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The UAE is an arid country with scare rainfall (mean annual rainfall = 119 mm), high temperatures (>45 °C), high evaporation rates (mean annual evaporation = 3322 mm), irregular floods (≈120 Mm3/year) and a lack of permanent surface-water resources, such as rivers or lakes. Because of its limited conventional water resources, the UAE has utilized water desalination, water harvesting and reuse of treated wastewater as nonconventional water sources since early 1970’s.
Water harvesting provides additional quantities of good-quality water, which can be used for various purposes. The traditional water harvesting methods have evolved through time from the use of “barriers”, “habisas”, “berkas” and “aflaj” to modern techniques such as cloud seeding and artificial rain, groundwater-recharge dams, artificial recharge, aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) and subsurface dams. The old water harvesting techniques are not yet obsolete and are still in use hand-in-hand with the most recent technologies.
The amount of water harvested by aflaj varied between 9.0 Mm3 in 1994 and 31.2 Mm3 in 1982. Aflaj water is renewable and is good-to-fair for irrigation. The storage capacity of about 114 existing groundwater-recharge dams is 125 Mm3. The flood water retained by the largest nine dams over the period 1982–2000 was 178 Mm3, and it increased to 211 Mm3 in 2007. The planned construction of 68 additional dams brings the total to 182. Assessment of recharge efficiency revealed the reservoirs of Wadi Tawiyean, Wadi Bih, Wadi Wurrayah and Wadi Ham dams have contributed 22%, 31%, 32% and 47% of aquifer recharge, respectively. The recharge efficiency can be enhanced by exposing the gravel top layer through removal of the thin layer of silt accumulated on the wadi floor.
The time interval for cloud seeding and increasing rainfall, through inducing artificial precipitation, is the end of winter season between March and April. The chances for cloud seeding during the summer are better than during winter because the summer clouds have larger sizes of minute particles (400–1000 in cm3) and higher moisture content (0.4–1.2 gm/cm3). Raindrops are larger in summer than winter, and the cloud-moisture content may reach 100% in some areas.
The UAE has two pilot aquifer storage recovery (ASR) projects in Abu Dhabi (Liwa and Shuaib) and Sharjah (Nezwa) emirates. Both projects utilize surplus desalinated water during the winter for injection into depleted aquifer systems and subsequent retrieval during high demand.
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