If Qatar’s water treatment facilities – those that provide residents with clean water – shut down for any reason, experts at the Water Centre of Qatar Environment and Energy Research Institute (QEERI) said that the country will still have a few days’ worth of consumable water stored for emergencies.

Would this situation drive a sense of urgency in each of us to save water?

Dr Deema Almasri, a scientist at the Water Center of QEERI, highlighted the steps that Qatar had taken to increase water storage through the implementation of a water security mega reservoir project to increase the country’s reserve of clean water to seven days in case of crisis. However, she still believes that we all have a role to play when it comes to managing water consumption, and the key to changing our behaviour towards the environment begins with knowledge.

She said that we need to be aware that Qatar is in an arid environment, and is one of the world’s most water stressed countries with few natural freshwater sources.

The only natural freshwater source in Qatar is groundwater, which is over extracted. Hence, to avoid depleting its groundwater sources, Qatar employs seawater desalination as the major source for potable water production.

She explained that water desalination comes at a high cost for the environment for two reasons: separating salt from water is considered an energy-intensive process that emits huge amounts of CO2 – and this is the reason why producing desalinated water is one of the highest contributors of CO2 emissions in Qatar.

However, it must be noted that the thermal desalination plants in Qatar currently generate clean water as a by-product of the electricity generation process from gas turbines, and hence it is difficult to estimate the contribution to CO2 emissions in isolation.

The other reason is that desalination involves a large amount of salt generation as waste, along with chemicals necessary for seawater desalination – which needs to be disposed of somewhere. Qatar shares its marine waters with countries that also have water scarcity issues and which also depend on desalination.

QEERI’s Water Center

Since seawater desalination is the main source that provides clean (drinkable) water in Qatar, QEERI’s Water Center is carrying out a lot of research on modifying the technologies used in thermal desalination to use less heat and hence less energy.

Another area that the Water Center is looking to modify, according to Dr Almasri is studying the possibilities of brine mining, which is separating the useful minerals from the brine such as sodium chloride, magnesium and calcium and selling them or reusing them, and which can alleviate the impacts of high salinity of water on the environment.

She highlighted that to reduce water consumption in Qatar, Kahramaa has installed aerator retrofits in many facilities throughout Qatar which mix air with water. This mix gives the same feeling of using a high-pressure water tap while actually reducing the amount of water consumed by up to 60%.

Part of one ecosystem

Dr Gonzalo Castro de la Mata, Executive Director of Earthna: Center for a Sustainable Future, explains that all humans, regardless of their environments, need to understand that we are all part of one ecosystem and our purposeful action is needed in all parts of the world to maintain water security.

He said that we need to really be aware of the importance of water for global sustainability. In any part of the world, when we open the water tap, we need to think about where this water is coming from. In Qatar, water comes from desalination, and in other countries, water starts on watersheds in forests.

And if we don’t protect our forests that capture this water, then we are not going to have water.

Dr Gonzalo said there is a very strong link between the services we receive as end-users and maintaining nature’s ecosystems. So wherever you go, regardless of your climate and geographical reality, there is always a tight relation between human consumption of water and nature, and everyone needs to be very conscious about it.

Dr Gonzalo said that the current recommended policy is to use treated water instead of desalinated water in areas where possible, such as for landscaping – which is currently applied in Education City and widely across Qatar – and for cooling systems. This is a direction that the government is aggressively moving towards in terms of policy and awareness.

He said that we also need to change the mindsets of people and embrace the idea of living in a desert. We need to landscape with native flora and fauna because they naturally use much less water.

If we start to adjust landscaping to use more native species like the ones in the Qur’anic Botanic Garden of Qatar Foundation, Dr Gonzalo said we could have a landscaping that is more appropriate for this type of environment using much less water.

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