Eric Tulloch brought Fresh Water to Dubai in 1961

53 years ago Dubai had no fresh water source. A stagnant pond in an area that later became Karama which was occasionally refreshed by rainwater; communal sweet water well at Al Fahidi Fort and and another at Jumeirah were all that provided Dubai’s fresh water needs. Residents either collected their own water or had it delivered to their homes by donkey carts at 25 Fils a gallon. Either way the Residents drank contaminated water. Cholera was an ever present risk. Outbreaks were common. Anti-Pollutant Water Tablets introduced in 1959 helped reduce the risk. Sheikh Rashid was concerned so when he heard of a Water Engineer working in Qatar, he immediately invited him to Dubai.

Eric Tulloch Dubai's Waterman

Eric Tulloch, the Water Engineer, moved to Dubai in 1959 at Sheikh Rashid's Invitation where he was appointed State Water Engineer. Catalyst for Sheikh Rashid's invitation was the pending wedding of his daughter to the Emir of Qatar. Sheikh Rashid wanted his Wedding Guests to have running fresh water. Sheikh Rashid and his Bedouin Tribesmen recalled finding fresh water in the Al Awir Region. Eric started exploring that area locating fresh water after drilling down 35 metres. He located more water sources in Al Awir which he linked to make a common water source. In 1961 Overseas AST, an Austrian based Construction Company, constructed a pipeline and pumping stations to bring this fresh water from Al Awir to a distribution point at Al Khor at top of Dubai Creek. Overseas AST was led by Engineer Edgar Bulbik. Initially Tanker Trucks distributed water but a permanent Distribution System was needed to provide running fresh water for Dubai’s Residents. By 1963 Sheikh Rashid was developing Dubai with new buildings in Karama and Al Ghusais. He decided these new areas would be the first to receive the new fresh water distribution system although it was Sheikha Sharmma, Sheikh Rashid’s Aunt, who had the first house in Dubai to be fitted with running water!

Dubai Water Department

Eric Tulloch established Dubai Water Department in 1959. One of DWD’s new employees was Gerry Wain. Gerry retired from Manchester Fire Brigade in UK, moving to Dubai in 1954 to service and sell Angus fire extinguishers. Gerry’s new job with DWD was to connect properties to the new water distribution system. Properties were required to have roof tanks to store fresh water but the problem was how to get water into these roof tanks. Solution was high level large capacity water storage tanks positioned around Dubai and Deira. Water was constantly pumped from Al Awir into these tanks. From there it flowed into the distribution system then the roof top tanks.

Availability of fresh water had a commercial impact on Dubai. Ships visiting the Gulf needed good quality fresh water for their boilers. Most Gulf Ports offered fresh water that contained too many salts to put into boilers. Dubai’s fresh water didn’t have high salts content! Sheikh Rashid gave Gray Mackenzie and Co. the sole right to sell fresh water to ships calling at Dubai. GM bought fresh water from DWD at DH5 a gallon and sold it to ships at DH50 a gallon. More ships began to call at Dubai just to take on water. Sheikh Rashid and Gray Mackenzie were very happy!

Over time problems began to develop with Dubai’s fresh water distribution system. Roof tanks were not sealed so vermin, birds, sand etc. entered and contaminated the water. What was drinkable when it entered the roof tank was undrinkable out of the tap. As Dubai rapidly developed during the 1980s , water pressure generated by high level tanks became insufficient to get water to flow into the increasing number of roof tanks. Residents started installing electric pumps to pump water their main water pipe to their roof tanks. This led to more Resident installed pumps competing for the same declining water supply.

The Greening of Dubai contributed to Dubai's water problem. Residents now wanted beautiful gardens and willingly poured Dubai’s fresh water onto their struggling plants and lawns irrespective of the cost or consequences. Dubai Municipality had developed a modern Sewage Works which produced fresh water as a by-product. Authorities did not want to chemically treat this water to drinkable quality. Instead it was used exclusively for irrigating vegetation on road median strips and public parks. By mid 1980s Dubai Aluminiun was generating desalinated water as part of its manufacturing process. All its water output was put back into the sea until work on Emirates Golf Club started. Then Dubai Aluminium became the primary and only source of water for Emirates Golf Club. In early 1990s DUBAL was reported to be providing EGC with over one million gallons of desalinated water each day. This led to an acceptance of desalinated water and its increasing use. Dubai’s Electricity and Water Department, originally established in 1963, now links new power generation and water generation development projects to meet both Dubai’s growing water and power needs.

Eric and Gerry spent the rest of their lives providing Dubai with fresh water. Gerry was still energetically connecting properties to Dubai’s water system when he was over 85 years of age! Both Eric and Gerry ended their lives in Dubai while working with DEWA. Towards the end of his life Eric had concerns about the overuse and misuse of fresh water to the point he stopped irrigating his much loved garden.

Perhaps when you next have a shower or fill your kettle or maybe water your garden, would be a good time to remember Sheikh Rashid’s 1950s dream of providing Dubai with fresh water and Eric’s and Gerry’s work in making that dream come true.
Laying explosive charges to blast a pipline trench
  • Laying explosive charges to blast a pipline trench
  • Pipeline Tranch 35kms long
  • Pipeline Trench flooded with Ground Water
  • Covers for Pump Stations stored in desert
  • Work Area in Desert
  • Pumping Station under construction
  • Working on Pumping Station
  • Water Tower in Deira
  • Water Tower and Pumping Station

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