How did this lake randomly appear in the middle of the desert? What a great story about unintended consequences from infrastructure.
Dave Clark, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey working in the United Arab Emirates, says this lake emerged from the sand a few years ago.
“You see local families out here and they’re all just enthralled,” Clark says. “It’s water in the desert, so everybody’s pleased. But it’s definitely water that’s had a human touch to it. People have had their hand in this water, maybe literally.”
Here’s how this lake got here: A desalination plant right on the coast pulls in saltwater from the Persian Gulf and makes that water drinkable and usable. The water is then pumped 150 miles inland to the city of Al Ain. The residents there drink it up, bathe with it and then flush it down their drains.
“It goes to the sewage treatment plant, and they treat it, and they bring it back into town. And they water the parks and the gardens and things like that, and that percolates down into the groundwater,” Clark says.
And then it ends up in the desert, a short distance from Al Ain, by percolating back up from the ground. This water’s clean. But still, it comes as a shock to some in the desert.
“Just because the sand dunes look on the surface to be fairly barren doesn’t mean that they are. They are full of life,” says Brigitte Howarth, an ecologist at Zayed University in Dubai.