x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Saudi needs to improve water supply

Inefficient wells in Saudi Arabia could waste more than 2.6 trillion riyals (Dh2.54tn) worth of water over the next two centuries and exhaust the country¿s most precious resource, an adviser to the ministry of water says.

Chris Stanton Inefficient wells in Saudi Arabia could waste more than 2.6 trillion riyals (Dh2.54tn) worth of water over the next two centuries and exhaust the country's most precious resource, an adviser to the ministry of water says. Current methods of pumping the kingdom's 40,000-year-old groundwater reserves, which date back to an age when Arabia was regularly drenched in rain, waste between 20 and 30 per cent, said Mansur Abahusayn, who is also a visiting scholar at the University of California.

"They are not extracting as much of the groundwater as they should," Mr Abahusayn said at a renewable energy conference in Abu Dhabi. "Groundwater conservation is being neglected because of the emphasis on seawater desalination." Saudi Arabia meets 45 per cent of its needs with groundwater and the rest with desalination, he said. Its per capita natural water resources are forecast to shrink by 16 per cent by 2020 as the population rises and reserves are depleted, according to Nomura International.

The kingdom will be left with the fourth-smallest reserves in the Middle East, Nomura said. It will pump tens of billions of dollars into increasing desalination capacity by more than 50 per cent in six years. But desalination plants, which are energy intensive and costly to build, could not easily replace the supply to inland cities that now draw from huge underground aquifers, Mr Abahusayn said.

Saudi consumers pay 10 halalas, or 0.1 riyals, per cubic metre for water. The low value placed on water has led groundwater producers to use outdated water treatment technology that leads to significant waste, Mr Abahusayn said. The wasted water, which contains a higher proportion of salts and minerals and is harder to filter, is usually dumped back in the desert. Better treatment options being implemented in arid parts of the US could boost groundwater recovery rates to above 95 per cent.

Saudi Arabia's proved water resources amount to 1.82 trillion cu metres. The use of the better technology would save 298 billion cu metres, Mr Abahusayn said. cstanton@thenational.ae