Challenges Facing Water Resources

  • Abdulrahman S. Alsharhan
  • Zeinelabidin E. Rizk
Part of the World Water Resources book series (WWR, volume 3)


This chapter discusses the problems facing conventional water resources, including surface water and groundwater. The surface-water sources are seasonal floods, permanent springs and aflaj systems, while the groundwater resources are stored in various aquifers all over the country. The chapter also deals with the problems facing non-conventional water resources, including desalinated water (coastal and inland desalination processes) and treated wastewater.

The problems facing surface water are pollution from surface sources, inadequate quality for domestic uses, shortage and scarcity of recharge. The groundwater resources receive limited recharge from rain in the northern and eastern parts of the country and are generally suffering from scarcity, depletion and declining groundwater levels, water logging, increasing salinity, salt-water intrusion, hardness, unsuitability for irrigation and pollution.

The thermal desalination plants suffer from scale formation and precipitation, while the plants applying reverse osmosis face fouling and corrosion. These problems decrease the efficiency and production of plants. Water desalination has been criticized based on economic, environmental and security grounds. Disposal of reject brine is the main problem facing desalination industry. Discharge of reject brines in coastal areas leads to negative physical, chemical and biological impacts on the marine environment. In case of inland desalination plants, uncontrolled disposal of reject brines leads to serious pollution of groundwater problems. On the other hand, oil pollution of feedwater, algal growth, thermal pollution, salinity problems and heavy metals threaten desalination plants.

The problems facing reuse of treated wastewater are mainly psychological, such as fear of infectious diseases, unrest and belief that this water is unsafe, irrespective of the level of treatment. Also, there is a direct relationship between certain diseases and the use of treated wastewater for irrigation. Conventional wastewater-treatment methods do not completely remove harmful pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Finally, the use of treated wastewater leads to accumulations of heavy metals such as cadmium (Cd), lead (Pb), copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn). Reclamation of soils having heavy-metal concentrations exceeding the maximum permissible limits is difficult.


  1. Abdel-Jawad M, Al-Tabtabaei M (1999) Impact of current power generation and water desalination activities on Kuwaiti Marine Environment. Proceedings of IDA World Congress on Desalination and Water Reuse, San Diego 3: 231–240Google Scholar
  2. Abdul Azis PK, Al Tisan I, Al Daili M, Green TN, Dalvi AI, Javeed MA (2000) Effects of environment on source water for desalination plants on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia. Desalination 132:29–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ahmed M, Shayyab WH, Hoey D, Al-Handaly J (2001) Brine disposal from reverse osmosis desalination plants in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Desalination 133:135–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Al Amari KA (1997) Assessment of environmental impact of re-injecting oil-field water in the miocene clastic sediments on the shallow aquifer at Bu Hasa oil field, United Arab Emirates. Unpublished M. Sc. Thesis, UAE University, Al Ain, United Arab EmiratesGoogle Scholar
  5. Al Asam MS, Wagner W (1997) Investigation for development of ground water management strategies in the eastern coastal plain of the UAE: Proceeding of the third Gulf Water Conference. Towards Efficient Utilization of Water Resources in the Gulf, Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, pp 329–339Google Scholar
  6. Al Barwani HH, Purnama A (2008) Evaluating the effect of producing desalinated seawater on hypersaline Arabian Gulf. Eur J Sci Res 22(2):279–285Google Scholar
  7. Al Hammadi M K (2003) Assessment of Groundwater resources using remote sensing and GIS: UAE University – Faculty of graduate studies, water resources program. Unpublished Master Thesis, p 108Google Scholar
  8. Al Malek SA, Mohamed AMO (2005) Environmental impact assessment of off shore oil spill on desalination plant. Desalination 185:9–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Al Wahedi AA (1997) Application of hydrogeochemistry and groundwater modeling techniques for water-resources management of Wadi Al Bih Drainage Basin, United Arab Emirates. Unpublished M. Sc. Thesis, UAE University, Al Ain, United Arab EmiratesGoogle Scholar
  10. Al-Farraj A (2012) Groundwater over-pumping and recent earthquakes in the northern United Arab Emirates. A natural hazard accentuated by human activity. J Water Resour Prot 2012(4):800–806CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Al-Hogaraty EA, Rizk ZS, Garamoon HK (2008) Groundwater pollution of the quaternary aquifer in northern United Arab Emirates. Water Air Soil Pollut 190:323–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Alsharhan AS, Rizk ZS, Nairn AEM, Bakhit DW, Alhajari SA (2001) Hydrogeology of an arid region. The Arabian gulf and adjoining areas. Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, p 331Google Scholar
  13. Al-Yamani FY, Bishop JM, Al-Rifaie K, Ismail W (2007) The effect of the river diversion, Mesopotamian marsh drainage and restoration and river damming on the marine environment of the North-West Arabian Gulf. Aquat Ecosyst Health Manag 10(3):277–289CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. AMBAG (2006) Desalination feasibility study in the Monterey Bay Region, prepared for the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments (AMBAG),
  15. Brown R (1986) The content and nature of Arabian Gulf seawater. Bulletin 29, retrieved from 05.htm
  16. Dawoud MA, Al Mulla MM (2012) Environmental impacts of seawater desalination: Arabian Gulf case study. Int J Environ Sustain 1(3):22–37Google Scholar
  17. Domenico PA, Schwartz FW (1990) Physical and chemical hydrogeology. Wiley, New York, p 824Google Scholar
  18. Dore MHI (2005) Forecasting the economic costs of desalination technology. Desalination 172:207–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Elshorbagy W, Elhakeem AB (2008) Risk assessment maps of oil spill for major desalination plants in United Arab Emirates. Desalination 228:200–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), 2004 (2004) Edition of the drinking water standards and health advisories. Office of Water, EPA 822-R-04-005, Washington, DC, p 12Google Scholar
  21. ESCWA (2001) The Role of desalinated water in augmentation of the water supply in selected ESCWA member countries, E/ESCWA/ENR/2001/19. UN, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. FAO (2006) In: Beltrán JM, Koo-Oshima S (eds) Water desalination for agriculture applications: Proceedings of the FAO expert consultation on water desalination for agricultural applications. Water Resources, Development and Management Service, Land and Water Development Division, Rome, p 50Google Scholar
  23. Fetter CW (1988) Applied hydrogeology, 2nd edn. Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, p 592Google Scholar
  24. Freeze RA, Cherry JA (1979) Groundwater. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, p 604Google Scholar
  25. Garamoon HK (1996) Hydrogeological and geomorphological studies on the Abu Dhabi – Al Ain – Dubai rectangle, United Arab Emirates. Ph. D. Thesis, Ain Shams University, Cairo, Egypt, p 277Google Scholar
  26. Glibert PM (2007) Eutrophication and harmful algal blooms: a complex global issue, examples from the Arabian Seas including Kuwait Bay, and an introduction to the global ecology and oceanography of harmful algal blooms (GEOHAB) program. Int J Oceans Oceanogr:157–169Google Scholar
  27. Hashim A, Hajjaj M (2005) Impact of desalination plants fluid effluents on the integrity of seawater, with the Arabian Gulf in perspective. Desalination 182:373–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Hem JD (1985) Study and interpretation of chemical characteristics of natural water. U. S. Geological Survey Water Supply Paper no. 1473. U. S. Geological Survey, Reston, p 363Google Scholar
  29. Hoepner T (1999) A procedure for environmental impact assessments (EIA) for seawater desalination plants. Desalination 172:207–214Google Scholar
  30. Hoepner T, Lattemann S (2002) Chemical impacts from seawater desalination plants. A case study of the northern Red Sea. Desalination 152:133–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hounslow AW (1995) Water quality data analysis and interpretation. CRC Press Inc., Lewis Publishers, New York, p 397Google Scholar
  32. Humaid RK (2012) Hydrogeology and hydrogeochemistry of aquifer systems in the Um Al Quwain Emirate, UAE. Unpublished M.Sc. Thesis, Institute of Environment, water and Energy, Ajman University of science and Technology, Ajman, UAE, p 149Google Scholar
  33. Imes JL, Hutchinson CB, Signor DC, Tamayo JM, Mohamed FA, Hadley (1994) Ground-water resources of the Liwa crescent area, Abu Dhabi Emirate: U.S. Geological Survey Adminstrative Report 94-001: U. S. Geological Survey-Abu Dhabi National Drilling Company, 138 pGoogle Scholar
  34. Khalifa AA (1995) Surface water and groundwater resources in UAE. Culture and Science Society, Meeting on Water Balance inn UAE, Dubai, p 12Google Scholar
  35. Khordagui H (2002) Environmental impacts of power-desalination on the gulf marine ecosystem. In: Khan et al (eds) The gulf ecosystem. Health and sustainability. Backhuys Publishers, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  36. Lattemann S, Hopner T (2003) Seawater desalination: impacts of brine and chemical discharges on the marine environment. Balaban Desalination Publications, L’AquilaGoogle Scholar
  37. Lattemann S, Hoepner T (2008) Environmental impact and impact assessment of seawater desalination. Desalination 220:1–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Maas EV (1990) Crop salt tolerance. In: Tanji KK (ed) Agricultural salinity assessment and management. American Society of Civil Engineers, New York, pp 262–303Google Scholar
  39. MEDRC (2002) Assessment of the composition of desalination plant disposal brines (Project NO. 98-AS-026), Middle East Desalination Research Center (MEDRC), OmanGoogle Scholar
  40. MOEW (Ministry of Environment and Water) (2015) State of environment report. MOEW, UAE, p 36Google Scholar
  41. Mohamed AMO, Maraq M, Al Handhaly J (2005) Impact of land disposal of reject brine from desalination plants on soil and groundwater. Desalination 182(2005):411–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Murad A, Hussein S, Aldahan A (2014) Possible effects of changing groundwater level and chemistry on building foundation of Al Shuiaba residential district Al-Ain City UAE (Case study). Proceedings of the WSTA 11th Gulf Water Conference, Water in GCC. Towards efficient management, 20–22 October Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, pp 137–143Google Scholar
  43. Rizk ZS (1998) Falajes of United Arab Emirates: Geological Settings and hydrogeological characteristics: The Arabian journal for Science and Engineering, King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, 23(1C):3–25Google Scholar
  44. Rizk ZS, Alsharhan AS (2003) Water resources in the United Arab Emirates, developments in water science (50). In: Alsharhan AS, Wood WW (eds) Water resources perspectives: evaluation, management and policy. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 245–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rizk ZS, Garamoon HK (2006) The influence of major lineaments on groundwater resources in the eastern region of the United Arab Emirates. Univ Sharjah J Pure Appl Sci 3(3):83–111. ISSN 1811 1645Google Scholar
  46. Rizk ZS, Wood WW, Alsharhan AS (2007) Sources of dissolved solids and water in Wadi Al Bih aquifer, Northern United Arab Emirates. Hydrogeol J 15(7):1553–1563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rizk ZS, Garamoon HK, Al Matari AS, Khalil MF, Ebraheem AM (2015) Application of earth resistivity, hydrogeochemistry and isotope hydrology methods for assessment of groundwater recharge in two drainage basins in northeastern United Arab Emirates. J Appl Geol Geophys 3(3):1–13Google Scholar
  48. Rizk ZS, Garamoon HK, Abu Sara HS (2017a) Hydrogeochemistry and Microbiology of Wadi Al Bih Limestone Aquifer in Northern United Arab Emirates. J Res Environ Earth Sci 3(3):1–14Google Scholar
  49. Rizk ZS, Garamoon HK, Humaid RK (2017b) Impact of a paleochannel on hydrogeochemistry of a quaternary aquifer. Case study from Umm Al Quwain area, United Arab Emirates. J Res Environ Earth Sci 3(3):35–46Google Scholar
  50. Schiffler M (2004) Perspectives and challenges for desalination in the 21st century. Desalination 165:1–9Google Scholar
  51. Shams El Din A, Arain R, Hammoud A (2000) On the chlorination of seawater. Desalination 129:53–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Sherif M, Mohamed M, Kacimov A, Shetty A (2011) Assessment of groundwater quality in the northeastern coastal area of UAE as precursor for desalination. Desalination 273(2):436–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sherif M, Sefelnasr A, Ebraheem A, Javadi A (2014) Quantitative and qualitative assessment of seawater intrusion in Wadi Ham under different pumping scenarios. J Hydrol Eng 19:855–866CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Todd DK (1980) Groundwater hydrology, 2nd edn. Wiley, New York, p 535Google Scholar
  55. U.S. Salinity Laboratory Staff (1954) Diagenesis and improvement of saline and alkali soils. Agricultural Handbook no. 60. U.S. Department of Agriculture, pp 60–160Google Scholar
  56. WHO (2007) Desalination for safe water supply, guidance for the health and environmental aspects applicable to desalination. World Health Organization, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  57. WHO (World Health Organization) (1984) WHO guidelines for drinking water quality: volume 1, recommendations. WHO, Geneva, p 130Google Scholar
  58. Wood WW, Rizk ZS, Alsharhan AS (2003) Timing of recharge, and the origin, evolution and distribution of solutes in a hyperarid aquifer system, developments in water science (50). In: Alsharhan AS, Wood WW (eds) Water resources perspectives. Evaluation, management and policy. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 245–264Google Scholar
  59. World Bank (2005) Report on evaluation of water sector in the GCC countries, challenges facing water resources and water management and the way ahead: Arab Gulf Program for United Nations Development Organizations, p 113 (in Arabic)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Abdulrahman S. Alsharhan
    • 1
  • Zeinelabidin E. Rizk
    • 2
  1. 1.Middle East Geological and Environmental EstablishmentDubaiUnited Arab Emirates
  2. 2.University of Science and Technology of FujairahFujairahUnited Arab Emirates

Personalised recommendations