Where Dubai's Fresh Water came from
and where it went
50 years ago Dubai had NO running fresh water! Water sources were a natural pond (in an area that later became Karama) occasionally refreshed by rainwater; some sweet water wells near Al Fahidi Fort; areas where Hamarain Shopping Centre and Dubai Hospital are now located plus several wells in Jumeira. People either collected water from the pond or nearby communal wells or bought from Water Sellers who collected water from the pond for delivery by donkey cart or old Tanker Trucks. Wealthy families drilled their own wells and installed electric pumps. The water carried viruses and was unhealthy. Cholera was an everyday risk. Water Purification Tablets introduced in 1956 went someway to reduce that risk.
Original Photos Slideshow HERE
Solving the Problem
Sheikh Rashid recognised the problem and understood the need for a reliable source of fresh water. This was essential if people were to be attracted to live and work in Dubai. In 1959 he appointed Water Engineer Eric Tulloch to bring fresh water to Dubai. Eric ordered a water well drilled in Al Awir where both Sheikh Rashid and the local Bedu knew there was a source of reliable fresh water. Water was found about 35 meters underground. This well was linked to other water wells identified by local Bedu. Eric then installed a 25 kilometer long cement pipeline to bring this fresh water to a distribution point at Al Khor (top of Dubai Creek).
Pumping Stations were needed to bring the water from Al Awir to Dubai. Pumping Stations were simple concrete block buildings to house the necessary pumps, pipes and valves. Most of the pump houses and tanks were located in remote desert areas. There were no roads in those days. The Landrover was an essential "workhorse" transporting goods and people across the desert. Overseas AST built the pipeline, pumping stations and tanks. The first Pumping Station was commissioned in 1964.
From Al Khor water was initially distributed to most easily reached parts of Dubai City before the network was extended to all Dubai. A water pipeline was laid under Dubai Creek as part of the distribution system. Tanks Towers were installed in strategic positions around Dubai and Deira. Their original purpose was storing water to be loaded onto water tankers and delivered to Dubai's people. Later these tanks connected directly to Dubai's domestic water distribution system. The tanks' elevation provided pressure needed for water to flow from the tanks through the distribution system into Dubai's properties. Dubai's first tank was erected near the Customs Quay on Dubai Creek (next to the Diwan Offices in Dubai today). Other tanks were located near Al Maktoum Hospital, Al Ras and Jumeirah Beach Road. Over 90 kilometers of pipe was installed to deliver fresh water from these tanks to properties in Deira and Dubai.
Changing Fresh Water into Not So Fresh Water
Gerry Wain was a retired Fireman from Manchester UK. He came to Dubai in 1950s to sell and service fire extinguishers but became involved in Dubai's Water Department. He worked as Eric Tulloch's "right hand man" for over thirty years. Gerry supervised the installation of most of Dubai's Domestic Water Infrastructure. A policy decision had been made not to connect the water distribution system directly to the internal plumbing of any property. Instead each property was required to have a water storage tank installed on its roof. The distribution system connected directly to this storage tank via a water meter. Thestorage tank water leve was controlled by a float valve. Water pressure generated by the tank being located on the roof was sufficient to supply the property's internal plumbing.
Most of these rooftop storage tanks were made from galvanised steel sheeting but sealed. Consequently insects, lizards, birds etc could access the water and contaminate it. What strated as clean fresh water when it entered the tank became undrinkable water when it left. Fibreglass tanks went an improvement but the common advice was to boil water before drinking.
Over time more properties connected to the system and the pressure dropped to a point where there was insufficient to deliver fresh water into the rooftop tanks. Residents took matters into their own hands and installed their own electric pumps. Gerry Wain continued installing Dubai's water systems until his death at over 80 years of age.
Sheikh Rashid was not just the Ruler of Dubai. He was also the Tribal Leader. Sections of his Tribe lived in the villages such as Umm Sequeim, Jumeira, Satwa. In the 1960s these villages were separate communities who, from time to time, did not agree with Sheikh Rashid's views or his instructions. When these situations arose Sheikh Rashid (allegedly) ordered the water supply to the dissenting village to be cut off until the village accepted his views and instructions.