The growing number of desalination plants along the coast is fast making the Gulf waters highly saline, a situation that experts say may soon force Gulf countries to develop alternative technology to cater to the bourgeoning potable water demand.
Environmental experts monitoring the Gulf warn that the waters would soon become unsuitable for desalination, if the salinity rate of continues to grow at the current pace.
The huge quantity of brine generated by hundreds of desalination plants along the Gulf coast is being dumped back into the waters. At least a section of experts worry that the salinity of Gulf waters may reach a point when traditional technologies will fail to purify the waters rendered highly saline.
Against the historically measured 35,000- 37,000 parts per million (ppm) saline content of Gulf waters, the figures compiled ten years ago say the salinity of Gulf waters has reached an alarming 42,000 ppm and in parts close to 56,000 ppm. In coastal areas close to desalination plants, the sea is getting even saltier, says a report released by the UAE-based Gulf Research Centre (GRC).
Around 60 percent of desalinisation equipment in the world is found in this region — Saudi Arabia alone desalinises about three million tonnes of sea
water daily. The salinity within Qatar’s waters varies mainly between a high 39 parts per tonne (ppt) and 41 ppt at the surface, but in some parts it is observed to be around 60ppt. Desalination provides more than 99 percent of Qatar’s potable water demand. Since 1995, the total production of desalinated water has more than tripled, reaching 312 million m3 in 2008 (Qatar’s second national human development report - 2009).
The Gulf waters are shallow and the rate of evaporation is high compared to the Mediterranean, which exacerbates the situation, experts say. The problem gets compounded by one of the most marine pollutant-trails of oil left behind by tankers. Approximately 100 oil tankers pass daily through the Gulf, discharging around eight million tonnes of oil sediments in their trail per year. Apart from discharging water mixed with oil, a number of these carriers also wash their tankers and dispose the dirty water into the sea or on the beaches.
Industry sources say that of the 100 largest desalination plants, either planned or in operation since 2005 across the world, nearly 50 are coming up along the coasts of Gulf countries.
Given these threats, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) recently called for special protective measures in the Gulf waters, along with Red Sea, Black Sea, Caspian Sea and other ecologically sensitive seas around the world. The GRC document stressed the need for the Gulf states to take proactive damage-control measures, especially since the ecological issues traverse national borders.
Recently, with the support of Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), the University of Texas & AM-Qatar has launched a $400,000 project to develop a new process for water desalination that yields zero liquid discharge.
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