Environmental and Socio-economic Implications of Overexploitation of Groundwater Resources in Hassa Oasis in Eastern Saudi Arabia
King Saud University
Hassa Oasis is the largest and most populated oasis in the hyper-arid Arabian Peninsula. Throughout history, the oasis maintained artesian flow of fossil groundwater from the confined Neogene aquifer in the form of natural springs via scores of fractures and sinkholes. By definition, development of fossil groundwater resources is non-sustainable and can induce serious undesirable consequences. This paper investigates the present and potential environmental and socio-economic implications of overexploitation of groundwater resources in the oasis. Development of fossil groundwater from the confined Neogene aquifer in the oasis began in the late 1950s and resulted in the complete cessation of natural springs flow in the mid 1960s. Despite unequivocal recommendations of consulting firms to limit groundwater development to safe levels and the establishment of an authority for the management of irrigation and drainage, overexploitation of groundwater resources in the oasis increased since then and is still practiced to date. Presently, the impacts of groundwater overexploitation are manifested in a sharp decline of groundwater level, deterioration of groundwater quality (total salinity and ionic composition), increased costs of well drilling and groundwater abstraction, soil salinization and sodification and reduction of crops relative yield. Unless progressive corrective measures are adopted swiftly, the negative impacts are expected to widen and intensify with time to reach unbearable environmental and socio-economic consequences.