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The World’s Largest Water Reserve Is Being Built Under a Desert

by Rick Anderson

The United Arab Emirates consumes about 6 billion liters of water every day. As one might imagine, maintaining that supply in the middle of a desert is no easy feat. Luckily, in order to ensure that its residents never go thirsty, the UAE has tapped into the same kind of architectural initiative that’s turned Dubai into perhaps the global capital of grandiose construction projects. Just in time for 2018’s International Water Summit (which runs this week in Abu Dhabi), the Abu Dhabi Water & Electricity Authority (ADWEA) completed the biggest artificially desalinated water reserve on the planet. And where is it located? Roughly 262 feet under the Liwa desert and approximately 100 miles from a coastal desalination plant. Composed of 315 wells, it will take 26 months to fill up its capacity of 26 billion liters of water and will be able to provide locals with 100 million liters (which is about 26.5 million gallons) of water per day.

The $450 million water security measure was a long time coming. First envisioned in 2002, the Herculean hydration project required years of scientific feasibility studies and strategic planning through a collaboration of the ADWEA, its subsidiary organization TRANSCO, and the Environment Agency-Abu Dhabi. As a result, ADWEA head Saif Saleh Al Seairi said in a statement that it’s prepared for contingencies like “storms, a malfunction, a random sea raft, and even the red-tide phenomenon which has been exacerbated by climate change” that can shut down other such desalination plants.

With the prospect of a world where water is a more valuable resource than the UAE’s oil reserves not as improbable as it once seemed, expect previously unthinkable projects to become more commonplace in the years ahead. Hopefully, Al Seairi’s willingness to share project learnings with regional partners will make such safeguards available to other nations at a lower cost.

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