Key fact

Currently, 99.9 per cent of Qatar’s potable water is generated from desalinated seawater

Source: MEED

Annual demand for water in Qatar almost trebled between 2000 and 2010. Although the rate of consumption growth has since slowed, the country’s utility provider still needs to maintain a healthy pipeline of new desalination projects to meet rising demand. 

In 2000, consumption stood at 83 million gallons a day (g/d). It now exceeds 235 million g/d and is forecast to reach 361 million g/d by 2020.

To meet the challenge, Doha is planning to expand the desalination units at its existing independent water and power projects (IWPPs). At the same time, Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation (Kahramaa) has launched a programme to manage demand. This includes upgrading the supply network and minimising leakages, installing meters and using treated sewage effluent (TSE) for non-potable purposes wherever possible.

Rising demand for water

Rapid population growth and an expanding industrial sector are driving Qatar’s demand for water. The country’s population has grown from 1.45 million in 2008 to 1.78 million in 2011 and is expected to reach 2.52 million by 2020. The situation is made worse by the fact that per capita water usage is above the global average. At 447 litres per person a day, it is one of the highest consumption rates in the world.

They’re not short of water … but if you look at the short-to-medium term demand more capacity is needed

Gulf-based developer

Qatar’s climate is arid, with less than 130 millimetres of rainfall a year. Like the rest of the Gulf, the country relies heavily on desalination plants for its water supply. Currently, 99.9 per cent of Qatar’s potable water is generated from desalinated seawater.

The country currently has seven desalination plants, which have been developed by the private sector. At Ras Abu Fontas south of Doha, there are four desalination facilities with a combined capacity of 162 million g/d. There are a further three plants in the north at Ras Laffan, which have a total capacity of 163 million g/d.

The remaining 0.1 per cent of Qatar’s water supply comes from underground aquifers. The largest aquifer is in the north of the country, but most of this water is used for agriculture.

There are eight underground wellfield stations, which produce about 45,455 cubic metres a day. Qatar also has two reverse-osmosis plants located in remote areas to desalinate brackish water from underground.

Qatar desalination plants
Location Name of plant Capacity (cubic metres)
Ras Abu Fontas Ras Abu Fontas A 91,104,000
Ras Abu Fontas Ras Abu Fontas A1 73,515,672
Ras Abu Fontas Ras Abu Fontas B 54,750,000
Ras Abu Fontas Ras Abu Fontas B2 48,381,550
Ras Laffan Ras Laffan A 66,430,000
Ras Laffan Ras Laffan B 99,535,500
Ras Laffan Ras Laffan C 104,537,110
Source: Kahramaa

Last June, Qatar’s largest IWPP to date, Ras Laffan C, come online, adding 2,730MW of power and 63 million g/d of desalination capacity. The project will ensure that the country has enough power and water for many years to come. “I think that there are short-to-medium term needs for water. They’re not short of water right now … but if you look at the short-to-medium term demand more capacity is needed,” says a Gulf-based developer.

“This isn’t the case with power; with power it is about long-term forecasts. They have enough power capacity for a while.”

To meet the additional water requirements, the utility has changed its project development strategy. Kahramaa has decided to extend its existing IWPPs with new desalination units rather than develop new projects. It has approached the developers of the Ras Laffan A, B and C projects to submit proposals to expand the desalination capabilities of their plants by about 90 million g/d. Binding bids are due to be submitted by the developers by March 2012.

Water reserves in Qatar

Meeting demand for water is unlikely to prove difficult for Qatar in the near term, but it does face a major challenge in ensuring it has access to enough water in the event of a natural disaster and also to support its National Food Security Programme.

Qatar’s projected water storage
(Million gallons a day)
  Kahramaa storage IWPP Storage 
2011 468 294
2012f 712 294
2013f 760 294
2014f 760 294
2015f 760 294
2016f 2,260 294
2017f 2,260 294
2018f 2,260 294
2019f 2,260 294
2020f 2,260 294
f=Forecast. IWPP=Independent power and water project. Source: Kahramaa

Qatar’s water storage reserves have depleted over the past decade. In 2000, it had enough water storage to serve the country for about 3.7 days. It is now less than three days of storage capacity. Kahramaa has decided to build a series of new reservoirs to build up reserves to cover five days of supply.

In 2010, Qatar had 303 million g/d in water reserves owned by Kahramaa and 294 million g/d in IWPP reserves, which are run by the private sector. This amounts to 597 million g/d of water reserves to last 2.8 days. This is an improvement on 2009, when reserves slipped to their lowest level in a decade at 2.5 days.

The drop in reserves has been driven by a rapidly expanding population, a growing industrial base and rising individual consumption rates.

In 2000, Qatar had 305 million g/d of reserves, which is roughly half of the country’s current water storage capacity. Qatar’s existing storage capacity has been deemed unsafe in terms of water security.

Kahramaa is pursuing two strategies to remedy this. Firstly, it plans to use underground aquifer storage and has identified possible locations in a feasibility study that have the potential to hold about 30,000 million g/d.

Strategic locations for reservoirs

Secondly, Kahramaa plans to develop five giant reservoirs at strategic locations. Four of the reservoirs will circle Doha at Umm Salal, Rawdat Rashed, Abu Nakia and Al-Thumama. The fifth will be located at Umm Birka to the north of the capital.

Qatar’s water storage
Year Number of days of supply
2011 3.2
2012f 3.9
2013f 3.9
2014f 3.7
2015f 3.4
2016f 8
2017f 7.7
2018f 7.4
2019f 7.3
2020f 7.1
f=Forecast. Source: Kahramaa

The reservoirs will be capable of storing 1,500 million g/d by 2016, 2,100 million g/d by 2026 and 3,500 million g/d by 2036.

Once the first phase has been completed, Qatar will have a total storage capacity of 2,554 million g/d, which according to Kahramaa’s water demand growth forecasts will be equivalent to eight days of supply.

With one of the highest per capita water consumption rates in the world, there is much to gain for Qatar from managing demand through conservation. Programmes can focus on changing user behaviour and reducing the amount of non-revenue water (NRW).

Qatar is implementing a water loss control and network management programme, which aims to reduce NRW and hence increase the amount of water that is billable, using the latest technology to detect leaks in the distribution network.

There have been some improvements already. Qatar has managed to reduce the amount of water lost in the system from 33.5 per cent in 2007 to 10.4 per cent in 2010 as a percentage of the total amount entering the network.  

In 2007, NRW stood at a staggering 59.1 per cent of the overall system input. This figure has been steadily reduced and in 2010, NRW stood at 25.3 per cent.

Improving water efficiency

Kahramaa is also keen to take advantage of electronic metering, remote customer meter reading and district meters to improve demand  management. The use of treated sewage effluent (TSE) for non-potable water purposes is another a growing area of interest. Qatar currently reuses 193 million cubic metres of TSE a year.

After a decade of explosive population growth and expanding activity across a variety of sectors, Qatar has done well to keep pace with water demand. It has done so with a series of private power and water projects, which have been negotiated at a cost-effective level.

Looking ahead, Qatar’s efficiency in delivering power generating capacity means that its efforts can be focused on adding water generating capacity and more importantly on ensuring water security.

The reservoir programme offers huge potential for private sector participation and will be important for Qatar’s long-term planning across all sectors.