Abu Dhabi unveils world’s largest desalinated water reserve

The project has been completed at an estimated cost of $435.6m to deliver a fallback pumping capacity of 100 million gallons of water a day

Razan Al Mubarak and Saif Saleh Al Seairi.
Razan Al Mubarak and Saif Saleh Al Seairi.

Abu Dhabi has unveiled the world’s largest reserve of high quality desalinated water, secured in a network of 315 recovery wells lying up to 80m below the Liwa Desert.

The reserve now holds more than 26 million m3 of water (equivalent to 5.6 billion imperial gallons) that can bolster drinking water supply when needed.

The project has been completed at an estimated cost of $435.6m (AED1.61bn) to deliver a fallback pumping capacity of 100 million gallons of water a day to the emirate if required.


The 160km pipeline from the strategic water reserve site to the Madinat Zayed distribution network in Abu Dhabi city consists of approximately 9,000 sections of welded pipes, some of which measure 1.2m in diameter, and are up to 18m long.

The wells are fed by one of UAE’s longest water pipeline networks, which runs the water from Shuweihat desalination plant at a rate of 7 million imperial gallons (approx. 32,000 m3) per day, over 27 months.

The reserve, which has at its core an infiltration and recovery system sitting atop a natural fresh water underground aquifer, was first investigated in 2002, and has been extensively researched by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD).

The project was undertaken as a collaborative venture between EAD, who delivered the scientific studies, feasibility, risk and mitigation scenarios as well as strategic planning Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority (ADWEA) and its Transco subsidiary, which managed the construction and on-the-ground implementation.

The project has addressed Abu Dhabi’s water security and its resilience through the recharge of groundwater aquifers with high-quality desalinated water, which cannot be stored above ground due to contamination and other factors.

Desalinated water is piped from the coast to create the secure, underground reserve system and was accomplished by a multi-national and multi-disciplinary team of experts from EAD, Transco, ADWEA, RSB, the independent regulatory body for Abu Dhabi’s water and electricity sector, Giz International, Do. Rainer Consultancy and the ACC-Posco joint venture.

The desalinated water percolates into the subsurface through basins with a system of semi-perforated underground pipes to recharge the aquifer using only gravity as a driving force.

The project ensures continuous water supply for Abu Dhabi city and Al Dhafra region and secures the reserve for future generations. Whenever needed, water from the 315 wells can be used to recover supplies at any time.

HE Dr. Saif Saleh Al Seairi, acting director-general of ADWEA said: “The reserve acts as a safety net for the provision of water and is now being regarded as an excellent regional model for foresight and planning.

“We applaud the efforts of the team that worked hard in some of the harshest desert conditions and in an environment of a constantly undulating landscape. The project team overcame considerable challenges to complete this one-of-a-kind scheme and lessons learned have been shared with our regional partners,” he added.

Al Seairi also thanked the leaders and visionaries of the UAE in his speech.

He added that the completion of the Liwa Strategic Water Reserve coincides with the celebration of the year 2018 as a result of the efforts of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

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