Real Estate & Construction

Tunnel Vision

Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Program

Abu Dhabi's sewerage and wastewater treatment systems are being revamped to meet the demands of a growing population, constructing a system that will see 100% re-use of sewage in the Emirate in the decades ahead.

Cities, both developed and developing, tend to be identified by the buildings and structures that make up their skylines; and the more iconic, the better. Sydney has the Opera house, Paris the Eiffel Tower, Cairo the Pyramids. Bridges, high-rise buildings, glittering hotels, vibrant shopping malls and market squares, and unique architectural styles and designs that incorporate aspects of the local heritage and culture all become part of a city’s image. An aerial look at Abu Dhabi’s landscape would immediately draw attention to landmark structures like the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the Etihad Towers, the Louvre coming to life on Saadiyat Island, the Hyatt Capital Gate—the farthest-leaning man-made building in the world, or the first circular disc-shaped building in the Middle East, the Aldar headquarters building in Al Raha Beach—just to point out a few. But when it comes to developing urban infrastructure, what often goes unnoticed and unseen by most is what lies behind the “image factor,” or rather beneath it, deep underground in its sewers.

Back in 2008, the Abu Dhabi Sewerage Services Company (ADSSC) initiated the construction of a Strategic Tunnel Enhancement Program (STEP) for the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, a 48-km deep-tunnel network that would use gravity and hydraulic pumping systems to redirect Abu Dhabi’s wastewater from the city central areas to treatment facilities further out—adding capacity to the network and reducing the risk of flooding and unpleasant odors reaching the city streets. Previously described as a strained system, the project enhances Abu Dhabi’s sewerage networks as it takes into account the major social, economic, and environmental factors that come along with a growing city like Abu Dhabi and the impact they have on urban sewerage systems. The deep-level aspect of the tunnel project and the wastewater re-use technology plans in the works have set new standards and new records for Abu Dhabi’s urban environment, paving the way for sustainable urban development moving forward.

With the expectation of Abu Dhabi’s local population to surpass 5 million by 2030 comes a strong need to plan ahead, which Abu Dhabi has done with vision and foresight. As per the criteria laid out in the Abu Dhabi Urban Structure Framework Plan 2030, the UAE capital city has been taking forward-thinking measures to not only accommodate the growth but ensure that the Emirate’s cityscape evolves sustainably, in line with specific environmental criteria. The ADSSC’s tunnel enhancement project is one of the most vital and strategic projects in the plan. Though not the most fashionable or visible, it ensures that Abu Dhabi can grow sustainably and that its physical infrastructure can accommodate the anticipated population growth in the coming years. The construction of a new sewerage tunnel system in Abu Dhabi replacing the old tunnels makes Abu Dhabi’s urban infrastructure more robust and able to withstand the added demand that will be placed on the system, which is estimated to be 1.7 million m3 of sewage in 2030. From the previous 400,000 m3 capacity of the old system, the ADSSC’s tunnel enhancement enables Abu Dhabi to continue its city growth and expansion plans into the future without a hitch. Furthermore, with increased urban population comes increased demand for water, a precious and scarce resource particularly in the desert climate of the Middle East. The eco-friendly design of the new sewerage system is aimed at increasing the re-use capabilities of Abu Dhabi’s wastewater, roughly 40% of which is being directed in the sea rather than treated for re-use, with the ultimate aim of having 100% re-use capabilities over the next five years.

With the population of Abu Dhabi expected to exceed 5 million in 2030 comes a vital need to examine the impact an expanding population will have on the city’s urban infrastructure. The construction of an enhanced sewerage and wastewater system strengthens Abu Dhabi’s ability to continue its economic development sustainably. Merging Abu Dhabi’s need to accommodate its growing population, increasing demand for potable water and address the issue of water scarcity and environmental protection all at once is exactly what the ADSSC’s sewerage project does and will ensure Abu Dhabi continues along its path towards attaining its desired status as the sustainable capital of the Arab world.