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Unsafe disposal of brine imperils Batinah farms


By Conrad Prabhu — MUSCAT: Jan. 1: The Middle East Desalination Research Centre (MEDRC) is warning that the unregulated disposal of brine — a byproduct of widespread brackish groundwater desalination activities being pursued by large farmers along the Batinah plain — has the potential to adversely impact agricultural farming in this region. According to studies by the Muscat-based international R&D hub, copious quantities of brine resulting from brackish water desalination are being dumped by farmers oblivious of the consequences of their actions to the local environment.

“A growing number of farmers are installing small-sized desalination systems to treat brackish groundwater for their irrigation needs,” said Dr Jauad El Kharraz, Head of Research at MEDRC. “Salt-rich brine remaining over from the desalination process is disposed of not far from their farms, which will inevitably end up contaminating the groundwater.

This will create further problems for agricultural farms in Batinah in the form of increased groundwater salinity and so on,” he explained in exclusive comments to the Observer.

Groundwater salinity is a longstanding concern for farmers in the Batinah Plain — the result of decades of unchecked bore-well drilling and pumping from aquifers. Thanks to tough regulation, prompted by increased levels of seawater ingress into the groundwater in that area, abstraction trends have since stabilised.

But with many farmers continuing to depend on saline groundwater as a source of water to irrigate their farms, investments in portable desalination systems continue to burgeon, says Dr El Kharraz. Treatment capacities of these modest-sized plants typically average 5 cubic metres per hour.

Concerned by the potential threat to farmland in the Batinah Plain, MEDRC has since joined hands with Sultan Qaboos University (SQU) to develop safe methods of brine disposal.

“We are promoting the concept of evaporation ponds as a possible solution to the problem of brine,” said Dr El Kharraz. “Brine generated by the desalination plant is fed into this pond, and the salt left over after evaporation can be safely disposed of without harming the water table.”

“Right now, we are studying ways to accelerate the evaporation process. Upon the completion of our research at MEDRC, we will train the farmers in the use of such evaporation ponds on their farms to deal with their brine output,” the scientist added.

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