Groundwater atlases are becoming a necessary resource for identifying natural reservoirs of our most precious natural resource – water. A groundwater atlas for the USA was published was published by regions i.e. several states in the 1990s culminating in the 2000 release of the Groundwater Atlas for the U.S.A. It describes the location, extent as well as the geological and hydrological characteristics of aquifers across the United States.
An African Groundwater Atlas, a project undertaken by the British Geological Survey, released the atlas in 2014 making groundwater information and data available across the globe. Abu Dhabi released its groundwater atlas in 2019.
Importance of Groundwater Atlas for the Middle East
Across the globe, groundwater reserves are being depleted rapidly. Therefore, to better manage and conserve and even replenish groundwater, the location of the resource is essential. This is especially true in the extremely water scarce regions of the globe such as the GCC and MENA regions. The groundwater atlases are intended to better manage water allocation and access, and improve the efficiency of water usage. Agricultural is a very large consumer of outdoor water usage.
In the UAE, in particular Abu Dhabi, groundwater is still the main source of water, while in the Kingdom of Bahrain, the natural water reserves have been used to near exhaustion. The Kingdom is highly dependent on desalination plants to provide the essential resource. Water security is a key national priority so conservation methods are essential to address the long-term sustainability of the region.
Almost 65% of Abu Dhabi water supply is from their groundwater which translates into 2.1 million cubic metres per year. The groundwater is supplied from the Hajjar Mountains on border between UAE and Oman. For a desert nation, food security is intrinsic to the management of the water reserves. The greater portion of fresh fruits and vegetables are imported on a daily basis. This means that food security is also precarious in the region. Therefore, to introduce rigorous water conservation measures is of top priority.
It is difficult to devise a water conservation strategy when one does not have access to information about water availability in terms of geographical location and in volumetric measures. Therefore, groundwater mapping as well as soil characteristics are necessary information to move towards a more secure future. Water resource conservation measures however, will have to be integrated into agricultural practices such as drip irrigation, selecting of more drought and saline tolerant plant species, as well as embracing hydroponic and aquaponic agricultural practices.
The Abu Dhabi Groundwater Atlas was released this year as a tool to assist in tracking, monitoring and analyzing the use of groundwater. As the agricultural demand for water is so significant, better and more efficient water usage best practice must be identified and enforced in the area. Therefore, it is a critical tool to contribute to strategic water management plans and water efficiency measures. But in partnership with data mapping and strategic planning, community awareness of the serious nature of water resource usage and the limitations are crucial for any successful water management plans for the future.