the thesis overview above.
The first part of the review describes the current state of water in the world and arid and semi-arid regions, to demonstrate the need for intervention in managing water resources in Abu Dhabi. The second part describes the three main approaches: supply management, demand management, and the soft-path approach. The final part defines institutional capacity, which is needed to analyze the Emirate’s ability to implement the soft-path approach. Institutional capacity will be combined with the soft-path indicators to investigate the suitability of the soft-path approach.
Water Management in Arid/Semi-Arid Regions
As many societies increasingly realize that water is no longer an unlimited resource, the myth of “superabundance” has waned (Binstock, 2010). The twenty-first century has been characterized by major shifts in water management strategies across the world (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2006). Today, water sectors aim to implement strategies that will ensure the conservation and efficient use of water resources by all. Many are adopting technologies that will promote efficiency in water harvesting, distribution, and use. More important are the efforts to change the attitudes of people towards water through public awareness campaigns, so that the users appreciate the value of water. While this is the general trend, some regions are still engrossed in large projects intended to create a safer and more reliable water infrastructure (Binstock, 2010); the traditional approaches of building huge dams and pipelines for water distribution are examples of such projects (Gulbenkian Think Tank on Water and the Future of Humanity, 2013).
While the building of dams and pipelines are traditionally considered to be valuable initiatives in water conservation, they tend to be inefficient in the face of myriad challenges to water management. According to UNESCO (2013), one of the most significant challenges, which the global community currently faces, is the threat to aquatic ecosystems and their increasing distress, due to human activities, resulting in pollution and the destruction of water catchment areas. At the same time, the increasing global population has put more pressure on the existing water resources as farming intensifies. The situation is worsened by inefficiencies in the way water resources are utilized for agricultural production (Hewitt, 2013).
Despite agriculture accounting for 70% of water withdrawals globally (Sentlinger, 2017), studies on the efficiency of water use in agriculture indicate a worrying trend. One such study evaluated how allocated water was used for food production in Colorado in terms of designated acres for irrigation, irrigation systems, and cropland usage. By comparing the year 2002 (high drought period) with 2007 (control year) based on these parameters, the researchers made an important observation: 63% of water allocated for irrigation was channeled towards the production of feedstock for animals. At the same time, 75% of food was grown in areas that had no irrigation (Hewitt, 2013). Apart from the inefficiencies of water use in the agricultural sector, climate change and unsustainable groundwater abstraction are major threats to water availability, especially in arid and semi-arid regions (UNESCO, 2013).
As the need for better water management strategies increases, many regions are adopting concepts, strategies, and technologies that will give water efficiency and conservation the priority in planning (UNESCO, 2013). It is a fact, however, that aggressive strategies geared towards water conservation have mostly been adopted in regions with significant challenges to water supply (Binstock, 2010). In arid and semi-arid regions, the response to water scarcity has been multi-pronged, generally including technological, policy, and institutional changes (Pahl-Wostl et al., 2006).
As many societies across the world appreciate that water is a limited resource, better management strategies have become necessary. Climate change, population growth, changing lifestyles, and water inefficiencies in agriculture are some of the important factors that have necessitated a shift in water management. Consequently, the discussion on traditional water management approaches and the adoption of newer approaches is critical for a better understanding of these challenges to the water sector.
Water Management Approaches
Water management can be defined as “the actions governing the management, administration, and procedures used to implement and direct a formal Water Planning process by which water rights, water uses, and water diversions are evaluated, ranked, and allocated based on specific public policy goals and objectives and designated, either by legislative mandate, regulation, fiat, or preferred use” (Water policy, 2017, para. 1).
Water management comprises three approaches: supply management, demand management, and soft-path. At one extreme, supply management is focused on withdrawing as much water as possible through massive infrastructure projects. This approach is complemented by demand-side management, which is interested in devising cost-effective strategies to reduce water demand through “smart” technologies, consumer education, and conservation-based pricing (Brandes & Brooks, 2005). At the other end of the spectrum, soft-path management aims to transform the factors that influence people’s water use behavior (Brandes & Brooks, 2005). While discussion of water management previously leaned towards constructing dams, extending pipelines, and drilling wells, it has become paramount for people to view water management in terms of these three approaches, as explained in the following section. Moreover, most regions in the world intend to move along this continuum to achieve sustainability goals (Brandes & Brooks, 2005).
Water Supply Management
The traditional approach to water management by hydrologists and water resource engineers has been to focus on the supply side (Chung, Lansey & Bayraksan, 2009), which has a narrow focus on supplying as much water as demanded by the consumers. Consequently, massive resources are invested in dams and water distribution systems (Gulbenkian Think Tank on Water and the Future of Humanity, 2013). A water supply system generally has different source and demand sectors, such as domestic, agricultural, and industrial users. The system is designed to treat water from the sources and deliver it to the user via a distribution network (Chung et al., 2009).
In this regard, many costs are incurred, such as for treating water for agricultural or industrial activities (Dougherty et al., 2009). In essence, the two main components of water supply management, that is, demand fulfillment and hazard mitigation, are unlikely to be met in a semi-arid region (Ahn & Kang, 2014). In demand fulfillment, meeting the water demands of the growing Abu Dhabi population would be difficult, not only because the availability of freshwater is scarce, but also because people’s attitudes towards conservation and efficiency have not changed (Dougherty et al., 2009). In hazard mitigation, a water supply approach would fail as additional water sources are not available for exploitation (Patch, 2010).
It is a challenging task to develop an efficient water supply plan considering variations in water demand and uncertainties related to water resource availability, in addition to the fact that rapid urbanization and climate change will put further pressure on water resources in the future (Ahn & Kang, 2014). In the case of an arid/semi-arid region such as Abu Dhabi, supply-side management is not sustainable because water sources are scarce. As such, a continual freshwater supply cannot be guaranteed; the cheapest fresh water supply is already in use, and any additional supply will increase the cost (Brooks & Brandes, 2009).
Based on these considerations, water supply management seems to consider only an ideal situation where water resources are unlimited (Patch, 2010). In a dry environment such as Abu Dhabi, it is difficult to achieve sustainability with the supply-side approach. Moreover, it is a costly approach that cannot achieve hazard mitigation and demand fulfillment. Given these challenges, water demand management has complemented the supply side to mitigate some of the identified concerns (Patch, 2010).
Water Demand Management
Water demand management is more frequently acknowledged as an essential element of supply management (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). The operational definition of water demand embraces five components. The first component is the water quantity as determined by the intended use. In most cases, agricultural activities draw much of the available water (Sentlinger, 2017). This fact is confirmed by the International Water Management Institute which reiterates that agriculture is a strong competitor of water use compared to industrial and domestic uses. 70% of water resources globally are channeled towards agricultural production (Sentlinger, 2017).
In many Muslim-majority countries (MMCs), the component of water quality and quantity is exemplified by its scarcity by its geographical location. For example, the Nile is the primary source of water for Sudan, Egypt, and Eritrea. Since these MMCs are largely arid and semi-arid regions, the majority of the population have settled along the Nile to access the water for various uses (Hasan, 2012), but primarily agriculture. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) confirmed that 70% of the water in MMCs goes to agriculture, 23% to industry, leaving only 7% available for domestic consumption (Hasan, 2012). In this regard, both water quality and water quantity in MMCs are largely influenced by the agricultural lifestyle of the population (Hasan, 2012).
The second component of water demand management entails the changes necessary to accomplish the task with less water or water of lower quality. In the Muslim world, several initiatives directed towards conserving water have been implemented, including adopting more efficient irrigation systems, treating and reusing wastewater for irrigation, and adopting crop varieties that are more tolerant to salinity and that demand less water to grow (Hasan, 2012). MMCs have also incorporated Western water-saving technologies in their water management policies (Absar, 2013). At the same time, the third component implies a focus on reducing unnecessary loss within the water distribution system (Brooks, 2005). The fourth component of water demand management emphasizes making water available during off-peak periods, while the fifth is concerned with the capacity building so that water can still be available during drought (Brooks, 2005).
Water demand management and accurate forecasting will help decision-makers to be ready for future changes, although many factors make forecasting difficult (Billings & Jones, 2008), including the following:
Population, economic cycle, and technology
Population growth is the main factor in increased water usage. Businesses and the economic cycle affect water needs through the fluctuation of industrial and commercial activities. Family income levels may also influence water demand.
Technology may affect water usage in several ways. For example, a new dishwasher may increase water demand while new irrigation system insulation may reduce water usage (Billings & Jones, 2008). In terms of rain harvesting, naturally engineered systems that capture stormwater represent an important technological change for reducing demand. The technological component is also seen in wastewater treatment and recycling in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries such as Japan, where 1,000 recycling systems were making treated wastewater available for non-potable use to apartment complexes and commercial buildings in 2003 (Leflaive, 2009). In the United Kingdom (UK), a green water treatment plant is used to biologically treat wastewater using ultraviolet light for use in gardens and toilet flushing. Sweden has installed filters in water taps so that households use less water (Leflaive, 2009).
Climate and seasonal variation
The climate variable is a prominent factor in water demand management since different regions have varying climatic conditions that directly influence water use. For example, Abu Dhabi is geographically situated in an area of extreme summer temperatures (46-50 degrees Celsius) and low rainfall (100mm annual average) (Mohamed, 2006). The high temperatures contribute to the high consumption of water for agriculture and domestic use. Seasonal variation changes water needs. Typical peak demand occurs in summer, with outdoor activities such as swimming, while in some cold climates there is a winter peak flow system to avoid water freezing in pipes (Billings & Jones, 2008). It is important to understand seasonal demand patterns to plan the capacity of the distribution system. Short-term
patterns are also important, as they contribute to maintenance schedules for pumps and reservoirs (Billings & Jones, 2008). Due to climate change, the projected water demand in a country such as Abu Dhabi may change, for example with more water consumed in warmer winters (Dougherty et al, 2009).
The price will often affect short-, medium- and long-term forecasting. Water use and revenue are directly linked to price changes (Billings & Jones, 2008). Rate increases may change consumers’ behaviors in the short-term, such as taking shorter showers or reducing the number of car washes. In the long-term, consumers may embrace this change and start to prefer goods that consume less water (Billings & Jones, 2008). Water pricing usually occurs with fixed and variable elements, i.e. a standard tariff for consuming water, and a variable tariff per unit or block for water use above the threshold (Arbués, García-Valiñas & Martínez-Espiñeira, 2003). When water pricing has a threshold, sequences of marginal prices for different consumption blocks (increasing or decreasing) may apply. Lower pricing is positive in terms of efficiency, but it may encourage overuse as the additional units will be marginally cheaper and the decrease of the marginal cost of supply to large users may be uncertain. Increasing block tariffs is effective to control water usage and is regarded as more equitable and redistributive (Arbués & Martı́nez, 2003).
Nonetheless, water demand is estimated, in general, to be inelastic as there is no substitute for its basic uses, and may depend on the following variables:
- Resident population per account/household composition,
- Housing characteristics,
- Frequency of billing,
- Indoor versus outdoor use, seasonal demands: winter and summer, and peak-load pricing (Arbués & Martı́nez, 2003).
Efficiency and conservation programs
Water efficiency and conservation programs may affect water demand. Crisis programs due to drought or supply interruption may change water usage in the short-term. Some programs that lead to structural changes are targeted at long-term water demand reduction, such as the use of low-flush toilets and drought-tolerant plants. An effective conservation program will minimize water usage (Billings & Jones, 2008).
Physical depreciation of the water system and degradation of assets increase water loss from pipe leakage. Water loss estimation is important to a water demand model to provide a rational basis for demand and maintenance prediction (Billings & Jones, 2008). According to Dougherty et al. (2009), the current water demand management system in Abu Dhabi is marred by inefficiencies due to laxity by the relevant stakeholders in conducting thorough inspections of the water distribution system. As a result, water leakages have not been properly assessed (Mahmoud & Abdaalh, 2014). The consequence of this is that water loss estimation has been difficult to make or document, for better water demand models to be implemented. Such gaps justify the need for a complementary management strategy (Dougherty et al., 2009).
Water Demand Management Tools
Demand management has several tools at its disposal to reduce peak or overall water demand. The first is water pricing through the implementation of tariffs, intended to encourage users to use less water because of the cost implications. In a scenario where the quality of life of the population continues to improve alongside a growing economy, people will gain more capacity to pay for the water. Therefore, they will continue to use water in any way they wish as long as they can afford it. Thus, the effectiveness of water pricing strategies is limited by other factors such as income and economic growth (Beacon, 2008). Another tool is the prevention of leakages within the water distribution system; while this is vital in managing the cost of supplying water, its efficiency depends on the culture of conservation. It also requires effective monitoring of leakages along with distribution networks (Dougherty et al., 2009). Demand management may also promote technologies that are water-efficient, such as appliances, rainwater tanks, and wastewater treatment (Beacon, 2008).
Water demand has only provided a partial solution to the problems associated with the supply-side approach. There are major efficiency and conservation issues that cannot be satisfactorily addressed using water demand management (Mahmoud & Abdaalh, 2014). The various tools for water demand management are associated with externalities that can be resolved by additional or complementary approaches such as the water soft-path.
A holistic approach to water management that goes beyond efficient demand management has been introduced: the soft-path approach.“The soft-path for water is a concept for long-range planning that includes quantitative and qualitative methods to design options for a freshwater policy that are economically feasible, environmentally sustainable, and socially responsive” (Brooks & Holtz, 2009, p. 158). Soft-path analysis was primarily developed the 1970s to explore new forms of energy policy (Brooks, 2005). It was studied in different regions in North America and Europe and resulted in significant reductions in energy usage with no effect on the services delivered. In the 2000s, the soft-path concept was introduced for water services and the analyses were undertaken in Canada (Brooks & Holtz, 2009).
The word ‘soft’ in soft-path refers to less steel and concrete. This path is principally dependent on a human initiative to find means around the current natural resource usage patterns without affecting the economic development that has enhanced the quality of life for so many people. In the soft-path approach, the role of water management moved from building and providing water supply infrastructure to improved services, like new sanitation forms, drought-resistant landscapes, conservation-oriented urban design, etc. (Brooks & Brandes, 2011).
In terms of the link between classical demand management and the soft-path strategy, it is important to note that both advocate water efficiency. The latter, however, moves beyond striving for efficiency to challenge the behavior, attitudes, practices, and technologies that individuals, communities, and cities have adopted in their use of water (Brandes, 2011). In other words, soft-path management takes a holistic approach to water management by acknowledging the complex interaction between human activity and the natural environment (Brandes, 2011).
A soft-path approach “offers the potential for greater water savings than conventional demand management because it challenges assumptions based on routine planning and neoclassical economics that limit demand management mainly to cost-effective efficiency measures” (Brooks & Holtz, 2009, p. 158). While demand-based approaches ask the question of how water soft-path asks the question of why. For example, demand management may ask how toilet flushing or irrigation can be done using less water. Conversely, the soft-path would ask why water is being used to carry out these activities in the first place. In this regard, the latter is committed to finding ways to conserve available water resources and adopting practices that will satisfy water needs without looking for additional sources (Brandes, 2011). A soft-path includes technologies and policies that overcome gaps in water resources by using approaches that emphasize minimizing demand rather than increasing supply (Brooks & Holtz, 2009).
Water demand management has been practiced for years and is mainly a short-term measure (Brooks & Holtz, 2009). Soft-path models are only applicable for long-term scenarios and planning with a minimum of 20 years (Brooks & Holtz, 2009). As such, there is a difference between the two approaches in terms of their planning approach. For example, water soft-path departs from just forecasting future water demand vis-à-vis the supply, which is the case in demand management (Pacific Institute, 2017). Rather, it relies on “backcasting” in which stakeholders envision a particular time in the future where water will be used with greater care and efficiency (Karamouz, Moridi & Nazif, 2010, p. 188). In other words, the players in the sector think backward and then trace the history of water production and consumption to the present to know what policies are needed for future sustainability. It is thus a long-term planning process that capitalizes on changing habits, attitudes, and practices to increase water productivity (Brinkmann, 2016).
Characteristics of the soft-path approach
Four principles differentiate the soft-path approach from traditional water supply and demand management. They are illustrated in Figure 2.1.
The first principle is treating water as a service rather than an end in itself, changing the notion of water as an end product. This difference in perception implies that this resource should be managed as a service, in a way that can satisfy the population, as a whole, as well as specific industrial needs for water throughout the various business sectors. Water is important for society to undertake specific tasks such as removing waste, cooling, and growing crops. If water is treated as a service, it will become easier for decision-makers to direct their attention to new technologies, rather than large-scale infrastructure. There will be more focus on efforts such as encouraging education, new designs for conservation, diverse farming methods, and changing practices to lower water usage (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). For example, water managers who consider water as a service can focus their efforts on educating landowners to adopt more efficient irrigation systems that use much less water while still promoting good crop management (Hamdan, 2013). A more detailed list of the criteria for the implementation of the given principle in practice is provided in Table 2.1.
The second principle is ensuring ecological sustainability. The soft-path considers the ecosystem as a legitimate user of water and aims to include the cost of water required to sustain ecosystems in any water cost assessment (Brinkmann, 2016). For instance, the total economic value of natural wetlands is higher than that of converted wetlands, so keeping the water may be more valuable to people than extracting it. Traditional water management does not necessarily disregard ecological effects, although it leaves them until the end and considers them constraints, while the soft-path studies the ecological constraints from the start to ensure sustainability by controlling the volume of water extracted from natural sources, and by determining conditions on water quality to be returned to the ecosystem. The soft-path will reject any possible water source that puts ecological sustainability at risk or water that is revered for its beauty or culture, such as lakes and waterfalls (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). Failure to consider ecological sustainability can have serious consequences, as exemplified by the drying up of the Aral Sea, once one of the world’s largest lakes. Soviet engineers embarked on a major irrigation project in the 1960s to support the cotton plantations in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (Howard, 2014). They diverted the waters of the two rivers that fed the lake (the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya) into dams, reservoirs, and canals without assessing the ecological impacts of the decision and, as a result, by 2014, the freshwater lake’s eastern basin had completely dried up (Howard, 2014).
The third principle entails conserving quality as well as quantity. Different end-users require different water quality. A substance that is considered a pollutant to one user might be beneficial to another. It is necessary to conserve the quality of water as well as its quantity since it is not easy to find high-quality potable water in nature (Brooks & Brandes, 2011), and it is expensive to deliver to end-users. People need small quantities of high-quality water for households and special industrial activities, and large quantities of lower-quality water for irrigation, cooling, and industrial activities (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). The soft-path considers water quality at the beginning to meet the quality required by specific end-use. For example, water captured from a cooling system can be circulated for cleaning or other industrial use (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). To meet the principle of quality and quantity conservation, water users must be informed of the importance of avoiding wastage. For example, it would be a waste of precious resources to spray treated potable water onto agricultural fields and lawns. Instead, the stakeholders in the water sector should ensure that only treated wastewater is channeled towards agricultural activities. Conversely, the potable water sector should be carefully managed to ensure that potable water is supplied and used efficiently (Brinkmann, 2016).
The fourth principle is looking ahead to work backward. The soft-path involves new policies and programs that direct society toward water sustainability practices that are consistent with the quality of life (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). Traditional water management systems start from the present and create a forecast based on the current water management patterns and policies. In other words, water production is premised on meeting the current trends of consumption without paying attention to the impacts of production (Brinkmann, 2016).
In contrast, soft-path planning works backward, identifying policies and programs that are needed to reach the desired future vision. The decision or vision for the future generated by using backcasting is always accountable for stakeholders’ interests and needs. It requires collaboration so water managers and the major stakeholders should engage in open discussion to determine the future they envision: water experts present their views and scientific knowledge while the members of communities present their opinions based on experience and need. In the case of the Aral Sea, the decision to divert the water of the two rivers was unilateral since the concerned communities were not consulted. Therefore, planning from future to present is a consultative process that goes beyond the views of water engineers (Binstock, 2010).
Table 2. 1 Explanation and Criteria of the Soft-path Approach Principles. Source: Brooks & Brandes, 2011..
|Treating Water as a Service|| || |
|Ensuring Ecological Sustainability|| || |
|Conserving Water Quality and Quantity|| || |
|Backcasting|| || |
Assuming that in community A there will be no new water source before 2050, the policymakers, water managers, professionals such as plumbers and architects, and representatives of the general public should come together to seek efficient and conservative approaches to meet the water demand in the future. Backcasting ensures that strategies and goals are clear from the start and that making slight adjustments will be easy to accommodate in the future (Lonergan, 2010). “This backcasting technique is in obvious contrast to forecasting, and it is an important practical differentiation from traditional approaches; it is also likely the most difficult part of soft-path analysis and planning” (Brooks & Brandes, 2011, p. 316).
The soft-path can be applied at any level as long as there is enough data. Robust data will allow a comprehensive review and analysis of water demand and usage options (Brooks & Holtz, 2009). The framework in Figure 2. 2 below represents the steps of the soft-path approach developed by the Friends of the Earth in Canada (Forsyth, Hendricks & amachandran., 2009).
The three water management approaches ̶ supply-side, demand-side and soft-path ̶ differ significantly in terms of philosophy, basic approach, fundamental question, primary focus, tools and primary disciplines, and the planning process. While the philosophy of the supply-side (SSM) approach is that water resources are virtually limitless, Demand-side management (DSM) emphasizes conservation since water is a finite resource (Brandes & Kriwoken, 2006). However, the soft-path approach views the finite nature of water through the lens of ecological considerations. The basic approach of the supply-side approach is reactive while that of DSM is short-term and temporary. Conversely, the soft-path approach focuses on long-term and permanent attitudinal changes that promote efficient use of water (Brooks & Brandes, 2011).
The central question in the supply-side approach is how projected water demands can be met in light of population growth and current water use. In DSM, the focus goes beyond meeting the demand for saving money and conserving the environment. In contrast, the soft-path approach seeks new ways of delivering water services in a socially sustainable manner. That is, the primary focus of the supply-side approach is building infrastructure while that of DSM is efficiency. In the soft-path approach, conservation is the primary concern. It follows that the supply-side approach employs extensive engineering solutions such as dams, while DSM focuses on incentives to reduce water demand. In contrast, the soft-path approach uses more comprehensive tools such as wastewater treatment, industrial innovation, and new agricultural approaches (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). Table 2.2 summarizes these differences.
Table 2. 2 Different Approaches to Water Management: A comparison. Source: Brandes & Kriwoken, 2006.
|Supply-Side Approach||Demand-Side Approach||Soft-Path Approach|
|Philosophy|| || || |
|Basic Approach|| || || |
|Fundamental Question|| || || |
|Primary Focus|| || || |
|Tools & Primary Disciplines|| || || |
|Planning Process|| || || |
Each of the water management approaches has distinct characteristics that should be considered to gauge its efficiency. As global water resources become scarce, it is paramount for stakeholders to consider the merits and demerits of each approach to make progressive changes in water management. Examining the institutional requirements of the more progressive approach, soft-path is fundamental to successful implementation.
Successful implementation of water soft-path can only be achieved through careful consideration of the institutional factors at municipal and community levels (Patch, 2010).To examine the institutional capacity of Abu Dhabi for applying the soft-path approach, institutional capacity must be defined. William Patch (2010) carried out a study on implementing the soft-path approach to water management which illustrated that there are different definitions for capacity in the literature; nevertheless, all fit the five categories of capacities established by De Loë, Di Giantomasso, and Kreutzwiser (2002) in their study on community water protection (Patch, 2010).
The five capacity dimensions are:
- Technical capacity. Technical capacity concerns the availability of staff with the skills and knowledge to undertake various tasks involved in soft-path management. Such tasks may include assessment of threat, data management, planning, responding to emergencies, and defining water resources (Patch, 2010).
- Financial capacity. In financial capacity, an institution’s ability to implement a water soft-path is measured in terms of how much revenue it can access, its fiscal management policies, and its ability to access sufficient credit from other financial institutions (De Loë et al., 2002, p. 221).
- Institutional capacity. Institutional capacity considers the nature of the existing plans, by-laws, policies, and plans to gauge their relevance to the soft-path approach (De Loë, et al., 2002).
- Political capacity. The political capacity of an institution examines the effectiveness of its leadership and the will to establish important relationships with stakeholders such as community members, environmentalists, and other advocacy groups to spearhead the agenda of water resource conservation (De Loë et al., 2002).
- Social capacity. Social capacity delves into the details of awareness among members of the community to determine their level of appreciation of the policies or practices that are being advocated by the relevant stakeholders. It also entails the nature of community involvement (De Loë et al., 2002).
According to Patch (2010), the use of “capacity” is subjective and normative. Capacity and institutions are generally interrelated. He defined institutional capacity as the capacity described by De Loë et al. (2002). The present study will therefore use the same five dimensions. Patch (2010) identified indicators of institutional capacity for implementing soft-path water management in municipalities, classified in eight themes as illustrated in Figure 2.3, to be used by municipal water institutions to find out the requirements, needs, and prospects for soft-path implementation. Table 2. 3 shows the classification of themes and the corresponding capacity indicators (Patch, 2010).
Table 2. 3 Classification of Themes and the Corresponding Capacity Indicators. Source: Patch, 2010.
|Theme||Indicators of capacity|
|Human resources|| |
|Information resources|| |
|Financial resources|| |
|Policy and legal environment|| |
|Political environment|| |
|Community awareness and involvement|| |
|Technological solutions|| |
|Practical considerations|| |
To assess the institutional capacity of Abu Dhabi concerning the soft-path strategy, it is important to demonstrate the link between the five dimensions of capacity and the various indicators of institutional capacity. For example, Table 2.3 shows that technical capacity can be matched with the theme of human resources whose indicators of capacity include the presence of full-time municipal staff highly trained in matters of water conservation. Also, the staff should have access to further training since the policies and practices of water conservation keep changing (Patch, 2010).
The dimension of political capacity is another good example that demonstrates how the applicability of the soft-path approach and its components can be analyzed within the Abu Dhabi context. In this case, the relevant institutional capacity theme is the political environment. This is where leadership and advocacy in the area of water conservation are considered at the municipality level. For example, the extent to which water institutions work in collaboration with private entities, community organizations, and other sectors of government is paramount in determining political capacity (Bettini, Brown & de Haan, 2015). Strong leadership is crucial for encouraging stakeholders to be committed to the vision of water conservation. At the same time, water institutions gain from a wide range of expertise and advice (Patch, 2010).
Social capacity can be matched with the theme of community awareness and involvement. In this case, the main indicators of capacity are the presence of public outreach and education programs to enlighten the public on the value of water conservation. Also, capacity is determined based on whether the stakeholders in the water sector are willing to involve members of the public in the decision-making processes (Buonocore, 2014). Other aspects of assessment include the presence of community-based social marketing, outreach programs that connect neighborhoods, homeowners, and individuals, and community events that promote water conservation. At the same time, public awareness campaigns must be able to address the perceptions that impede the commitment of individuals to water conservation (Patch, 2010). For example, some communities or individuals may harbor the myth of superabundance, which must be challenged. The rationale behind community awareness as well as involvement is to increase the chances of success, to tap into the community knowledge base, and to minimize opportunities for resistance in issues of water conservation (Wutich et al., 2013).
The global water situation has been changing over recent decades as the result of a wide range of factors such as climate change, population growth, and expansion of agricultural activities. As a result, water managers have encountered new challenges that require more innovative solutions. This chapter highlighted the fact that the traditional approach to water management, that is, an emphasis on supply, is no longer feasible in the current situation. In an attempt to overcome the limitations of water supply management, water demand management is practiced in many parts of the world; through its five components, water managers have been able to minimize costs of water supply by introducing mechanisms for reducing demand.
However, the effectiveness of this approach has been eroded by factors such as income, water leakages from pipes, climate, and population growth. The soft-path approach is therefore seen as a more progressive and economically feasible management approach that ought to be pursued by water managers, especially in arid and semi-arid regions. Based on this link and the departure from the demand management policies, Abu Dhabi can make a smooth transition in its water management strategy by incorporating the soft-path concept in its current policy. Moreover, the ecological challenges that the Emirate is facing call for an approach that will work within ecological limits while also promoting community involvement in issues of water management. The successful integration of the soft-path approach will largely depend on the analysis of its institutional capacity at both community and municipality levels. The next chapter considers the methodology for determining the feasibility of the soft-path approach in Abu Dhabi.
This chapter describes the methodology used in this research to answer the study question of whether soft-path water management can be analyzed and applied for sustainable water management in Abu Dhabi. Following the theoretical framework developed in Chapter 2, this chapter includes an explanation of the research process, selection of participants for the qualitative interviews, the actual interview structure and analysis, processes of data collection for interviews and literature review, final indicators, evaluation of the study area, and any limitations and ethical considerations.
A literature review of published documents, research articles and statistical data was conducted to understand the water situation in Abu Dhabi. The process of collecting data for the review began with the researcher deciding on the scope of the topic. Databases used in the search included Google Scholar, Academic Search, ScienceDirect, Web of Science, as well as standard search engines such as Google. Inclusion criteria were peer reviews, publishing dates between 2000 and 2017, government and organizational sources (.gov,.ae,.org), and other online sources possessing relevant information.
To test the institutional capacity of Abu Dhabi Emirate to implement the soft-path approach, the researcher adopted Patch’s (2010) definition, which reviewed the concept within the context of countries classified as advanced economies (p. 18), with its eight themes and indicators (see Section 2.4 of this thesis). The indicators were modified with a measurable description of the validity of the soft-path approach to water management in Abu Dhabi; the themes are listed in Table 2.2. The suitability of the soft-path approach is studied using its four principles: treating water as a service not an end in itself, ensuring ecological sustainability, conserving quality and quantity, and backcasting (Patch, 2010, p. 47).
Collecting data from interviews and available studies allowed the researcher to obtain both personalized information on interviewees’ attitudes towards the study topic as well as statistics and reports from various organizations that monitor the water situation in Abu Dhabi. The primary data was collected by the researcher through the face-to-face interviews with each participant separately in locations that were the most convenient for them; the researcher did not ask about the work or personal life of any of the interviewees. An interview schedule was designed to help with time management and data collection, as well as later transcription and analysis. The time limit for each interview was one hour, and interviews were recorded for later transcription. As the number of individuals who can give an expert opinion on the suitability of soft-path water management in Abu Dhabi is limited, the interviews allowed the researcher to go deeper into the study questions and gather relevant and more reliable information than through a quantitative survey (Sargeant, 2012).
A purposive sampling technique was utilized to collect data. This non-random selection tool implies a deliberate choice of participants: “individuals or groups of individuals that are proficient and well-informed with a phenomenon of interest” (Etikan, Musa & Alkassim, 2016, p. 2). Given the purpose of this study, it was valid to assume that organizations operating within the water sector could share their first-hand experience and knowledge to answer the formulated research questions and fulfill the research objectives. Along with experience and knowledge, participants in purposive sampling are chosen based on their “availability and willingness to participate, and the ability to communicate experiences and opinions in an articulate … manner” (Etikan et al., 2016, p. 2). Using this method, the researcher identified a viable group of individuals who were interested in participating.
No specific number of interviewees was set, although it was expected that a substantial number of them would bring multiple perspectives to the topic. From ten potential participants, four agreed to be interviewed and three suggested further individuals, making a total of seven participants. Five interviewees were from governmental water sectors in Abu Dhabi and two were private consultants working in different water issues in the region and internationally. Those who preferred not to participate were either unavailable or felt they had insufficient expertise concerning the topic. Potential interviewees were initially contacted by e-mail (Appendix C), and their quick response indicated a high level of interest.
Structure of Interviews
The interviews were structured into two parts. Part one considered the four principles of the soft-path approach separately, allowing the researcher to differentiate between the categories of interview questions, structure their content for further analysis, and guide the conversation with participants. Subsequently, the principles served as a basis for the development of codes during analysis.
The order of the questions was chosen in such a manner that the interview included as many questions as possible about sustainability and the soft-path approach. Due to limited time, the researcher could not ask too many questions that were not linked to the study objectives. Table 3.1 lists the interview questions grouped by the soft-path principle (for details, see Chapter 2).
Table 3. 1: Interview Questions Linked to Soft-Path Principles.
|Treating water as a service rather than an end in itself|
|1||How does the Abu Dhabi government see water as a service to ensure the continuance of good public health, enhance the economy, and allow the best lifestyle to the citizens (and residents)?|
|2||In your opinion, what role does water have in achieving Abu Dhabi Vision 2030?|
|Ensuring ecological sustainability|
|3||Does the water sector consider water conservation as a priority?|
|4||How do different government/private sectors and the community support water conservation programs and planning?|
|5||What water conservation measures are taken in Abu Dhabi that can be regarded as a new source of water?|
|Conserving quality and quantity|
|6||What life-cycle (i.e. from processing water to end-of-life management of waste) assessment conservation tasks are carried out for water supply and demand?|
|7||What are the incentives for water consumers to minimize water usage?|
|8||How does current water quality match the end-users’ requirements, for example, domestic usage, irrigation, industrial activities, etc.?|
|Looking ahead by working backward|
|9||Based on your experience, how easy is the access to data forecasting water demand and population data by water sector professionals?|
|10||How is the backcasting method (i.e. defining the desired future and planning backward to the current tasks needed to achieve that future) implemented by the water sector in Abu Dhabi to set the goal(s) for future water use and conservation?|
Phase two of the interview was around analyzing the institutional capacity to implement the soft-path approach through the indicators of the eight themes. It is important to mention that the indicators that were developed as a result of the data analysis were different from that of previous research. While this study took inspiration from Patch’s (2010) themes, it focused on broader indicators because of a lack of resources to conduct more detailed interviews. Appendix D illustrates the indicators for each theme and the interview questions (for details, see Chapter 2).
To test whether these interview questions would work during face-to-face interaction with participants, a pilot (sample) interview was conducted. Such trials are essential because they allow researchers to understand possible issues that could arise while increasing the likelihood of the main study’s success (van Teijlingen & Hundley, 2002). While a pilot interview does not guarantee success, it fulfills an array of essential functions, such as providing valuable insight into participants’ reactions, that the researcher can take into account when performing the main interview (van Teijlingen & Hundley, 2002).
Analysis of Interviews
After completion of the interviews with the seven participants, the contents of the interviews were transcribed into a digital format of word processor files. Each of the seven interviews was labeled with a number (1 through 7) to ease the process of identification and avoid any disclosure of participants’ private information (Patch, 2010). To analyze the transcripts, matching was used for grouping the answers given by interviewees based on their similarities (Kohlbacher, 2006). The process of matching allowed the researcher to be more productive when dealing with a smaller number of interview transcripts while still finding connections between key topics that interviewees offered (Kohlbacher, 2006). Relevant themes arising from the research questions became a basis for the development of groups; each answer given by the interviewees was matched to a theme, and these matches were combined into groups for later analysis. This process involved the following:
- Becoming familiar with collected data: transcribing, re-reading, and noting general ideas that prevailed in interviews (Vaismoradi, Turunen & Bondas, 2013);
- Generating codes: coding interesting features that are relevant to the research topic (Patch, 2010);
- Reviewing themes: determining whether the themes identified during the code generation process are applicable for grouping by topic (Vaismoradi et al., 2013);
- Defining groups: finalizing the definitions of groups identified during code generation (Vaismoradi et al., 2013);
- Reporting: selecting final examples, linking them to thematic groups, and producing a report (Vaismoradi et al., 2013). Reporting is the final step of the analysis process and was later used by the researcher to compile the findings and research conclusions.
It is important to note that the codes included in the analysis of interviews were developed based on concepts on which interviewees had similar opinions (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). As cited in Patch (2010), concepts are words or terms that, “represent an idea important to your research problem; themes are summary statements and explanations of what is going on” (p. 60).
After coding relevant themes, the researcher sorted them to determine what the coded data meant by looking for links and patterns that connected themes and concepts and writing about them in narrative form. Each theme was accompanied by a narrative that compared and analyzed the specific answers given by the interviewees. The transcripts were subsequently reviewed and re-checked by the researcher to compose a narrative to ensure that the comparisons between respondents’ interviews were used within the appropriate context. This information was later combined with the literature review to assess Abu Dhabi’s institutional capacity to implement the soft-path approach.
This qualitative interview method allowed the researcher to evaluate the attitudes of study participants towards the phenomenon of soft-path water management in the context of Abu Dhabi (Wutich et al., 2013). The qualitative interviews served the following purposes:
- Evaluating the expert opinion about the viability of soft-path water management in Abu Dhabi;
- Demonstrating the actual viability of the soft-path approach toward sustainable water management;
- Collecting evidence regarding the applicability of the model within the Emirate.
The final results of the study were retrieved from combining the literature reviewed on the soft-path approach and its principles, and current measures to evaluate the supply and
the demand for water in Abu Dhabi (based on the statistical data from relevant authorities) with indicators which the interviewees gave either in support of or against the viability of the soft-path approach to water management in the Abu Dhabi context. Such a combination of theory and practical research enabled several conclusions to be made.
Limitations and Ethical Considerations
One key limitation of the research is related to the fact that the soft path approach to water preservation and management is relatively new, which meant that the interviewees did not always have enough knowledge of the phenomenon and could not always give informed answers about the viability of soft-path water management in Abu Dhabi.
The use of face-to-face interviews during the collection of information had other limitations. One was the short time allocated for each interviewee to consider the scope of the questions asked to respond with sufficient information. In other words, the allocation of one hour for each interview without previously providing the interviewees with the relevant materials restricted their opportunity to examine the questions in detail and to give well-informed answers. For example, many of them could only refer the interviewer to the relevant websites of different bodies for further information on specific issues. Others were only able to state a few words, which meant that the methodological approach had not prepared them well for the interview. More often than not, a face-to-face interview is expected to be highly engaging so the interviewees can provide detailed information. In the current case, it would have been better to send the questions through e-mail before scheduling the actual interview day. Nevertheless, it is expected that the current research will add to the body of available literature on the topic of soft-path water management and will provide evidence to either support or reject the use of this method.
During the interviews and their analysis, the researcher took measures to follow ethical guidelines and prevent the disclosure of participants’ personal information. These measures included sending consent letters to the participants, coding their personal information, and avoiding bias by eliminating possibilities for personal judgment and expression of opinions. All study participants were thanked for their contributions, pointing to their interest to explore the soft-path approach to water management in Abu Dhabi.
The Need for an Alternative Approach to Water Management in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Emirate is one of the aridest regions in the Middle East. Consequently, the climatic conditions and the higher level of salinity of the seawater have created immense challenges to water production and conservation (Chowdhury & Rajput, 2015). The situation is worsened by the high consumption of water in agriculture, industry, and residential areas. Indeed, Abu Dhabi has a water consumption rate that is double that in most industrialized countries (Radan, 2016). As the water demand escalates due to the increasing population, the growing number and size of the cities, and the booming economy, the EAD has warned that the rate of water consumption is 26 times that of natural water production (Radan, 2016). It is thus essential to examine the current status of water needs, supply, and demand to identify the place of the soft-path approach in water management.
This chapter examines the need for the soft-path approach by reviewing the available data on the increasingly higher water demand and the lack of success of the current approaches to water management. It presents data on water demand from previous years to the present time, and estimated water demands for the future, as provided by the relevant authorities. It also evaluates the current measures of water supply and demand management to determine their sustainability. The effects of tariff reform on water demand and supply are considered in detail by analyzing the data on water use before and after its introduction and later increase. The evidence is used to justify the need for the soft-path approach.
The chapter is divided into six sections. The first section describes the population, geography, and climate of Abu Dhabi, and the second examines the impact of economic activities, relating to the non-oil sector, and population growth on water resources and demand. The third section describes the water supply situation and the related challenges, while section four explains the various water demand management methods. Section five relates the evidence presented in the paper to justify the need for the soft-path approach.
Abu Dhabi Emirate: Geography and Demography
Abu Dhabi Emirate is the largest of the seven emirates (states) of the UAE, covering an area of 67,340 square kilometers, or about 87% of UAE’s total area. It also houses the UAE’s federal capital (Abu Dhabi Emirate, 2017). Geographically, Abu Dhabi is an island in the Arabian Gulf. To the east is Oman and to south Saudi Arabia.
Abu Dhabi is predominantly a desert country. The climate is thus hyper-arid with annual precipitation of about 100 mm. The hottest month is August with an average temperature of 36°C, while January is the coldest with a temperature of 18°C. February receives the most rainfall of 20mm on average (Annual weather averages, 2018).
According to the mid-2016 population estimates, Abu Dhabi’s population was 2.908 million, comprising 1.86 million males and 1.05 million females with about 2.36 million (91%) non-nationals (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017, p. 114). The spectacular economic growth of Abu Dhabi required an expatriate population and created the increasingly high demand for water unusual for an arid region.
Abu Dhabi Economy: Activities, Growth, and Impacts on Water
Abu Dhabi’s economic and population growth are the two primary factors affecting water demand. Although water usage has traditionally been high due to the hot climatic conditions, the economic expansion following the creation of the UAE triggered an unprecedented demand for water. Over the past decade, Abu Dhabi has seen a major expansion of its non-oil sector as well as expanded economic opportunities due to the expansion of free trade. As it’s Gross Domestic Product grows, Abu Dhabi’s job market has attracted more expatriate workers. The subsequent economic output and population growth have resulted in more urbanization and the construction of more commercial and residential properties. At the same time, more industrial parks have been established alongside a growing agricultural sector to feed the population. When all these factors are combined, they have created a strong impact on water demand and water consumption per capita (Paul, Al Tenaiji & Braimah, 2016).
This section discusses the diversification of Abu Dhabi’s economy through the expansion of the non-oil economy, and its impact on water demand, considered in light of water use across different sectors of the economy and the subsequent population growth. The average annual rate of population growth from mid-2010 to mid-2016 is 5.6%, which means a total of three to five million by 2030 (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). This section outlines the impact of the increase in economic activities and population size on water demand, and the ineffectiveness of the present water management system, highlighting the need for an alternative approach to water management: the soft-path approach. It is divided into the growth of the non-oil sector, population growth, and water use in different sectors.
Growth of non-oil sector
Abu Dhabi depended heavily on the oil sector to develop its economy. However, the need to control the balance of trade deficit in the non-oil sector has prompted efforts to expand the non-oil economy from 49% in 2014 to 64% by the year 2030 as part of its Vision 2030 economic strategy (Abu Dhabi, 2008, p. 127).
Figure 4.1 represents the contribution of the different non-oil sectors to the Emirate’s GDP in 2012 and 2013. According to the Statistics Center Abu Dhabi (2017), the non-oil sector in 2013 contributed to a GDP of Dh 423.95 billion or USD115.42 billion at current prices (p. 18). The different sectors that contributed to the GDP with their percentage contribution are presented in Table 4.1. The key sectors of the non-oil economy include manufacturing and construction, which consume a lot of water.
In addition to the above data, the contribution of fishing, forestry, and farming activities to the 2014 GDP in Abu Dhabi was 0.6% or $1.66 billion (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017, p. 21). In the first quarter of 2015, the non-oil sector represented 50.7% of the GDP. Similar growth of the sector was recorded in the third quarter of 2015 in which the non-oil sector GDP grew by 7.1% in terms of fixed prices compared to 3.9% for the oil sector (Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, 2016). In the first quarter of 2016, the GDP increased by 6% compared to 2015. Of the 2016 GDP growth, the non-oil sector accounted for Dh527.846 billion (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017, p. 18).
These statistics indicate the clear intention of the Abu Dhabi government to diversify the economy by investing in and prioritizing the non-oil sector. If the intention to expand the non-oil economy is implemented, the water sector will need to adopt more efficient ways of conserving the available water resources because this sector employs increasingly more expatriates than the oil sector.
Abu Dhabi’s population is increasing at a rate that has created unprecedented levels of water demand. The Statistics Center Abu Dhabi (2017) has indicated an average annual population growth rate of 5.6% from mid-2010 to mid-2016 (p. 114). The Emirate has experienced considerable pressure from the increasing demand for water and housing due to this population growth (Oxford Business Group, 2010, p. 129; Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017, p. 11).
The data presented in Appendix E represents the peak water demand forecast made earlier by ADWEC. The data indicates that Abu Dhabi may experience an average increase of 57,631 MIG (262million m3) in water demand from 2011 to 2040 (ADWEC, 2016). Figure 4.2 shows the annual percentage change of water demand from 2011 with projected estimates from 2017 to 2030 with the minimum percentage change expected to occur from 2029 to 2030 at 1.76% (ADWEC, 2016).
The total peak water demand in Abu Dhabi will increase from 648 MIG (2.95 million m3) a day in 2011 to 910 MIG (4.13million m3) a day by 2040 (Appendix F; Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). The estimated per capita data for water demand between 2012 and 2030 are presented in Table 4.3. It shows that the demand from 2018 to 2030 is predicted to decrease annually (ADWEC, 2016). However, the demand levels are still high, and incorporating the soft-path approach will further reduce the annual demand levels. This is because the soft-path approach will encourage better water management practices that will reduce demand.
Considering the data presented above, it is important to examine the water consumption across different sectors to get a clearer picture of the water needs in Abu Dhabi.
Water use in different sectors
Abu Dhabi has two major sources of water: groundwater and desalinated seawater. In addition to these sources, treated wastewater is a source mainly used for irrigation. Groundwater is a critical source since it constitutes 56.43% of the overall supply, followed by desalinated seawater at 34.44% (S. Pearson 2018, personal communication, 18 April). The latter is almost exclusively used for irrigation while the former is used for both irrigation and household needs. However, part of the total volume of water supplied to irrigation comes from treated wastewater, which accounts for 9.14% of the total supply (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). The volume of groundwater supplied in 2016 was 442,798 MIG (2,013 million m3) a year (S. Pearson 2018, personal communication, 18 April). The total volume of supplied desalinated water equaled 270,241 MIG (1,228million m3) a year, while treated wastewater amounted to around 245,265 MIG (1,115 million m3) in 2016 (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017).
According to the data provided in Table 4. 1, domestic activities such as showering comprised the largest consumption of desalinated water from 2008 to 2015 (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). Although agriculture is the largest consumer of water in Abu Dhabi, this fact does not apply when only desalinated water is considered, as most of the water for agriculture is sourced from groundwater (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). Conversely, desalinated water is the primary source of water for domestic purposes. The data emphasize the need for effective domestic water management since desalination is the principal source for Abu Dhabi (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2015).
Table 4. 1 Consumption of Desalinated Water in Abu Dhabi from 2008-2015. Source: Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017.
|Sector||Desalinated water use by sector, million m3|
Figure 4.4 shows the annual rate of desalinated water consumption in Abu Dhabi Emirate with the 2016 consumption amounting to 245,463.6 MIG (1,115.9 million m3) (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). Overall, Figure 4.4 demonstrates a slight decrease in the consumption volumes from 2015 to 2016. Additionally, Table 4.2 shows the daily average consumption and daily average consumption per capita. In 2015, the annual volume of consumed desalinated water was 253,974.4 MIG (1,154.6 million m3), with an average daily consumption of 695.1 MIG (3.16 million m3) (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2015).
Table 4. 2 Total and Per Capita Consumption of Desalinated Water. Source: Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2015.
|Year||Daily average consumption. (Million cubic meters)||Daily average consumption per capita (Million cubic meters)|
As Abu Dhabi makes efforts to expand its non-oil sector, including manufacturing and construction, it is vital to establish an efficient water management policy. The pressure of population growth and expanding cities calls for the re-evaluation of the current methods of water supply to identify the deficiencies and opportunities for improvement. In the next section, the current status of water supply and the associated limitations are explored.
Water supply: Sources and Issues
Water availability is the main environmental challenge that Abu Dhabi Emirate is currently facing. The fact that Abu Dhabi depends heavily on groundwater creates a complex situation, considering that this is a non-renewable resource. At the same time, freshwater sources are scarce due to the high salinity of the water, coupled with the dry conditions and lack of rain (Environmental Atlas of Abu Dhabi Emirate, 2017).
The main sources of water in Abu Dhabi are groundwater and desalinated seawater (see Table 4. 3). The volume of groundwater is around 442,798 MIG (2,013million m3) (S. Pearson 2018, personal communication, 18 April). Most of the groundwater comes from the Bajada region where there exist some aquifers along the base of the mountains. The shallow aquifers regenerate their volume from surface water in rain but due to the high evaporation rate, only 10% reaches them. Desalinated water is mainly used for domestic purposes. It is a costly process and only nine desalination plants exist in Abu Dhabi. Treated wastewater is also used in the irrigation of plants and highway landscaping.
Table 4. 3 Water Supply Trend in Abu Dhabi.
|Quantity of Water Resources in Million Cubic Metres||2016|
|Average Groundwater Feed||2,013|
Despite the limited water resources, Abu Dhabi continues to have one of the highest per-capita domestic water use in the world. The allocation of freshwater to the agricultural and forestry sectors causes serious wastage. Only in recent years have amenity planting, forestry, and agriculture been using water for irrigation without restrictions (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2012). The construction of desalination plants is a costly process in addition to having potentially adverse effects on the ecosystem (Absal, 2010a). Therefore, the capacity to supply water sustainably in the longer term is limited by certain natural and environmental obstacles that need to be highlighted.
Depletion of groundwater
One of the major natural hindrances to the sustainable water supply is the fact that the Emirate depends heavily on groundwater abstraction and seawater desalination. As it was mentioned above, groundwater currently constitutes 61,1% of the total consumption (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). Unfortunately, water experts have predicted that Abu Dhabi’s groundwater resources may face total depletion by the year 2040 if no practical measures are taken to mitigate the current rate of withdrawal (Radan, 2016). It is worth noting that desalination has been the pillar of economic prosperity and the modern lifestyle in Abu Dhabi. Therefore, the depletion of groundwater could cause the collapse of the Emirate’s economy and society unless better water management initiatives are implemented (Radan, 2016).
The fact that groundwater is a major source of water for Abu Dhabi’s different sectors has created another environmental challenge: minimal replenishing. According to the Oxford Business Group (2016), the rate of groundwater removal is 23 times higher than the rate of natural recharge. Indeed, the difference between withdrawal and replenishing accounts for the predicted depletion of this important water resource. Also, Abu Dhabi is geographically situated in an area of extreme summer temperatures (46-50oC) and low rainfall (100mm annual average) (UNEP, 2016). The high temperatures of Abu Dhabi contribute to the high consumption of water for agricultural and domestic use.
The temperature also reduces the rate of water percolation into the ground due to the high rate of evaporation (2-3 m per year) (UNEP, 2016). Low water percolation further reduces the rate at which groundwater sources are replenished (Mohamed, Murad & Chowdhury, 2017). The annual precipitation has been the lowest during the last ten years, thus slowing the rate of groundwater recharge. Since Abu Dhabi depends heavily on groundwater systems for water production, the low rate of natural recharge poses a serious threat to the water supply. Moreover, excessive pumping of the groundwater for agricultural purposes has reduced the quantity and quality (Dougherty et al, 2009). According to the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (2012), only 3% of the groundwater was fresh in 2011, with nearly 80% saline and 18% brackish. These statistics indicate the worsening quality of the groundwater and the subsequent unsustainability of this water source.
Threat to marine species
The heavy dependence on desalination for the supply of water in Abu Dhabi has also created environmental and ecological challenges due to the release of large amounts of salt back into the sea. According to the Statistics Center Abu Dhabi (2015), 205,891MIG (936 million m3) was produced from seawater desalination in 2015, compared to 140,120 MIG (637 million m3) ten years earlier. The brine released from desalination processes has caused salinity levels of the seawater to go as high as 70,000 ppm (Radan, 2016), as compared to the natural salinity of 40,000 ppm. Such extreme salinity levels and the chemicals that are present in brine are a threat to marine species (Absal, 2010). Consequently, the fishing industry may suffer a major blow from the current desalination methods.
It is also important to note that drawing too much water from the Gulf near-shore regions is a threat to marine biodiversity because it tends to affect other oceanographic parameters such as dissolved oxygen and temperature (Absal, 2009). The growth of certain species of red tide such as Cochlodinium polykrikoides is also encouraged by high salinity and temperature levels in the water (Kim et al., 2004). In 2009, the authorities in Abu Dhabi indicated the possibility of red tides invading the beaches due to high salinity. Red tides are known to release poisonous substances such as neurotoxic and paralytic shellfish poisoning that kill fish and other marine life (Absal, 2009).
Financial constraints and wastage of treated water
A large part of water utilized for household purposes (e.g., toilet flushing, showers, washing machines, etc.) in Abu Dhabi is made available through desalination. Desalination plants are costly ventures that require massive investment. The construction cost of a single plant to desalinate 100 million gallons a day is Dh7 billion or USD 1.9 billion (Absal, 2010). The EAD has indicated that the current level of investment in desalination cannot sustain the water needs of the growing population and industry. As a result, only by doubling the investment will the country be able to be self-sufficient in clean water for multipurpose use (Graves, 2016). From a cost consideration, building additional desalination plants does not constitute a sustainable solution in the long-term (Absal, 2010).
The Emirate has a wastewater sector in which Abu Dhabi’s Sewerage and Services Company (ADSSC) has established projects to ensure that wastewater from industrial, commercial, and domestic sources is collected and treated before being supplied for irrigation and other use (Regulation and Supervision Bureau, 2015b). Projects such as STEP, are intended to increase the treatment capacity to175.98 MIG (0.8 million m3) a day, up from 98.99 MIG (0.45 million m3) (Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme, 2018). However, wastewater treatment projects are costly ventures that may meet budget constraints. For example, STEP will cost the economy $1.6 billion (Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme, 2018). Also, there are problems of septic contamination and wastage. In terms of wastage, there is a concern that despite wastewater being treated to tertiary levels, its re-use in 2016was only 51% while the remainder is discharged in the surrounding environment (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). Such huge wastages show that there is an inefficient use of treated wastewater. Consequently, greater investment is necessary to increase the connection between treatment plants and irrigation systems. Such additional financial demands have reduced the economic feasibility of wastewater treatment.
In a nutshell, the water supply in Abu Dhabi is marred by a variety of environmental, conservational, financial, and natural hindrances that must be understood within the current water demand management framework to develop solutions. Under these circumstances of water production and distribution, an examination of the various water demand management initiatives would inform the need for alternatives, the soft-path approach in this case.
Water demand management
Water demand management is characterized by the establishment of infrastructure to make water available in line with the needs of the population. Consequently, it is influenced by water conservation programs, technology, population, economic cycle, and water loss through leakage. As per 2016, the annual domestic consumption water in Abu Dhabi is estimated to be between 103,825 MIG (472million m3) (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). Such a high consumption, despite the scarcity of water resources, is driven by heavy water usage for outdoor and indoor activities (Chowdhury & Rajput, 2015). To limit the escalating demand for water, several demand management tools have been used by the water sector.
Water demand management methods
The water sector of Abu Dhabi has applied several water demand management methods to reduce water losses through leakage and wastewater. More importantly, the objective of methods such as water pricing through tariffs is to ensure the prudent use of water by individuals because of the financial implications of using higher quantities of water (Billings & Jones, 2008). Ultimately, the water sector aims to reduce the overall demand in Abu Dhabi. Other factors such as the expansion of income and rapid economic growth have reduced the effectiveness of water pricing in lowering individual water demand.
In Abu Dhabi, wastewater treatment is concerned with collecting all the water that is discharged from industrial, commercial, and domestic sources before treating it for reuse in irrigation. The use of wastewater treatment technologies to supplement the water needs of Abu Dhabi has become more important by the day for its potential to cater to the water needs in the agricultural sector. In essence, treated wastewater is an important source of water for irrigation (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2013). As the economy expands and the population grows, it is expected that treated wastewater will become an even more important source of water for reuse (EAD, 2013).
However, major obstacles are associated with treated wastewater projects, including the constraining budgetary requirements and wastage of the treated water. For example, about 49% of the treated water is released back into the environment without being put to productive use (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). A huge budgetary requirement ($1.6 billion) for the implementation of STEP are additional challenges in this sector (EAD, 2013). Also, wastewater treatment plants are prone to septic contamination, which must be resolved before it can become an efficient tool for managing water demand. Issues of septic contamination, wastage of treated wastewater, and the immense costs of implementing the relevant infrastructure programs should be handled through better planning. (Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme, 2018).
A water tariff was implemented in 2015 as a way of enforcing better practices of water conservation among the expatriates and Emiratis (Utilities ME, 2014). The government imposed a progressive tariff system. For those living in flats, the rates are lower than those in villas, as the latter are more likely to consume more water. Once the consumption exceeds the set limit, the water tariff becomes comparatively much higher to discourage higher consumption.
Emiratis living in flats had to pay 1.7 dirhams for every 1,000 liters of water consumed within a maximum daily usage of 700 liters (AADC, 2015). Those living in villas were charged the same rate up to 7,000 liters a day, but consumption exceeding this level attracted a higher rate of 1.89 dirhams per 1,000 liters (AADC, 2015). Expatriates were required to pay between 5.95 dirhams/1,000 liters up to 700 liters in flats and 5.95 dirhams/1,000 liters up to 5,000 liters in villas (AADC, 2015). Consumption exceeding this level would attract a higher rate of 10.55 dirhams per 1,000 liters (AADC, 2015; Table 4.4)
Table 4. 4: Water Tariff in Abu Dhabi Introduced in 2015 and the Revised Tariff of 2017. Source: AADC, 2017; AADC, 2015.
|Customer||Property||2015 water tariff |
|Average Daily consumption liters/day||2017 (Revised Tariff) AED/1,000 litres.||Average daily consumption liters/day|
|Emiratis||Flat||1.70||up to 700||2.09||up to 700|
|1.89||over 700||2.06||over 700|
|Villa||1.70||up to 7,000||2.09||up to 7,000|
|1.89||over 7,000||2.60||over 7,000|
|Expatriates||Flat||5.95||up to 700||7.84||up to 700|
|10.55||over 700||10.41||over 700|
|Villa||5.95||up to 5,000||7.84||up to 5,000|
|10.55||over 5,000||10.41||over 5,000|
The revised tariffs of 2017 are shown in Table 4. 4. This change constitutes an 18.7% increase from the 2015 rate (AADC, 2017). In particular, the original rate for Emiratis living in flats and villas was not sufficient to encourage a culture of water conservation. Less change was required for expatriates; those consuming up to 5,000 liters only have to pay an extra 1.91 dirhams, while those consuming more than 5,000 liters a day in villas will pay 0.14 dirhams less than the 2015 rate (AADC, 2017). Overall, the changes are needed to curb the high rate of water consumption in the domestic sector, which largely comprises residents living in flats.
The ADWEC peak water demand forecast from 2011 to 2040 (ADWEC, 2016) shows that demand increased steadily across all three regions between 2011 and 2015. The 2015 tariffs did not reduce water demand for that year, which increased by 36 units compared to 2014 data. However, the demand declined slightly in 2016 and 2017 for the Abu Dhabi and Al Ain region, but only in 2016 for Al Dhafrahregion (ADWEC, 2016). The period of decline, that is 2017, coincides with the introduction of the revised tariffs, intended to encourage the adoption of water-saving practices by consumers. However, higher tariffs only have a temporary impact as long as the population has the financial capacity to pay more for its water.
Since the goal of the tariffs is to curb unsustainable water use practices, it begs the question of whether the current policy and regulatory measures are sufficient to achieve this goal. Moreover, the data in Appendix F shows an average annual population increase of 5.6% between 2010 and 2016 (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017). In a scenario where the quality of life of the population continues to improve alongside a growing economy, people will become better able to pay for the water and therefore continue to use it in any way they wish as long as they can afford it. In this respect, water pricing strategies are not the remedy to the current and future water demand in Abu Dhabi. A more practical approach should be gradually integrated into the current water demand management.
The need for soft-path approach to water management in Abu Dhabi
The evidence presented above suggests that, due to policy and institutional deficiencies, the supply of water in Abu Dhabi has been expensive because of over-dependence on desalinated water. The cost of desalination and wastewater treatment is already prohibitive and unsustainable. Coupled with the near-depletion of groundwater reserves and the threat to the marine ecosystem, the current trajectory in terms of water production, supply, and consumption in Abu Dhabi is not practical for the growing economy. It will take the collaborative efforts of government, water managers and engineers, and environmentalists to raise the level of public awareness on sustainable water conservation as envisaged by the soft-path approach. Until people begin to reduce their water consumption based on a personal desire to preserve scarce resources and not because of water tariffs or other penalties, the goal of attaining sustainability in the water sector will remain out of reach.
Summary and conclusions
As arid conditions continue to dominate the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the chances of sustainable economic growth and overall prosperity will be enhanced by complementing the current water demand management approach with the more wholesome and sustainable soft-path approach. As it stands, the water situation in Abu Dhabi will deteriorate as the population and economy grow, despite the introduction of water pricing. The researcher has demonstrated that key demand management tools are subject to major limitations that can only be solved through a soft-path approach. As water experts continue to predict a possible water demand crisis in the future, it is high time for water managers to adopt the soft-path approach to ease the anticipated pressure on the available resources. The fact that the soft-path approach acknowledges the complex interaction between human activity and the natural environment makes it a suitable choice for Abu Dhabi. Moreover, Abu Dhabi requires a water management policy that will incorporate its ecological challenges while ensuring optimal community involvement in issues of water management. The available data should continue to be a constant reminder that the soft-path approach may be the best alternative for Abu Dhabi. However, is this approach to sustainable water management suitable and implementable in Abu Dhabi? The next chapter attempts to answer these questions.
Interviews and Analysis
The objective of the present chapter is to examine and evaluate the applicability and institutional capacity of the soft-path approach in the Emirate, focusing on responses from seven interviewees from different areas of Abu Dhabi’s water sector. Before the interview, the respondents were briefly informed about the essence of the soft-path approach for sustainable water management, as well as its major principles and criteria. Their reaction to the information provided varied from neutral to positive. Nevertheless, considering the newness of the given method, most of the interviewees had limited knowledge about it, so they were not able to provide comprehensive answers to all the questions regarding the applicability of the soft path in Abu Dhabi.
The chapter is divided into two sections, corresponding to the two parts of the interviews. Section 1: Applicability includes the discussion and analysis of interviews in the context of the four major soft-path approach principles: treating water as a service, ecological sustainability, conserving water quantity and quality, and backcasting. The objective of this section is to evaluate the identified themes in terms of their implications for the soft-path approach to water management in Abu Dhabi. Section 2: Implementability reviews and analyzes interviewees’ responses concerning eight themes that determine the institutional capacity for the soft-path approach: human resources, informational resources, financial resources, political environment, policy and legal environment, community awareness, technological solutions, and practical considerations. The current strengths and limitations of the organizational capacity to implement the soft-path approach to water management, along with practical implications, are discussed in the conclusion to the chapter.
Section 1: Applicability
Section 1 of the interviews aimed at evaluating the applicability of the soft-path approach in Abu Dhabi, based on the four principles of soft-path water management. The responses from the seven interviewees were used to identify common themes. The analysis begins by defining and characterizing the four principles of the soft-path approach to relate each concept to the identifiable themes from the interviewees’ responses. The claims of the interviewees are also discussed in detail by citing relevant literature and government documents before analyzing the outcomes of key projects and programs mentioned by the interviewees.
Treating Water as a Service
Management of water resources as a service is a central concept of the soft-path approach. It recognizes that people require a combination of services and goods to satisfy their needs. Within this combination of services is water. Therefore, water is managed as a means to an end and not an end in itself (see Section 2.3.3). When water is regarded as a service, the water sector saves resources because the need for large infrastructural projects to satisfy water demand is reduced. Rather, the focus shifts to making partnerships between various providers so that their services are more responsive to the needs of water users. In other words, the implementation of this principle implies the cooperation between individuals, government, and companies to develop sustainable methods required to meet the water needs of businesses and people (Arscott, 2015). This principle indicates that the soft-path approach as opposed to focusing solely on water supply.
The criteria of the given soft-path principle include sufficient water production and development of infrastructure for water supply, utilization of water-efficient technologies, and implementation of regulations aimed at managing consumer behaviors (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). The three themes identified from the interview results are consistent with these. They include investment in water production and wastewater treatment, as well as incentives to minimize water usage, including the promotion of water-efficient technologies.
Investments in water production and wastewater treatment: The purpose of investing in water production is to ensure that water is supplied constantly and at a reasonable cost. All the Interviewees agreed that the water sector has invested in water production and distribution systems. Interviewees 3 and 6 said that this practice was by Law No. 2 of 1998, which requires that consumers remain connected to water without interruption.
All the Interviewees agreed that seawater desalination and wastewater treatment plants are a major investment. Interviewee 3 stated that the expansion of current desalination capacities in the Emirate is used as a primary strategy for water demand management. Interviewee 6 added that the cost for the production of desalinated water remains high and equals approximately DH 10 per 1000 IG (4.55 m3). Although officials continually aim to cut costs by implementing new technologies and optimizing the water production process (Interviewee 6), nevertheless, both Interviewee 3 and 6 emphasized the necessity to increase the utilization of other types of water, including treated wastewater. [A2] Interviewee 6 noted that since the government is aware of the value of water for sustainable development, it has given the Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC) the mandate for the collection and treatment of wastewater.
Another investment is in irrigation technology. Interviewee 4 noted that local farmers are provided with assistance, namely, education and financial support, to improve irrigation technology and innovative irrigation. Additionally, to show that water is treated as a service, Interviewee 5[A3] alluded to the 2016 first consultation document in which licensed tankers to ensure the continuous supply of potable water and safe wastewater collection. The consultation provides a regulatory framework for the provision of water and wastewater services by tankers for the consumers.
Incentives to minimize water usage: For water to qualify as a service, people require additional motivation through government action to use less of it but still satisfy their needs. All the Interviewees mentioned such major incentives as progressive rates in water tariffs and the promotion of sustainable urban developments, including the use of water-efficient technologies. The presence of these incentives in Abu Dhabi is motivated by the need to conserve scarce resources.
The first of the identified incentives, progressive rates in water tariffs, was mentioned by all the interviewees. For instance, Interviewee 5 alluded to the fact that tariff reform has been necessitated by the high per capita water consumption in Abu Dhabi, which is one of the highest in the world. Despite the high consumption, potable and domestic use constitute less than 10% of total use. Interviewee 5 noted that activities, such as landscaping, which was previously using 439,93MIG (200 million m3) per day, and irrigation, are the greatest consumers of water in Abu Dhabi. However, the tariff reforms have influenced major changes including the increased use of treated wastewater for landscaping (Interviewee 5).
Interviewee 2 expressed the opinion that the progressive rate in tariffs for potable water is not high enough to act as strong incentives for water conservation. Also, it was mentioned that tariffs for treated wastewater and groundwater are too low to reflect the actual costs involved in production and distribution. At the same time, Interviewee 6 reiterated that before 2015, water consumption habits were not strongly influenced by the need to conserve water. However, the structural changes in water tariffs to reflect the true cost of water production has made people rethink their lifestyles and use less water. Interviewee 4 agreed with Interviewee 6, noting that the new tariff system is meant to recover the cost of water production.
Interviewee 1 noted that since the tariff introduction in 2015, people have been trying to use less water; consumers aim to be in the green band where they pay less, as opposed to the red band where an additional cost is incurred. Similarly, Interviewee 3 noted that water bill reforms have made people rethink their lifestyles because of the economic implications. Interviewee 3 added that by having separate tariffs for water and electricity, consumers feel more responsible for their consumption habits. Although water tariffs form a small part of the demand-side management, additional incentives are required, such as those of the Energy Services Companies (ESCO). Interviewee 3 also commented that ESCO has achieved water and energy efficiency in buildings.
One of the key highlights of the interviews was the role of water in defining the environmental framework that will guide the design and construction of buildings under the Pearl Rating System (PRS) (Interviewees 3, 5 & 7[A4] ). The PRS has established sustainability requirements that all commercial, residential, and government buildings are expected to satisfy so that all developments are sustainable. Interviewee 3 stated that urban development initiatives under the PRS are essential because the green building rating system aims to ensure efficiency in the distribution of water resources and a demand reduction.
As for other sustainable urban developments, Interviewee 4 noted that parks have been designed using hard landscaping to minimize planting. Interviewee 4 also reiterated that the cultivation of drought-tolerant plants is a good strategy that will ensure sustainable production of food. An example is the Al Ain municipality, which is set to develop guidelines for drought-tolerant in agriculture. Another discussed sustainability strategy involves adopting a water-balance approach and implementing leak-repair programs in both mains and conduits. The distribution companies also submit 5-year planning statements to RSB, which assesses the information on leaks, utilization of assets, etc. (Interviewees 2 & 3). In terms of the conditions for planning the statement, RSB will audit the interim profit and loss account and separate business accounts (SBAs) of the distribution companies.
Lastly, the interview results make it clear that the government has encouraged the use of water-efficient irrigation and water distribution systems. For example, the government actively promotes the utilization of water fixtures and water-efficient taps (Interviewees 1, 2, 4 & 5) and detection of leakages along water distribution lines (Interviewees 3, 4 & 5). Interviewee 5 referred to techniques for detecting leaks, such as surveying the distribution system using licensed listening equipment, identifying the sound of leaks, and pinpointing the exact locations of hidden leaks. These technologies are currently implemented by water distribution companies to detect leakages and measure water loss.
Authenticating the Interviewees’ Claims
It is important to verify from the published sources and other related data the information provided by the Interviewees, to enhance the credibility of the study findings. In this section, the relevant literature that supports the observations of the Interviewees about the identified themes is cited.
Investments in water production: Water production in such a water-scarce area as Abu Dhabi is a costly venture because of the need to use advanced technology to extract and desalinate sufficient amounts of water to meet the demand. In this way, treating water as a service can ease the investment burden because water creates more value to the users in return for a higher financial gain. However, it is worth noticing that the financial returns are crucial for reinvesting in both water infrastructure and innovative technological solutions in water services (Arscott, 2015).
In Abu Dhabi, much of the cost of water production is incurred through the construction of desalination plants. Additional investments are also made in building wastewater treatment plants and water distribution systems. The observation by all the Interviewees that desalination and wastewater treatment plants are the major investments in Abu Dhabi’s water sector is supported by the literature and shows how water is treated as a service by the government. Desalination is the primary means of water production. In 2014, for instance, 92.4% of water production in Abu Dhabi was achieved through thermal desalination (Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council, 2017). However, it costs millions of dollars to construct a desalination plant. In its latest bid to enhance water production, Abu Dhabi has planned to construct a desalination plant whose cost is estimated to be between USD 600 million and 1.2 billion (Davids, 2018). As stated by the Regulation and Supervision Bureau (2016), the total production capacity of the nine desalination plants in 2016 equaled 270,241 MIG (1,228.54 million m3). At the same time, it is worth noting that desalination is an energy-intensive process as the plants use electricity as well as solar energy. Nair and Kumar (2012) commented that the unit cost for desalinated water produced by multistage flash distillation equals USD0.52/m3 in the Middle East, and Abu Dhabi in particular.
Similar efforts have been made to construct wastewater treatment plants and upgrade sewage disposal systems. According to the Regulation and Supervision Bureau (2016), Abu Dhabi has 40 plants for wastewater treatment “operated by the three major licensees across the Emirate in 2016, comprising 7,770km of sewers, 40 STPs and 490km of treated wastewater network” (p. 34). The consumer base for these catchments comprised 370,000 individuals and organizations. The key reason for investing in wastewater treatment is to supplement desalination and groundwater sources. The Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme (STEP), “a huge gravity-driven hydraulic wastewater network tunnel” which will cost USD1.6 billion, is among the latest examples of mega projects undertaken by the ADSSC in the wastewater sector (Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme, 2018). The construction of a deep sewer tunnel will allow Abu Dhabi “to do away with 35 existing pumping stations which are on the verge of finishing their useful life” (Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme, 2018, para. 2). The project will help ADSSC increase the volume of treated water from about 450,000m³ per day to 800,000m³ (Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme, 2018).
Incentives to minimize water usage: According to Arscott (2015), the effectiveness of incentives to reduce water usage is largely determined by how the consumers value water as a service. Where people undervalue water, strong incentives are needed to persuade them to place a higher value on the water. This could happen by reducing the gap between what the users pay and the true value of water. In this case, a higher price would make the users rethink their consumption habits (Arscott, 2015).
The use of water pricing in Abu Dhabi as a strategy to minimize water usage is evident from the RSB and AADC websites, which describe the various water tariff rates for Emiratis and expatriates living in flats and villas (see Chapter 4). The implementation of standard and variable tariffs means that water consumption up to a certain limit is charged at the same rate. Once the consumption units go above the threshold, any additional units attract a marginal price increase (Arbués, García-Valiñas & Martínez-Espiñeira, 2003). Water tariffs in Abu Dhabi were first introduced in 2015 and then revised upwards in 2017 to encourage greater water conservation (AADC, 2017).
According to Srouji (2017), water rates for non-nationals were introduced in 1997 but remained the same until 2015, the year in which Emiratis were first charged. The 1997 charge was AED 2.2/m3at a constant rate, which covered only 29% of the desalination and distribution costs (Srouji, 2017); this was increased in 2015 and set at a higher threshold than for Emiratis (see Chapter 4).
The ESCOs and the PRS also aim to increase water use efficiency. Overall, “ESCOs act as project developers for a comprehensive range of energy conservation measures and assume the technical and performance risks associated with a project” (Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, n.d.). In Abu Dhabi, ESCO licensing was initiated under the ADWEA Tarsheed program, which aims to help private and public entities to obtain bids for energy improvements at competitive rates. ESCO will enable private and public bodies to reduce their operating costs by investing in buildings that have implemented or are willing to implement the water and electricity efficiency standards. Also, consumers will use less water and power towards the 2030 strategic objective of reducing consumption by 20% (ADWEA, 2017).
Similarly, the PRS has established sustainability requirements that all commercial, residential, and government buildings are expected to satisfy so that all developments are sustainable. The PRS is classified into seven categories in which optional and mandatory credits can be earned by a project. For example, all government-funded building projects must become Pearl Rated by satisfying all mandatory credit requirements, such as the building capacity for energy conservation and reduction of water demand through re-use of water, to receive approval from the planning authorities (UPC, 2017). Water is an essential pillar of the PRS since Pearl aims to ensure efficiency in the distribution of water resources and a reduction of water demand (UPC, 2017).
To evaluate the relevance of the interview results regarding Abu Dhabi’s water sector, a discussion of achievements in the implementation of water tariffs as the major incentive to minimize water usage, as well as the realization of water production investment projects, is provided in the following paragraphs.
Investment in water production and infrastructure development: According to the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (2017), “through several different entities, the emirate has made significant investments in technical innovations to improve groundwater levels”, including the creation of solar-powered desalination units, etc. (p. 73). These projects helped to increase the quality and quantity of the water produced and, in this way, increasing the capacity to use the resource for various purposes including potable, agricultural irrigation, etc. In recent years, Abu Dhabi has also invested in four new large plants which added “a treatment capacity of 187MIGD (850,000 m3/day) to serve more than 3 million inhabitants” (McDonnell & Silva, 2012, p. E-117). Considering that it is expected to substitute the use of expensive desalinated water with reclaimed water (McDonnell & Silva, 2012), such investments in wastewater treatment are essential. The Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme (STEP) will also largely facilitate the achievement of this goal.
Minimization of water usage: The implementation of water tariffs in Abu Dhabi is one of the major water management initiatives that meet the soft-path approach criteria. Its results have been controversial so far. According to Srouji (2017), who commented that even after the nationals experienced the first water tariff in 2015, the impact on water demand in their households and villas was not significant. The price charged for water did not reflect the actual cost of production, distribution, and supply. Specifically, Srouji compared the price elasticity of water demand between nationals and non-nationals following the implementation of the 2015 water tariff and concluded that it was higher among expatriates than Emirati nationals: an indication that non-nationals were more incentivized economically to adjust their water consumption downwards since their tariff rate was higher (Srouji, 2017). It is valid to say that the differences in the quantity of demand between nationals and non-nationals were largely defined by the level of income in the two groups. As Srouji (2017) notes, “income is a variable that contains its elasticity measure and is a determinant of demand as well” (p. 10). It means that higher incomes among nationals can lead to more water consumed and may contribute to the inability to change their consumption behaviors in line with economic stimuli.
To justify the reason for the revised 2017 tariff rates in which both segments of the population had to pay more than in previous years, Srouji (2017) presented some statistical findings: 47% of residents in villas who remained in the red band at the end of 2015 were nationals, while only 16% of non-nationals were in the red band. Similarly, 64.4% of residents in flats who remained in the red band at the end of 2015 were Emirati nationals, compared to 36.7% of non-nationals. Therefore, the 2015 tariffs required some adjustments to further reduce the national category in the red band who were contributing significantly to water overconsumption (Srouji, 2017).
As for such initiatives as the PRS, its potential to improve water conservation is exemplified by the outcomes of its implementation in Al Ghuraibah villas, which are ten kilometers from Al Ain City Centre. Under the Pearl Villa System, the project achieved a rating of ‘2’, which means that it uses less than four liters per m2 per day for landscape irrigation. It also achieved 7 credits for Precious Water, which translates to a 34.6% reduction in water consumption (Mohammed, Fathi & Zaki, 2014).
Lastly, the utilization of water-efficient irrigation systems is on the rise in Abu Dhabi. As stated by Kaber (2014), the Abu Dhabi Farmers Service Centre has distributed such technologies as inline pressure compensating dripline and adjustable online drip systems to “over 90 percent of farms in the Western Region in the emirate and trained more than 6,000 workers in water-saving techniques” (para. 8). These technologies can foster up to a 46% reduction in agricultural water use (Kaber, 2014). Since these water-efficient irrigation systems help prevent overwatering and leaks, they can significantly contribute to the conservation of the resource.
As for specific improvements in landscaping, such as using drought-tolerant trees and grass species, these are critical for greater water conservation and continued ecological protection. It is observed that the green sector in the UAE currently “depends completely on exotic species and irrigation water mostly from nonrenewable ground resources” (Alam, Khattak, Ppoyil, Kurup, & Ksiksi, 2017, p. 737). Compared to native plant species, exotic species, utilized in local landscapes mainly for aesthetic reasons, require high maintenance and water-intensive support systems. At the same time, Alam et al. (2017) state that the present-day level of knowledge about flora in the UAE is low and there is a real need to promote the use of native plants in urban landscaping to achieve more sustainable water distribution. An Abu Dhabi public realm design manual issued in 2010 indicates that at least 80% of all public areas should consist of native plants (Alam et al., 2017). To attain this goal, further research of the flora in the Emirate must be encouraged. Additionally, guidelines for drought-tolerant cultivation in agriculture must be introduced to help achieve better outcomes in water conservation.
Table 5. 1 summarizes the findings of this concept. Source: Brooks & Brandes, 2011.
|Criteria||Applicability to the Abu Dhabi Environment||Gaps|
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This concept implies that water resources are utilized in a manner that maintains ecological integrity. In other words, the assessment of the ecological effects of utilizing water resources is a key priority. The ecological constraints are identified from the beginning to ensure that water is extracted from the ecosystem sustainably, and the quality of the water that goes back to the ecosystem is assessed (Brooks & Brandes, 2011).
The criteria of ecological sustainability include the development of a supportive environment for sustainable water use by maintaining ecological integrity and considering carrying capacity, the establishment of restrictions on water use by understanding the abstraction potential and the environmental constraints, and the control of water quality and pollution by assessing the water going back into the eco-system (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). In line with these, the following themes were identified during the interviews: the creation of a supportive environment through awareness campaigns, the control of water quality and the preservation of marine ecosystems through wastewater treatment practices and a reduction of treated wastewater discharge, and the establishment of restrictions on water use through government regulations.
Community education may be regarded as core to the efforts aimed to create a supportive environment for sustainable water use. Interviewees 1, 3, and 7 highlighted key awareness campaigns and research initiatives that focus on water conservation, to demonstrate how the Abu Dhabi government considers the environment. Specifically, Interviewees 1, 3, and 4 referred to the campaign Stay in the Green which was initiated by Waterwise in collaboration with Powerwise. Both of these bodies are initiatives of the Regulation and Supervision Bureau. The first one is devoted to the promotion of greater water efficiency across the Emirate, while the second one is dedicated to the promotion of sustainable electricity use through public guidance and dissemination of information. Through Stay in the Green, people are encouraged to be in the green band, signifying the efficient use of water for sustainable development.
Interviewees 1, 3, 5, and 6 also mentioned the Tarsheed campaigns of the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) and its distribution companies, which aim to create awareness of water conservation. Interviewee 4 mentioned that it is actively involved in similar awareness campaigns such as Al Madaris Al Mustadama or Sustainable Schools. Besides, Interviewees 1 and 6 alluded to the Rethink campaign that urges Emiratis and expatriates to rethink their lifestyles about water consumption. According to Interviewees 1 and 2, Abu Dhabi hosts the International Water Summit (IWS) annually, in which water sector stakeholders from private and government entities hold exhibitions and conferences on water issues.
Wastewater treatment and discharge into the environment
The former activity implies that used water is treated to reduce the number of pollutants in it before it is released into the environment. Without this procedure, nature would not be able to cope effectively with wastewater. Along with the reduction of discharge levels, it meets all the three criteria of ecological sustainability, yet it plays a particularly significant role in the control of water quality and pollution by assessing the quality of water going back to the ecosystem. Additionally, wastewater treatment is linked to the principle of conserving water quantity and quality, discussed in the following section, because wastewater treatment also implies efficient re-use of the resource.
All the Interviewees emphasized the significance of wastewater treatment for a wide range of uses, including irrigation and landscaping, compared to using desalinated water, which is produced at a higher cost for purposes that can use water of lower quality. The Interviewees outlined the milestones that have been made towards greater utilization of treated wastewater in Abu Dhabi. For instance, according to Interviewees 2, 3, & 5, more treated wastewater is now being used for landscaping instead of desalinated water. Currently, over 70% of the total water volume used for landscaping is comprised of treated wastewater and the authorities aim to increase its utilization to 100% by 2030 (Interviewee 5). As stated by Interviewee 4, the establishment of new treatment plants such as Alwathba 1 and 2, as well as the realization of STEP that will support the increasing use of treated wastewater, is a major milestone towards the attainment of the identified objective.
Apart from it, Interviewee 4 mentioned that the water sector intends to reduce the discharge of treated wastewater to the environment to zero by 2020. Also, the treated wastewater guidelines of 2010 provide a framework for the appropriate use of treated wastewater in irrigation. The objective of reducing the discharge of treated wastewater to zero will address the problem of under-utilization of treated wastewater mentioned by Interviewee 1.
Regulating water use
Laws and policies establish the restrictions on water use based on the abstraction potential and ecological constraints. The Interviewees commented that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that a secure water supply is sustained by preventing wasteful exploitation of water resources. The laws, including Law No. 5 of 2016 concerning the Regulation of Groundwater in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, ensure that water resources are exploited responsibly and sustainably.
Interviewee 3 reiterated that the regulatory framework in the water sector in Abu Dhabi is mature and strategies are implemented more effectively than in other similar sectors in the region. Among the key highlights from the interviews is the stringent regulation of groundwater abstraction through Law No. 5 of 2016 (Interviewees 1, 2, 3, 6, & 7). Interviewee 7 noted that EAD is mandated to monitor groundwater abstraction through this essential law, which states that all the ecological factors involved should be carefully assessed for groundwater to be used sustainably.
Interviewees 3, 4, and 5 mentioned that, under Law No. 2 of 1998 concerning the Regulation of the Water and Electricity Sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, the Regulation and Supervision Bureau has the power to develop treated wastewater regulations that set the standards for the collection, treatment and safe disposal of treated wastewater in the environment. Along with this, Interviewee 3 added that the treated wastewater regulation (Law No. 18 of 2007) maximizes the use of treated wastewater by allowing licensed distribution companies to supply it.
Authenticating the Interviewees’ Claims
The data collected through interviews about the themes of awareness campaigns, wastewater treatment, treated wastewater discharge, and relevant government regulations will next be explained with support from the literature.
These are essential for educating communities about their stake in water conservation efforts. The campaigns are generally aimed at making people aware that the way they use water can make the difference between having water in the future or not. According to a group of students who attended a workshop at the Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs in 2010, one of the factors behind the over-consumption of water in Abu Dhabi has been the general lack of awareness about the water situation and the need to reduce consumption (Columbia University, 2010). The given assumption emphasizes the importance of educating community members about water conservation in Abu Dhabi.
The primary awareness campaign suggested by Interviewee 1 was Stay in the Green, supported through the Waterwise website, which enumerates the achievements of this and similar campaigns (Waterwise, 2013). According to Waterwise, this campaign has the same objective of persuading the community members to reflect on their water and electricity consumption, especially during summer when the consumption levels are the highest. However, it was primarily necessitated by the introduction of new water and power rates so that consumers would check their consumption of both utilities from their knowledge. According to Waterwise (2013), during the first two weeks of the campaign’s launch, over one thousand people came to test their knowledge of the concept of staying in the green. Overall, the significance of the campaign by Waterwise derives from its focus on data sharing and the development of a comprehensive knowledge base, which may substantially assist in fostering desired behavioral changes in water and electricity consumers.
The Tarsheed campaign was mentioned by Interviewees 1, 3, and 6. It addresses goals for 2030, such as reducing water consumption in Abu Dhabi by 10% (Tarsheed, 2017). Its mission is “to interact with all classes of customers, using various relevant communication channels, to guide the efficient and effective use of electricity and water, encouraging and supporting them to adopt measures that will result in more efficient use of these resources, and thereby achieving targeted levels of demand reduction” (Tarsheed, 2017, para. 2). For example, Tarsheed collaborates with the ADWEA to reach 220,000 households in the city of Abu Dhabi with information about water-saving gadgets available on the market, such as economical shower heads and water-efficient taps (Tarsheed, 2017).
The other key initiative mentioned by Interviewee 4 is Al Madaris Al Mustadama or Sustainable Schools. This initiative aims to impart knowledge about environmental sustainability to students, teachers, and parents and then to connect them to the Abu Dhabi community to pass on the knowledge for large-scale outcomes (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2013). The campaign is premised on the fact that education is among the most effective means of attaining environmental sustainability because it imparts valuable knowledge and skills to the younger generation so that they can provide practical solutions to environmental challenges (Environment AgencyAbu Dhabi, 2014). The initiative is designed in such a way that teachers will train the students, through an audit of water consumption, while the students will collaborate with their parents to create real solutions in different communities. The campaign targets students to make them aware of the ways of using water sustainably. It is worth mentioning that, not only does the Sustainable Schools initiative aim to raise awareness of the importance of water conservation among the educators and students but it also encourages them to carry out green audits to evaluate their school’s ecological footprint (Environment AgencyAbu Dhabi, 2014). The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (2014) encourages schools to apply the audit results consequently during the development of water conservation and other school-wide sustainability programs.
Wastewater treatment and its discharge to the environment
Wastewater treatment is vital because it ensures greater control of water quality and pollution, as well as conservation. In other words, it is a method of reducing water wastage by capturing water that would have gone to waste and restoring its quality to usable standards (Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council, 2017). By treating wastewater, the need to extract more water from the ecosystem is significantly reduced.
Currently, Abu Dhabi has more than 57 wastewater treatment plants (Regulation and Supervision Bureau, 2016) and, according to 2014 statistics, the Emirate recycled 100% of 850,000 m3 of wastewater produced during a single day (Kader, 2014). This means that the wastewater treatment process is properly adjusted in Abu Dhabi. However, the major problem is that the rate of its discharge to the environment also remains high, equating to 49% (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2017a). According to Interviewee 4, wastewater treatment cannot have the optimum benefits in terms of water and ecological conservation if most of the treated water is discharged back into the environment. At the same time, the discharge of treated wastewater back into the environment is a threat to sustainability because it leads to a greater rate of use of costly desalinated water and scarce groundwater (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2017a). Additionally, when poorly treated, wastewater discharge may adversely impact the environment due to a high concentration of bacteria and other pollutants (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2017a). Therefore, Abu Dhabi’s water management action plan has prioritized minimizing the discharge of treated wastewater to promote sustainability (Environmental AgencyAbu Dhabi, 2014b).
About the claim that government regulations are important for ecological sustainability in Abu Dhabi, Law No. 5 on Groundwater Regulation issued in 2016 is a classic example. Under this law, the landowners and private sector bodies cannot exploit groundwater on their property without obtaining a license from the EAD, because the government now owns all groundwater resources. Thus, the law is crucial for groundwater sustainability since it will facilitate the conservation and replenishment of these important water resources. Additionally, Law No. 17 of 2005 covers such issues as ownership of sewerage systems and the responsibilities for wastewater management among the main stakeholders, and Law No. 2 of 1998 concerning the Regulation of the Water and Electricity Sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi embraces a large number of issues including the promotion of water research, training staff within the water sector, capacity planning and forecasting, and development of safe water distribution systems (Regulation and Supervision Bureau, 2015a). The given law establishes multiple governmental bodies, such as the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority, states their responsibilities, and provides general operational rules within the Emirate’s water and electricity sector.
The Abu Dhabi government has also undertaken key projects to understand the groundwater resources for better planning. An example is the Well Inventory Project under the EAD, to research and gather information about groundwater parameters such as well characteristics, water pollution, salinity, and the water table (Environment Agency, 2017). Three stages are included in the Well Inventory Project, launched in 2016, and intended to last for 30 months (EAD launches Abu Dhabi Groundwater Well Inventory Project, 2016). Stage 1 involved establishing an inventory of all operational and non-operational wells. In stage 2, soil samples from different areas were collected and analyzed to create a soil classification. Stage 3 then involves the development of the first groundwater atlas in the Emirate (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2017).
To understand if the interview results on awareness campaigns, wastewater treatment, and its discharge methods are consistent with the sustainability principle, the major projects and laws associated with these themes are analyzed below.
Through the Tarsheed initiative, ADWEA has successfully installed nearly 13,000 sustainable, automatic shut-off water taps in over 800 public mosques and has developed manuals to educate facility managers on water usage reduction (Tarsheed, 2017). The campaign has also reached 220,000 households to educate them about the availability of gadgets that can help them use water more efficiently and, at the same time, provide them with notifications about potential water leakages (Tarsheed, 2017). Therefore, residents are more knowledgeable than before about how they can access water-efficient products (Tarsheed, 2017).
Among 135 schools that participated in Al Madaris Al Mustadama, the per capita/ per day water use was reduced from 32.7 liters in 2015 to 25.88 liters in 2017. Also, 1,499 teachers have been trained in water auditing in schools and how to implement mitigation measures (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2013).
Wastewater treatment and discharge
The level of wastewater treatment has increased in the Emirate from 150 million m3 to over 300 million m3 from 2005 to 2015 (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2017a). It is expected that the generation of wastewater will continue to increase further and this raises concerns regarding the inability of the water sector to cope due to infrastructural inefficiencies and the need for technological upgrades (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2017). For example, it is stated that a significant percentage of treated water contains high concentrations of total dissolved solids, reducing the quality of the resource and, consequently, decreasing the chance for its reuse (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2013). Moreover, “sewers that allow seepage also allow leakage of sewerage into the surrounding areas, leading to a public health concern” (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2013, p. 5).
Altogether, current regulations including Law No. 17 of 2005 and Law No. 2 of 1998 cover a wide range of government and institutional responsibilities and duties, indicating that significant efforts are being made to achieve sustainable water management. These documents show that the government is making significant efforts to promote water security in the Emirate. However, although there are many active regulations on wastewater treatment, the Environmental Agency Abu Dhabi (2017a) claims that “the limited quantities of wastewater transferred by tankers are not accepted for disposal by ADSSC networks due to quality” (p. 10).
It is worth noting that the Regulation and Supervision Bureau (2010) issued the Recycled Water and Biosolids Regulations to ensure the high quality of treated wastewater in the Emirate by outlining the functions and duties of the responsible bodies. Additionally, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (2011) has published the Wastewater and Marine Water Quality Monitoring guidelines to minimize the harm to the environment from treated wastewater discharge. It indicates that the legal framework controlling both the processes of water production and the quality of the resource is comprehensive and requires only minor changes (identified above), whereas the primary gap can be found at the stage of the realization of the law in practice.
Table 5. 2: Summary of ecological sustainability. Source: Brooks & Brandes, 2011.
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Conserving Water Quantity and Quality
This principle advocates water conservation by matching water quality with different uses (see Section 2.3.3). Since potable water of high quality is not easily available in nature, it is paramount to balance investments so that activities that require low-quality water have sufficient supply while the more expensive potable water is available at a reasonable cost (Brooks & Brandes, 2011).
The criteria of the given soft-path principle are the creation of cascading water systems (that is water recycling and the utilization of wastewater as an input for another use), and the development and implementation of standards for conservation of water quality and quantity (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). Based on this, the interview results revealed the following themes: water quality standards, and implementation of cascading water systems.
Water quality standards
The main aspect related to conserving the quality and quantity of water involves water quality standards, which are essential because they form the framework upon which water quality is matched with water uses. All the Interviewees agreed that water quality regulations have been implemented in Abu Dhabi. For example, Interviewee 3 noted that the water used for domestic purposes in Abu Dhabi is supposed to be wholesome as per the Water Quality Regulations issued by the Regulation and Supervision Bureau (2014). The objective of Water Quality Regulations as highlighted by Interviewees 2 & 3 is to promote public health by ensuring that water quality matches use. They stated that the regulations are intended to ensure that all the water supplied for such uses as food production, drinking, cooking, or washing does not contain elements or substances that would pose a threat to public health.
Implementation of cascading water systems
Cascading water systems primarily imply regular high-quality treatment of wastewater and its consequent utilization as an input for another use. In other words, the given system establishes a cycle of production, utilization, wastewater collection, treatment, and reuse. When asked about the implementation of cascading systems in Abu Dhabi, as well as their efficacy, Interviewees 1, 2, and 5 stated that they are not sufficiently used at the current moment yet the efforts towards the achievement of better outcomes are being undertaken. Interviewee 5 stated that nearly 505 MIG (230 million m3) of desalinated water was utilized in agriculture, and expressed concern that the quality of this resource is rather high to be used for irrigation.
Interviewee 2 considers that treated wastewater should be used instead, although even it sometimes has high salinity, which could affect the crops under irrigation. For this reason, treated wastewater should be used primarily for industrial cooling activities and landscaping, and the volume of its reuse for landscaping continues to increase (Interviewee 5 & 2). The same idea was expressed by Interviewee 6 who noted the absence of a standard for district cooling. They also noticed that despite some regulations encouraging the utilization of treated wastewater in district cooling activities, it becomes impossible due to various network deficiencies. Interviewee 3 emphasized that the network/infrastructure for collecting and distributing treated wastewater should be expanded to prevent the use of potable water for irrigation. Interviewees 4 & 7 had nothing to add regarding this matter.
Authenticating Interviewees’ Claims
In this section, the literature that supports their observations about the themes identified in the discussion part is provided.
Water quality standards
The RSB website provides information on the standards expected of water for food production, drinking, cooking, and washing. Additionally, Recycled Water and Biosolids Regulations, discussed in the previous section, aim to control the quality and quantity of treated wastewater production (Regulation and Supervision Bureau, 2010). Overall, all these regulations are consistent with the RSB’s mission “to regulate and supervise the delivery of a safe, efficient and economic water, wastewater and electricity sector in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi” (Regulation and Supervision Bureau, 2015, para. 1). They are aimed at matching the quality of resources with their purposes, which helps in minimizing potential harm to public health and the environment.
Implementation of cascading water systems
The claims by Interviewee 5 that desalinated water is used for irrigation in Abu Dhabi contrasts with the findings by the Masdar Institute that irrigation is primarily done using treated wastewater (Azar & Raouf, 2017). At the same time, the claim by Interviewees 5 & 2 that wastewater is increasingly being used for landscaping is well supported by the literature. The wastewater treatment and disposal sector has also promoted the use of wastewater in agricultural activities. For example, 51% of the total volume of treated water in 2015 was channeled towards irrigating green areas (Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council, 2017). At the current moment, the sustainability standards and regulations in Abu Dhabi, such as the Recycled Water and Biosolids Regulations, control the quality of treated wastewater utilized for irrigation and landscaping. Nevertheless, although the UPC aims to promote ecological sustainability through the efficient use of treated wastewater, as well as increase the re-use rate (UPC, 2011), there is currently no law that would forbid the implementation of other resource types in agriculture, district cooling, and landscaping. The Regulation & Supervision Bureau (2016) states that the development of the framework for regulating district cooling is in progress.
The purpose of the given section is to evaluate the consistency of the interview findings with the principle of conserving water quality and quantity and to assess the major outcomes associated with the realization of the practices discussed above.
Water quality standards
The production of potable water in Abu Dhabi is consistent with the Water Quality Regulations introduced by RSB. Desalination is the primary technology implemented to produce potable water and, when produced in this way, it can be considered safe and drinkable if the amount of salt dissolved in it is low (International Trade Administration, 2018). The research findings reported in The National reveal that Abu Dhabi is one of the emirates where the quality of desalinated water meets World Health Organisation standards which are in tune with the Water Quality Regulations as well (Todorova, 2012).
Implementation of cascading water systems
To meet the criteria of the soft-path principle for conserving water quality and quantity, Abu Dhabi must increase the level of reusing treated wastewater. However, it currently remains significantly low, while over 60% of the total volume of consumed water is groundwater, and nearly 30% is desalinated water (Australian Water Association, 2017). Considering that the risk of groundwater source depletion is extremely high in the region, there is a need to increase sustainable utilization of treated wastewater, targeting current irrigation and district cooling needs. For instance, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (2017a) states that to address the network/infrastructure deficiencies, which interfere with the improvement of cascading water systems in the Emirate, the governing bodies should invest in the construction of transfer trunk lines to facilitate the utilization of treated water.
Table 5. 3 summarizes the findings of this concept. Source: Brooks & Brandes, 2011.
|Criteria||Applicability to the Abu Dhabi Environment||Gaps|
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The use of backcasting to plan and manage future water requirements is a core principle of the soft approach to water management. It involves envisioning potential sustainable future scenarios in terms of resource management and their backward analysis that aims to identify existing barriers to a sustainable future and what needs to be done to attain it (Binstock, 2010). The creation of a vision for the future generated by using backcasting implies a high level of accountability of stakeholders’ interests and needs (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). Therefore, it requires collaboration, with water managers and major stakeholders engaging in open discussion to determine the future they envision (Binstock, 2010).
The criteria of backcasting include the development of several alternative visions of a desirable future, the analysis and weighting of current situations and resources based on the formulated visions of the future, and the accountability of stakeholders’ needs and interests/consideration of social implications and objectives (Brooks & Brandes, 2011). The themes related to the principle of backcasting identified in the interviews match these criteria.
Development of future scenarios and analysis of current situations
The interviews revealed that the water sector in Abu Dhabi uses forecasting rather than backcasting as the primary planning method. Interviewees 1 and 3 noted that the demand forecast is a requirement of the Regulation and Supervision Bureau. Utility companies also prepare five-year plans (Interviewees 2 & 3). The respondents raised a concern regarding the uncertainty introduced by some of the current planning methods, i.e. seven-year forecasts, indicating that government organizations prefer methods that are associated with a higher level of prediction accuracy (Interviewees 2, 3, 6 & 7).
Such an element of backcasting as visioning is still implemented in Abu Dhabi unsystematically and to a limited extent. For instance, it was mentioned above (see section 5.2.2) that one alternative desirable future in the Emirate is complete avoidance of treated wastewater discharge to the environment (Interviewees 4 & 5). However, when it comes to determining actions concerning future goals including those outlined by Abu Dhabi Vision 2030, the government still relies mainly on statistical forecasts, which Interviewee 3 defined as an important source of guidance in setting Abu Dhabi’s goals and programs.
Accountability of stakeholders’ needs
The majority of respondents (Interviewees 1, 2, 4, 5 & 7) all stated that the public and community members are not involved in the process of decision making. However, Interviewees 3 and 6 did not agree. All respondents confirmed that the water sector pays attention to such vital stakeholder needs as environmental and health safety, high quality of resources, and their availability when developing water management strategies and future goals. Along with this, all the Interviewees mentioned that the governing bodies consider long-term economic needs when planning water conservation and production initiatives.
Authenticating Interviewees’ Claims
To verify the credibility of the interview results, the literature on the topic is evaluated in the following paragraphs.
Development of future scenarios and analysis of current situations
The data identified in the literature confirm that forecasting the most widely used method of planning in Abu Dhabi. As stated by Chowdhury and Rajput (2015), such organizations as EAD and ADWEC regularly develop water demand projections based on the estimated rates of population growth and water consumption. At the same time, the abundance of the formulated future goals and objectives, for instance, the avoidance of treated wastewater discharge into the environment by 2020, indicates that officials envision desirable futures when designing action plans. However, there is no evidence that the backward analysis approach is being implemented in the Emirate.
Accountability of stakeholders’ needs
According to Lund (2015), along with economic objectives, water management serves the society including public health, preservation of ecological integrity, support of recreational activities, and creation of desirable urban/community environments. The consideration of social needs, which is observed in the development of policies and programs aimed at increased water productivity in the Emirate and changed consumer behaviors, helps fulfill these goals. However, even with a sufficient level of stakeholder accountability, the management of natural resources using centralized planning is associated with limited community participation. At the same time, Vergragt and Quist (2011) state that greater stakeholder engagement in decision making and backcasting provides such benefits as the increased ability to analyze the contextual elements of desired future visions, to investigate complex and uncertain futures, and to drive action and innovation more effectively.
The outcomes of current planning procedures in Abu Dhabi are evaluated in the following paragraph.
Development of future scenarios and analysis of current situations
Compared to forecasts, backcasts do not aim to reveal what the future may be but rather aim to clarify if different policy goals are feasible to implement, as well as any implications they may have (Vliet & Kok, 2013). The results of the interview make it clear that the water sector in Abu Dhabi has several desired endpoints, which it expects to achieve within a certain period, including the reduction of discharge of treated wastewater to zero by 2020. It is also apparent that some milestones towards the achievement of these desired futures are identified, such as improvement in the wastewater treatment infrastructure. Although these steps seem valid, the implementation of the backward analysis that explores the feasibility of desired future scenarios could assist decision-makers in Abu Dhabi’s water sector by gathering and assessing evidence about the effectiveness of planned management actions (Vliet & Kok, 2013). At present, evidence for the implementation of the identified analysis method in the Emirate is lacking in both literature and Interviewees’ responses.
Accountability of stakeholders’ needs
The laws, regulations, and other initiatives analyzed above (see sections 5.2.1, 5.2.2 and 5.2.3), such as the PRS, Water Quality Regulations, ESCO, and Tarsheed, demonstrate that the water sector strives to support economic prosperity without compromising human safety and environmental sustainability. Additionally, Abu Dhabi’s five-year water strategy has made informing all stakeholders in the public sphere a priority so that their views can count towards better planning (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2014a). It means that the water sector has a tool for the collection of stakeholders’ feedback regarding water management. However, Interviewees noted only a limited level of stakeholder involvement, which indicates a major applicability gap.
Table 5. 4: Summary of Backcasting. Source: Brooks & Brandes, 2011.
|Criteria||Applicability to the Abu Dhabi Environment||Gaps|
| || || |
The Interviewees made important observations in their responses to different questions in Section 1. These responses were used to construct several themes under the four principles of the soft-path approach to determine the feasibility of applying the soft-path approach in Abu Dhabi. Under the principle of treating water as a service, the following themes were identified: investment in water production and wastewater treatment, and incentives to minimize water usage, including the promotion of water-efficient technologies. The present-day state of compliance with these was analyzed by using the relevant literature. Under the principle of ecological sustainability, the identified themes were as follows: Creation of a supportive environment through awareness campaigns, control of water quality and preservation of marine ecosystems through wastewater treatment practices and reduction of its discharge, and the establishment of restrictions on water use through government regulations. The principle of conserving water quality and quantity generated the themes of water quality standards and the implementation of cascading water systems. The themes under the principle of backcasting included: development of future scenarios and analysis of current situations, as well as accountability of stakeholders’ needs.
It was noted that all the Interviewees’ claims were widely supported by the literature, and the study objectives were achieved. The interview results indicate that Abu Dhabi has laid a firm foundation for the soft-path approach by focusing its efforts to create water conservation awareness, promote wastewater treatment, and increase efficiency in water use. Nevertheless, a few gaps remain, including a limited application of the analysis and planning methods associated with backcasting, the lack of sufficient cascading water systems due to infrastructural inefficiencies, which result in a low rate of treated wastewater reuse, leakage of sewage, and reduced quality of treated wastewater. Additionally, there is a need for research of the local flora and the development of guidelines for the cultivation of drought-tolerant species, and increased use of treated wastewater for irrigation, district cooling, and landscaping. Further investigation into the effectiveness of economic stimuli, which were intended to increase as a result of the 2017 revision of water tariffs, in changing the behaviors of Emirati nationals is also essential. It is possible to suggest that some improvements in current initiatives could result in the more successful implementation of the soft path.
Section 2: Implementability
Section 2 is primarily focused on the review and analysis of the Interviewees’ responses concerning eight themes that determine the institutional capacity for the soft-path approach: human resources, informational resources, financial resources, political environment, policy, and legal environment, community awareness, technological solutions, and practical considerations. As with Section 1, its objective is to assess the suitability of the soft-path approach in the Emirate’s water sector. To assess the capacity of Abu Dhabi to implement the soft-path approach, Interviewees’ responses regarding the identified themes are discussed and authenticated by using research evidence. Consequently, the outcomes of the key programs and practices noted by respondents are evaluated and a conclusion concerning the major strengths and weaknesses is drawn.
Respondents were asked to provide answers regarding the implementation ability of the soft-path approach in Abu Dhabi based on the eight themes of institutional capacity. The responses of the seven Interviewees, as well as the evidence retrieved from the government literature, were analyzed under each of these eight themes to demonstrate if it is feasible to utilize the soft-path approach in Abu Dhabi at present.
The theme of human resources is concerned with the full-time availability of specially trained staff to manage water conservation programs (see section 2.4). Considering this, the following questions were asked: Do the staff in the water sector have access to water conservation training and further education? Is there full-time dedicated staff in the water sector responsible for water conservation? The answers to these questions were expected to address the issue of availability of skilled staff dedicated to water conservation and the management of sustainable practices in the water sector.
The responses to the questions on human resources were mixed. Three respondents (Interviewees 2, 3 & 5) said there was full-time staff dedicated to water conservation within the governmental bodies, and only one (Interviewee 4) said there was no such staff in his organization. The other three (Interviewees 1, 6, & 7) said not all entities have full-time staff dedicated to water conservation. In terms of access to training, Interviewees 2, 3, 4, and 5 said that their staff members have access to training in matters of water conservation while Interviewees 6 and 7 said access to such training is not always available. Interviewee 1 had no information on the question of access to training.
For Abu Dhabi to secure sustainable and safe water supply, it requires professionals who are specially trained in water conservation. The Abu Dhabi government has responded to this need in significant ways. For example, the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi (2016b), claims that it provided internal training for staff, covering both general environmental protection activities, as well as emergency responses. Further opportunities for the training of full-time dedicated staff in water conservation were realized following the joint initiative of 2013 referred to as the Water Resources Management Strategy for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2016a). The primary purpose of this initiative is to ensure that Abu Dhabi rapidly achieves efficient management and conservation of its three key water resources, in line with the Emirate’s Vision 2030 (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2014b).
To manage the programs effectively, it is essential to have access to information resources including the current and future projections of water demand and population. At the same time, it is possible to achieve the maximum benefits associated with this data when it is shared among different staff members (see section 2.4). The questions related to the given theme had the purpose of elucidating whether the level of information resource management is sufficient in Abu Dhabi to facilitate and improve the implementation of the soft-path approach.
When asked whether employees have access to data on water demand, six Interviewees (Interviewees 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 & 7) said that the staff members can access the latest water demand data, while Interviewee 6 said that access is only available in some entities. When asked if staff monitor the results of any water conservation programs/policy changes/interventions, three respondents (Interviewees 3, 4 & 6) said the staff monitors the results of water conservation programs, and ongoing interventions. Interviewees 2 and 5 said this only happens in some entities, while the remaining two (Interviewees 1 & 7) had no information on this question.
On the question about the information sharing and cooperation among stakeholders, four respondents (Interviewees 1, 3, 4 & 6) said there was information sharing among the stakeholders in the forms of partnerships, collaborations, and development of knowledge management networks, while three others (Interviewees 2, 5 & 7) said that only in some entities do stakeholders share information. Answering the question about the use of the latest research and technology in the water sector, Interviewees 3, 4, and 6 said that the staff keeps up with the recent statistical data on water consumption and demand in the Emirate, as well as the research evidence related to them and the advancements of technology within the sector. At the same time, Interviewees 1 and 5 said they do not use such information, and the other two (Interviewees 2 & 7) said that the staff only in some entities keeps up with the latest research and technology. Lastly, answering the question regarding the awareness of possible effects on water resources of future climate change in the Abu Dhabi water sector, only three respondents (Interviewees 3, 6 & 7) said the water sector keeps up with the possible effects of climate change, while Interviewees 1 and 5 said this does not happen. Interviewees 2 and 4 said this happens only in some entities.
During the interviews, six interviewees indicated that the staff members in the water sector were able to access the latest water demand data. This claim is supported by the publication of water and energy data by the Statistics Center (SCAD) where water professionals can request accurate and updated statistical data (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2016). ADWEC, RSB, EAD, and ADWEA also make their annual statistical reports available on their websites.
The theme of financial resources is equally important as it is concerned with funding water conservation efforts and allocating budgets within financial institutions. The matters discussed during the interviews under the given theme contribute to the understanding of whether the water sector has sufficient financial resources needed to maintain the implementation of the soft path.
Answering the first question ̶ does the water sector maintain its financial bottom line? ̶ Interviewees 2, 3, and 5 said that the water sector maintains its financial bottom line, while Interviewees 4 and 6 said that this was not always the case. At the same time, Interviewees 1 and 7 did not provide answers to this question. Regarding the question about the predictability and continuity of annual budgets, three Interviewees (Interviewees 1, 2 & 3) said that it is constant and predictable while Interviewees 4 and 5 said the budget is not constant or predictable. Interviewee 6 said the annual water budget is not always predictable, and Interviewee 7 had no information. When replying to the question about the reflection of the full cost of water services and provision in water rates, only Interviewee 3 thought that water rates reflect the full cost of water services and provision, while Interviewees 1, 2, and 7 said the rates do not reflect the cost of some water services. Interviewees 4, 5, and 6 said this is not the case for all water services. At the same time, none of the Interviewees had credible information to share regarding the funding for water conservation efforts, external funding sources, and lifecycle assessments of water supply and demand projects.
For conservation efforts to be sustainable, water rates should represent the full cost of water services because, in this way, it becomes possible to maintain high-quality services and invest the collected income in their improvement (Patch, 2010). In terms of financial resources, the claim by Interviewee 3 that water rates reflect the full cost of services and provision is supported by the revised water tariffs which show that water and power bills now reflect the actual cost that is incurred by the ADDC in supplying the resource (ADDC, 2017). The increased rate in water tariffs was mainly due to the reduction of the government subsidies in water and power which, in turn, was prompted by budget cuts associated with lowered government revenues because of low oil prices (International Trade Administration, 2018). Nevertheless, despite recent budget cuts, the International Trade Administration (2018) states that the government prioritizes investments in water conservation practices, such as water-efficient technology, desalination, and public education.
Policy and legal environment
According to Patch (2010), “the policy and legal framework is a significant determinant of capacity because it creates an enabling environment that gives a water institution its mandate, its authority, and the limits to its authority” (p. 36). The legal environment includes different laws, plans, and programs. It was intended that the discussion of the given theme would help ascertain if current policies and laws are well integrated with water conservation efforts and efficient land use as per the soft-path principle.
When answering the question regarding the existence of an active water conservation plan/program in the water sector, six respondents (Interviewees 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 & 7) thought that the water sector in Abu Dhabi has an active water conservation plan. For his part, Interviewee 5 had no information. Additionally, concerning the integration of water conservation into land-use planning, five respondents (Interviewees 3, 4 5, 6 & 7) thought that water conservation is integrated into land-use planning, but Interviewee 2 felt that the integration is not complete. Interviewee 1 did not provide an answer to this question. At the same time, regarding the integration of water conservation into economic planning, Interviewees 3, 4, and 6 said that water conservation is integrated into economic planning while Interviewees 2 and 5 felt the integration is not complete. Interviewees 1 and 7 did not provide information to this question.
Answering the question about the contribution of different government departments to water conservation programs and planning, four respondents (Interviewees 1, 3, 4 & 6) felt that the government departments contribute to water conservation programs and planning, while three (Interviewees 2, 5 & 7) felt that the government departments are not fully involved. When talking about the strategies included in water conservation programs, four Interviewees (Interviewees 1, 3, 4 & 5) said there are strategies for reducing outdoor water use, but the others had no information on this question. Lastly, in terms of the way water infrastructure is sized and its ability to meet increasing water demand, Interviewees 2, 3 & 6, said it is sized according to the demand, while Interviewees 7 and 5 felt it is “somehow” sized according to the demand. Interviewees 1 and 4 did not provide any comments on this matter.
Abu Dhabi has the Water Resources Management Strategy that prioritizes water conservation and the integration of efficient water use practices (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014). In this initiative, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council has teamed with the UAE to update its 2009 water master plan to ensure a reduction of pressure on the three key water resources: groundwater, desalinated water, and treated wastewater (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2014). Water conservation is integrated with economic planning because the government sees it as the key to further economic growth in the Emirate (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014). For example, through infrastructure development initiatives, it aims to minimize water transmission and distribution losses, as well as the discharge of treated wastewater (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014). Additionally, the imperative to ensure high indoor and outdoor water efficiency included in the Abu Dhabi Environment Vision 2030 may serve as an example of the integration of water conservation into land-use planning (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014). The literature findings indicate that sustainability is an explicit goal of Abu Dhabi’s water policy.
The soft-path approach considers the political environment where cooperation between leadership in the water sector, government, and private-sector organizations is taken into account (see section 2.4). The main questions related to this theme are as follows: Is there collaboration between water sector organizations? Does the water sector liaise with private-sector organizations? Does the water sector liaise with all levels of government? Does the water sector/your organization publicly advocate water conservation? The answers to these questions were intended to reveal the degree of the integration and the efficacy of governance of water conservation efforts at all governmental and community levels.
The results of the political environment analysis showed that all the seven Interviewees agreed that there is a collaboration among the different types of organizations in the water sector. In the political environment, there is evidence of collaboration between the government and private sector entities. Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are expected to support sustainability efforts through the integration of private-sector technologies, and funds with the public initiatives (Government.ae, 2018). For example, RSB has partnered BP to develop the ForeseerTM tool for better forecasting of water and energy resources towards Vision 2030 (British Petroleum, 2018). Additionally, all the Interviewees agreed that the water sector actively advocates for water conservation in the Emirate. The numerous community education and awareness campaigns discussed in Section 1, such as Tarsheed and Stay in the Green, encouraging citizens to use the resource efficiently (Waterwise, 2013) verifies this assumption. It is also worth noting that the Abu Dhabi water sector and distinct agencies regulating it, including ADWEA, ADSSC, EAD, are closely related to the federal UAE structure and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, in particular (International Trade Administration, 2018). This indicates that the activities of local entities are coordinated at distinct political levels.
Community awareness and involvement
As stated by Patch (2010), “involving the public in decision-making allows access to ‘local knowledge’ of the day-to-day local experiences of individuals in the community and this knowledge can be used to increase the effectiveness of policies by uncovering problems and potential solutions” (p. 42). The practices related to the given theme include community education and outreach programs, which increase individuals’ participation in water conservation.
The major questions asked under the given theme were: Does the water sector sponsor outreach programs and education to promote water conservation? Is the importance of water conservation addressed in the community? Does the water sector promote indoor high-efficiency appliances? All the participants said the water sector sponsors outreach programs on water conservation. Also, the seven participants said the importance of water conservation is addressed in the community. They also agreed that the water sector promotes indoor high-efficiency appliances. In terms of greywater system and wastewater reuse, Interviewees 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 thought that it is encouraged, while Interviewee 1 said the use of greywater and wastewater reuse was not sufficiently encouraged by the water sector.
It was also asked whether the public is involved in decision-making. Only Interviewee 3 said that the public is involved in decision making while Interviewee 6 said the involvement can be observed only among such stakeholders as water distribution companies, and governmental agencies. The remaining five (Interviewees 1, 2, 4, 5 & 7) said that the public is not involved.
The success of sustainability projects in any nation is determined by how well public participation is implemented (Patch, 2010). The findings indicate that the government strives to increase understanding of the value of water resources in Abu Dhabi’s community. For instance, the various awareness programs including the Tarsheed campaign, Stay in the Green, and Al Madaris Al Mustadama has all acted as platforms for informing and educating communities about issues of water conservation and their roles towards achieving the goal of sustainability. Additionally, the UniverCity Outreach Program and Al Madaris Al Mustadama are among the outreach programs implemented by the water sector in Abu Dhabi to promote the involvement of communities in water conservation efforts (UPC, 2011). Nevertheless, public involvement also implies that individuals’ interests are considered in decision-making (Patch, 2010). By allowing members of the public to understand the issues involved and to express their opinions, decision-making processes become more transparent and free from manipulation.
Abu Dhabi’s five-year water strategy has made informing all stakeholders in the public sphere a priority so that their views can count towards better planning (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2014a). Nevertheless, as per the Interviewees’ claims, the actual feedback from the Emirati citizens regarding water conservation efforts remains scarce.
In water conservation programs, there is a wide range of technological solutions. However, the soft-path approach is primarily concerned with the evaluation of water conservation technologies that promote outdoor water conservation and that prevent system-wide water losses (Patch, 2010). The matters discussed under the given theme include the encouragement and regulation of the use of automatic irrigation systems, the repairing of water leakages, and compliance with the repair protocols.
The responses on technological solutions showed that the water sector encourages automatic irrigation systems since six participants (Interviewees1, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7) provided affirmative answers. However, Interviewee 2 said the automatic irrigation systems are not encouraged. Five participants (Interviewees 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6) said that automatic irrigation systems are not mandated within the legal framework, which means their use is not required by the law and local policies. Interviewee 7 provided no information on this problem, while Interviewee 1 said the automatic irrigation systems are mandated. As for repairing the leaks, Interviewees 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 all agreed that it was also encouraged among home owners. However, Interviewee 2 disagreed, and Interviewee 7 did not comment. When asked about the presence of leak repair schedules, three respondents (Interviewees 4, 5 & 6) said that only some entities had a leak repair schedule, while Interviewees 1 and 2 said that there is no leak repair schedule. Interviewee 7 did not give a response, while only Interviewee 3 thought that the leak repair schedule was present in all entities.
Irrigation technologies are important for outdoor water conservation, considering that agriculture and landscaping consume most of the water in Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council, 2017). For this reason, Abu Dhabi has supported the use of automatic irrigation to reduce water consumption in agriculture farms. A case in point is the USD 9.8 million automatic irrigation projects completed by the Abu Dhabi Municipality which have replaced manual irrigation systems on farms. The given automatic system is capable of preventing the use of potable water in irrigation by replacing it 100% with treated wastewater and save about 15% of treated wastewater, thus facilitating the irrigation of new areas (Abu Dhabi Municipality Parks & Recreation Facilities Division, 2017). Nevertheless, while the use of efficient water technologies and practices is encouraged, there is currently no law regulating the utilization of automatic irrigation systems in Abu Dhabi and forbidding the implementation of manual ones, which is the primary implementation gap.
The given theme refers to the feasibility of the implementation of current water conservation initiatives (Patch, 2010). The questions asked during the discussion of practical considerations included: Are the water policies, regulations, and guidelines issued by water sector organizations easy to implement? Does the water sector pay attention to social science’s contribution to water conservation, such as awareness, media, and behavioral changes? The replies and evidence helped to understand whether the integration of soft path into the water sector in Abu Dhabi would require a more aggressive and long-term strategy or vice versa.
The answers to practical considerations showed that most of the water policies, regulations, and guidelines are easy to implement, according to Interviewees 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Interviewee 2 said the policies are not easy to implement, while Interviewee 1 made no response to the question. In Abu Dhabi, the ease of implementing policies can be defined mainly by the fact that each governmental agency in the sector has clearly stated responsibilities and functions, which do not overlap. For instance, ADWEA is responsible for the supply and distribution of the resource, while EAD is responsible for the monitoring and assessment of resource use (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, 2008).
Additionally, many strategies and policies have clearly defined objectives, targets, and timelines, such as the reduction of groundwater abstraction for agricultural use to 1.400 million m3 by 2018 (Government of Abu Dhabi, 2014). Additionally, the five-year water strategy in Abu Dhabi set certain targets which included a 100% reuse rate of the treated wastewater by 2018, compared to 51% in 2010 (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2014b). The effective year for usable groundwater reserves is also targeted to increase from less than a 55billion liters to more than 74 billion liters by 2030 (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2014b). Through integrated and efficient utilization of water resources, Abu Dhabi aims to reduce domestic consumption (liters/capita/day) from 614 in 2010 to less than 340 by 2030 (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2014b).
As for the second question provided under the theme of practical considerations, the water sector approaches water issues by applying social science knowledge. It means it takes into account the fact that freshwater is a limited resource that should be exploited with great efficiency and that the available water is needed by humans, animals, and plants (Environment AgencyAbu Dhabi, 2014).
Current situation and weaknesses
The responses in Section 2 of the interviews demonstrate areas of strength and weakness in the institutional capacity. The strongest themes based on the number of respondents are human resources, policy and legal environment, political environment, and practical considerations. The themes of information resources, financial resources, community awareness, and involvement have some minor gaps, while the theme of the technological solution has major gaps. This means that, overall, Abu Dhabi has a sufficient foundation and the essential capacities needed to implement the soft-path approach, yet some changes and improvements are still needed to achieve better outcomes. The findings are summarised in Table 5. 5.
Table 5. 5: Summary of Themes of Institutional Capacity. Source: Patch (2010).
|Human resources|| || || |
|Information resources|| || || |
|Financial resources|| || || |
|Policy and legal environment|| || || |
|Political environment|| || || |
|Community awareness and involvement|| || || |
|Technological solutions|| || || |
|Practical considerations|| || || |
The analysis of results from both Sections 1 and 2 reveals that there are both strengths and limitations in organizational performance about the soft-path implementation. Four principles of the soft-path approach are covered to varying degrees by various programs, laws, policies, and government actions in Abu Dhabi’s water sector. The major strengths related to the applicability of the soft-path approach include the promotion of water conservation awareness, increasing investment in wastewater treatment, and the focus on efficiency in water use. The major strengths related to the implementability of the soft-path approach are the availability of skilled human resources and opportunities for their development, supportive legal and political environments, and the feasibility of the realization of distinct water conservation policies and programs.
As for the weaknesses, the water sector has barriers to a more successful application of soft path principles, such as the lack of sufficient cascading water systems due to infrastructural inefficiencies, the need for research of the local flora, and the development of guidelines for the cultivation of drought-tolerant species, and increased use of treated wastewater for irrigation, district cooling, and landscaping. The major weaknesses associated with the institutional capacity to implement soft path are the lack of predictable budgets, low levels of community involvement in decision-making, the lack of laws regulating the utilization of automatic irrigation systems in Abu Dhabi, and the limited adherence to water leakage schedules. The identified gaps and weaknesses indicate that some improvements are required in certain areas of performance. Potential solutions that could be realized to improve the situation will be discussed in the following chapter.
Conclusion & Recommendations
A recap of the main points observed during the literature review and interviews is provided in this chapter. The section starts with the review of evidence on the availability of water resources and consumption trends in Abu Dhabi, as well as water management methods, which are implemented there at the current moment. Consequently, the overview of the primary findings regarding the applicability and implementability of the soft-path approach in the Emirate is carried out. After a summary of the major weaknesses and strengths associated with the application of soft path principles and institutional capacities, the overall evaluation of the present-day level of the soft-path implementation and its suitability to the local environment is given. This assessment is followed by the suggestion of recommendations for the improvement of the water sector’s performance in the following areas: utilization of water-efficient incentives aimed to minimize water usage, creation of cascading water systems, backcasting and community involvement, financial resources, and information resources. Additionally, the limitations of the present study are outlined, and future research recommendations related to the identified gaps are given.
Water Management in Abu Dhabi
Abu Dhabi Emirate is one of the United Arab Emirates Arabian Gulf countries that are experiencing major water shortages, challenging their continued economic prosperity and threaten the environment. The major flaws in water use are as follows: the consumption of groundwater currently constitutes 61.1% of the overall consumption (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017); the rate of treated wastewater reuse in 2016 was only 51% while the remainder is discharged into the surrounding environment (Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017); increasing production of desalinated is associated with significant financial burdens and deteriorates the marine ecosystem (Absal, 2010). By 2030, water demand will increase by over 50% (ADWEC, 2016). Thus, there is a need to enhance the infrastructure to meet future water demands more efficiently and sustainably.
Abu Dhabi Government’s Water Management Measures and Outcomes
Considering that the level of annual consumption remains high, the need for water conservation and its more efficient use becomes of tremendous importance. The major practices implemented to address the identified threats are the development of, and the investment in, wastewater treatment and distribution projects such as the Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme (STEP), promotion of public awareness, and the progressive rates in water tariffs. These measures can be regarded as effective and promising. For instance, it is observed that after the imposition of higher water tariffs, the water demand declined slightly in 2016 and 2017 for the Abu Dhabi and Al Ain region (ADWEC, 2016). Additionally, STEP is intended to increase the wastewater treatment capacity up to 175.98 MIG (0.8 million m3) a day, from 98.99 MIG (0.45 million m3) (Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Programme, 2018).
Overall, the initiatives and management practices within by the water sector, in collaboration with the government and community stakeholders, show that officials are very much aware of the water security situation, further evidenced by the efforts to ensure that the scarce water resources are used sustainably. However, a more integrated approach to water demand management may be required for managing scarce water resources in Abu Dhabi
The soft-path approach to water management in Abu Dhabi: Its applicability
The analysis of data collected through the interviews and literature review in the context of the four major soft-path approach principles revealed that, currently, the water sector in Abu Dhabi applies these principles of soft-path in several ways. Consistent with the principle of treating water as a service, the water sector invests in seawater desalination and wastewater treatment plants, as well as the development of sustainable irrigation systems. Governmental agencies also encourage the use of water fixtures and water-efficient taps, as well as technologies for timely leakage detection and surveillance of water distribution structures. Also, the implementation of progressive rates in water tariffs, and the promotion of sustainable urban developments (including ESCO, PRS, and hard landscaping) can be regarded as significant initiatives aimed at managing consumer behaviors. There are some barriers to the application of the given soft-path principle in the water sector. Firstly, research of the local flora is not sufficient, yet it is required, along with the development of guidelines for the cultivation of drought-tolerant species. Additionally, the research of the effectiveness of economic stimuli, which increased due to the 2017 revision of water tariffs, in changing the behaviors of Emirati nationals should be conducted because there is a need to understand consumer behaviors better.
The applicability of soft path in terms of the second principle, ecological sustainability, is manifested in such practices as the development of supportive legal and regulatory frameworks, monitoring and control of the carrying capacity and abstraction potential of water resources (for example, through the Well Inventory Project) and active promotion of community awareness through multiple programs. For example, awareness campaigns such as Stay in the Green and Sustainable Schools are geared towards educating the public about their roles in promoting a culture of water conservation. Through the Sustainable Schools program, the per capita/day water use in 135 schools was reduced from 32.7 liters in 2015 to 25.88 liters in 2017 (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2013). Additionally, the introduction of laws helps increase the realization of sustainable water practices in Abu Dhabi. Law No. 17 of 2005 was devoted to issues of ownership of sewerage systems and the responsibilities for wastewater management among the main stakeholders; and Law No. 2 of 1998 embraced a large number of problems including water research promotion, capacity planning, and forecasting, and development of safe water distribution systems. However, the major identified applicability gap is the need for the modification of the infrastructure and technology implemented at wastewater treatment plants to prevent the leakage of sewage and increase the quality of treated wastewater.
The current applicability of the third soft-path principle, conserving water quality and quantity, is defined by such practices as the introduction of the Water Quality Regulations and the Recycled Water and Biosolids Regulations, which control the quality of potable water and treated wastewater. Nevertheless, some major deficiencies were identified. They include the necessity to improve the network/infrastructure for the collection and distribution of wastewater, and the need for the imposition of strict restrictions on the use of groundwater and desalinated water for irrigation, district cooling, and landscaping.
As for backcasting, it is applied only partially. For instance, the water sector shows compliance with such a criterion of the given principle as the accountability of stakeholders’ needs, both social and economic, during the determination of sustainable volumes of supply. Additionally, it is observed that the agencies are formulating future goals and objectives for sustainable water management in the Emirate, yet there is no evidence whether the backward analysis method and the evaluation of future scenarios are being used at all. It is clear, however, that forecasting remains a preferred planning method in the water sector.
The soft-path approach to water management in Abu Dhabi: Its Implementability
The implementability of the soft path in Abu Dhabi was determined by analyzing institutional capacity factors: human resources, informational resources, financial resources, political environment, policy and legal environment, community awareness, technological solutions, and practical considerations. The areas of human resources, the legal and political environment, and practical considerations were identified as the strongest. The analyzed evidence demonstrates that a skilled workforce dedicated to water conservation activities in the Emirate is present, along with training opportunities for the staff. Moreover, in general, the legal framework is supportive of water quality and resource efficiency initiatives and sustainability is an explicit goal of multiple Abu Dhabi’s water policies. As for the notion of the political environment, which implies the cooperation among governmental bodies and organizations, both within and outside the water sector, and the presence of lead, the analysis revealed that the water conservation efforts undertaken by local governmental agencies are well-coordinated at all distinct political levels. The existence of many educational programs and joint partnerships signifies that the government aims to engage all stakeholders in sustainable practices.
The identified implement ability gaps relate to the themes of information resources, financial resources, technological solutions, and community involvement. For instance, the lack of laws regulating the utilization of automatic irrigation systems in Abu Dhabi was identified along with the limited adherence to water leakage schedules. At the same time, the obligatory implementation of these technologies and initiatives is important for outdoor water conservation because agriculture and landscaping currently consume the largest volumes in Abu Dhabi (Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council, 2017). Secondly, the overall economic situation and decline in the Emirate’s revenues due to low oil prices are linked to budget cuts which, in turn, increase the risk of funding instability and irregularity. Lastly, while significant efforts are undertaken to increase the level of community awareness of the value of water and its conservation, the level of community involvement in decision-making regarding sustainability initiatives remains low.
The findings indicate that many practices in which the Abu Dhabi water sector currently engage meet soft path principles. The soft-path approach challenges traditional water management and planning methodologies that mainly focus on water demand and cost-effectiveness. Nevertheless, it builds on conventional methods and includes a broader range of conservation measures (Brooks & Holtz, 2009). It is possible to state that the main activities currently realized in the Emirate are focused on the encouragement to change in water use habits among the citizens. The soft path also implies the focus on services provided by energy input instead of looking at water as an end in itself (Brooks & Holtz, 2009).
The promotion of water-efficient technologies (automated irrigation systems and taps) and sustainable urban developments (EBSCO, PRS) in Abu Dhabi can be highlighted in this regard. However, there are still a lot of gaps in the application of the soft-path approach, which should be filled to ensure a more sustainable water management. For example, to manage water in a “soft” manner, Brandes and Brooks (2005) recommend including water-efficient technologies that do not need water as such. An example of such a technology/practice is the cultivation of native drought-tolerant plants for landscaping and other purposes. The establishment of well-functioning cascading water systems is a must. For this reason, Abu Dhabi should increase the rate of treated wastewater reuse and introduce supportive legislation for the implementation of efficient water technologies.
The implementation of the soft-path approach is also feasible from the perspective of current institutional capacities. For instance, the government has sufficient active water conservation plans, laws, and policies to which stakeholders are required to adhere. The water sector will benefit from the identified strength as it creates a firm foundation for the implementation of appropriate initiatives that are in line with the soft-path approach. At the same time, the institutional capacity of Abu Dhabi to implement the soft-path approach is weakened by the low level of community involvement in decision making. The involvement of large numbers of stakeholders and meaningful participation of the public in decision-making is important because it helps determine an optimal cost-benefit ratio in terms of desires, preferences, and needs of the community and the Emirate in general (Brandes & Brooks, 2007). Another institutional weakness that should be addressed to improve implement ability outcomes is associated with the identified applicability gap – the creation of a supportive environment for the implementation of efficient water technologies and initiatives. The recommendations on how to improve the detected deficiencies will be provided in the following section.
This section offers major recommendations for further improvement to meet the Emirate’s growing demand for water more efficiently. The practical suggestions have been developed based on the limitations and gaps discussed above. The recommendations are linked to the soft-path approach criteria identified in Chapter 2, as well as particular institutional capacity themes.
Development of a supportive environment for sustainable water use
Overall, active laws and regulations implemented in Abu Dhabi create a favorable environment for sustainable water management as they effectively address a large number of issues. However, the analysis results revealed that the limited quantities of wastewater transferred by tankers are currently not accepted for disposal due to quality (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2017a). This indicates a need for new wastewater tankering regulations. Another significant issue concerning the supportive legal framework is related to the lack of laws for the universal use of automated irrigation systems in agriculture and landscaping. The imposition of stricter rules and timelines regarding the implementation of the given technology can help reduce water losses considerably. Thus, the water regulatory framework should be re-examined to ensure that this problem is addressed.
Utilisation of water-efficient incentives aimed to minimize water usage
Better ways to stimulate the change in water consumption behaviors among Emirati nationals are required as they are less incentivized economically compared to non-nationals. As stated by Srouji (2017), “to achieve the aims of an effective water tariff design, it is preferable to have a relatively higher elasticity in the demand curve, so that there is a higher decrease in consumption when the price is increased” (p. 11). Since it was observed that income elasticity interferes with the responsiveness to economic incentives among Emirati nationals, there may be two primary ways to modify their consumption behaviors. First, it is possible to increase water tariffs so that it covers both production and supply costs and contributes to the greater reduction in water demand. Second is the implementation of awareness campaigns targeted at affluent population groups. A balance between the two is recommended as it may ensure greater public acceptance and social equity. Additionally, it is worth noticing that the limited adherence to water leakage repair schedules in some governmental agencies indicates the lack of water conservation culture within them. The development of organizational guidelines and the allocation of leakage monitoring responsibilities to competent personnel can help address these given problems.
Another important incentive to minimize water usage is the cultivation of drought-tolerant species. As stated by Alam et al. (2017), “native plants can adapt to hostile arid environmental conditions which are an important factor to select them for landscaping” (p. 730). Compared to exotic and introduced species, they require less water and overall maintenance. Not only can the cultivation of drought-tolerant plants restore the native ecosystem, but this can also contribute to greater water use efficiency. Thus, governmental agencies must make deliberate efforts to research and promote these plant species by educating farmers, collaborating with other organizations and sectors, and developing relevant guidelines and laws.
Creation of cascading water systems
The findings of the literature review conducted in Chapter 4 revealed that the depletion of groundwater resources and their minimal replenishing represent a major problem in Abu Dhabi. It was also identified that desalination is utilized as the primary alternative method for the production of water. Considering the urgent need to preserve groundwater and taking into account the high costs associated with the desalination process, there is a need to invest in other techniques of water production. More investment in the creation of cascading systems for re-use of treated wastewater is one of the promising alternatives to support the conservation efforts and increase cost-efficiency and sustainability of water distribution (Brooks & Holtz, 2009).
The current low rate of treated wastewater reuse may be addressed through the construction of transfer trunk lines and an increase in the treatment design capacity to handle the growing volumes of used water. The first recommendation can help allocate treated wastewater across sectors and industries more efficiently, improving the overall utilization of treated wastewater. The second will help address the identified infrastructure deficiency which currently contributes to the low percentage of wastewater reuse.
Backcasting and community involvement
The data identified in the literature confirm that forecasting is by far the most widely used method of planning in Abu Dhabi. However, in addition to forecasts, it is recommended that organizations in the Abu Dhabi water sector implement the four major steps involved in backcasting: 1) identification of a desired endpoint and creation of plausible future alternatives related to it; 2) identification of possible milestones and obstacles during the analysis that starts from the desired goal back to the present; 3) utilization of identified milestones and obstacles for the assessment of current resources and formulation of robust actions, and 4) development of strategies based on the analysis results (Vliet & Kok, 2013).
Additionally, the effectiveness of water conservation laws will achieve their objectives when members of the public feel that they are part of the changes in the water sector since they are potentially the main force for transformation. This means that communities should be actively involved in decision-making processes as they are among the key stakeholders in water conservation efforts. It was mentioned throughout the discussion that Abu Dhabi’s five-year water strategy has made informing all stakeholders in the public sphere a priority so that their views can be included and used to help towards better planning (Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, 2014a). It is, however, also necessary to mobilize community members to obtain their feedback. Thus, besides educating people about the value of water resources, awareness campaigns must provide Emirati citizens with the necessary information about existing feedback and surveillance tools such as web sites. Along with conservation advocacy, the given marketing approach is consistent with the soft-path principle.
The water budget should be reviewed based on the realigned priorities so that it becomes predictable. By being predictable, the financial resources will be allocated more effectively across the priority areas.
The water sector should make the latest research on water issues available to all water staff to enhance their knowledge base and make the relevant changes in the water sector. In other words, the technological and research knowledge that the staff will access will help them to be better prepared for the application soft-path approach (Binstock, 2010).
The research limitations are primarily associated with the nature of the applied methodology. Qualitative data collection tools, such as interviews, imply that the obtained information is subjective and, thus, can be prone to bias. This limitation was partially addressed through the analysis of Interviewees’ responses by using governmental data and research evidence. Nevertheless, the targeted investigation of the implementation of the soft-path principle in Abu Dhabi through quantitative methodology could help verify and support the findings of the given study.
During the research into the soft-path approach practices, which the government currently promotes and utilizes to achieve a greater level of sustainability in water consumption and management, as well as in the findings of scholarly and professional sources, a few promising methods and solutions were identified. Their further research in the context of the detected problem areas will be essential to improvement in the water sector. The major future study ideas are presented below.
First, the research findings revealed that various water use control practices are characterized by distinct effectiveness regarding improving water consumption behaviors among the Emirate’s residents. The major research implication of this is the need for a deeper understanding of water valuation tendencies in community members. It may be useful to further investigate dominant perceptions of water wealth, as well as the behavioral characteristics of consumers, to develop more effective and targeted awareness promotion campaigns and conservation incentives that would lead to more efficient resource consumption.
Sector-Relevant Soft-Path Solutions
Secondly, since it was identified that agriculture and landscaping consume most of the water resources in Abu Dhabi, it is pivotal to investigate all possible solutions that may lead to greater efficiency of water use in both the public realm and industry. Potential solutions mentioned in the paper include the use of treated wastewater for irrigation, adherence to stricter irrigation schedules, development of climate-appropriate urban landscapes, human resource education, and so on. It is suggested to evaluate the possible impacts of every practice on water conservation efforts to identify the most appropriate and effective ones.
As an example, future research could focus on the investigation of irrigation-efficient technology use in agriculture. The study is suggested to ascertain the full potential of benefits associated with the technology, including economic advantages and lower resource burdens at the individual, organizational and national levels. It is also recommended to evaluate farmers’ current levels of knowledge about available innovative irrigation technologies and ways to operate them. This data will help to develop effective targeted education strategies and promotion campaigns to support water conservation efforts.
2017 Water Tariffs Revision
The outcomes of the revised 2017 water tariffs should be investigated as there are currently no studies that demonstrate how these new tariffs have affected water demand. Therefore, future studies in Abu Dhabi should target on quantifying the gains made from the implementation of water tariffs. This research will enable a better understanding of pricing-behavior dynamics.
Implementation of the Soft-path for water
To understand the effectiveness of the soft-path approach and its suitability for the Emirate in greater detail, it is suggested to conduct empirical research of the soft-path implementation. The scope of this future study should be sufficiently narrow to facilitate the collection of demographic, consumption, and technological data over time. It is also possible to implement a control trial design in the given project and to compare the study sample with control data gathered within an area where the soft path will not be implemented, to contrast different management methods, and evaluate their effects.
Qualitative research of the water sector can again be implemented to discuss with the sector leaders the issues related to the implementation of the soft-path approach. In this study, the sector environment can be evaluated as a whole within the framework and criteria of the soft-path principles to identify whether or not current managerial and leadership practices meet them.
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Water Demand and Water Deficit Projections in Million Imperial Gallons per Day for the Abu Dhabi Emirate
Data from Chowdhury and Rajput, 2015.
|Year||Available water capacity||Water demand||Required water capacity||Water deficit|
* Groundwater for 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 is estimated to be the same for 2011 until the finalizing the well inventory results later in 2017.
Interview Invitation Letter
This letter is an invitation to participate in a study I am conducting as part of my Master’s degree in Governance and Public Policy at the United Arab Emirates University. The thesis is “The Soft-Path Approach for Sustainable Water Management: An Analysis of Its Suitability in Abu Dhabi”.
The interview questions are divided into two sections to examine the suitability of the soft-path approach in Abu Dhabi and to understand the institutional capacity of Abu Dhabi to implement this approach.
Please note for the purpose of this thesis that “soft-path approach for water management” is a concept for long-range planning that involves quantitative and qualitative methods to develop options for freshwater policy that are economically feasible, environmentally sustainable and socially acceptable.
The four principles of the soft-path approach are:
- Treating water as a service rather than an end in itself.
- Ensuring ecological sustainability
- Conserving quality as well as quantity
- Looking ahead by working backwards.
Participation in this interview is voluntary. You may choose not to answer some questions. The information you provide will be entirely confidential. Names and details will not appear in any thesis or report.
If you have any questions regarding this study, or would like additional information, please contact me by e-mail at U201570129. You can also contact my supervisor, Dr Sami Hasan at [email protected]
I hope that the results of my study will be of benefit to the Emirate water management organisations, as well as to the broader research community.
I look forward to speaking with you and thank you in advance for your assistance in this project.
Mariam Al Suwaidi.
Themes, Indicators of Capacity and Grouped Indicator Questions
|Themes||Indicators of capacity||Indicator questions|
|Human resources|| || |
|Information resources|| || |
|Financial resources|| || |
|Policy and legal environment|| || |
|Political environment|| || |
|Community awareness and involvement|| || |
|Technological solutions|| || |
|Practical considerations|| || |
Average Annual Population Growth Rates by Citizenship and Gender, Mid-year 2010 to 2016. Data from Statistics Center Abu Dhabi, 2017, p. 114.
|Citizenship and Gender||Mid-year 2010||Mid-year 2016||Percentage average annual growth rate|
- In 2018, the Urban Planning Council became the Department of Municipal Affairs according to the Abu Dhabi Law No 5 of 2018.