Key fact

In Jeddah and Riyadh, the number of new wastewater connections made every year has risen by 84 per cent

Source: MEED

In 2009, the Saudi authorities were caught by surprise when severe floods ravaged the country. More than 100 people died in Jeddah and thousands of homes and vehicles were damaged. The incident provoked intense public debate and highlighted the kingdom’s woefully inadequate sanitation infrastructure. Had there been an adequate drainage system leading to a wastewater network, such loss of life could have been reduced or awarded. 

Riyadh is set to benefit from the country’s first wastewater treatment plant with an integrated biogas unit

The state body responsible for the country’s water sector, the National Water Company (NWC), has since made good progress in improving the wastewater infrastructure. It has introduced private sector management in some of the kingdom’s biggest cities and has also embarked on a much-needed sewage lake draining programme and a lift project, which will be one of the largest in the world.

Inadequate investment into Saudi Arabia’s wastewater systems

Years of minimal investment in the wastewater systems of Saudi Arabia’s major cities has resulted in dangerously poor infrastructure in some areas. But NWC plans to address this through spending SR249bn ($66.4bn) on water and wastewater projects between 2012 and 2020.

Most of the spending will be directed to the wastewater sector. Some SR133.9bn will be invested in wastewater projects, of which SR44.8bn will be in capital expenditure and SR89.1bn in operational expenditure.

International companies have already been brought in to manage water and wastewater networks in three of the kingdom’s largest cities, with positive results. France’s Veolia Water is NWC’s strategic partner in Riyadh, while Suez Environnement is its partner in Jeddah and Saur is working in Mecca and Taif.

The use of treated sewage effluent in the kingdom is expected to treble by 2020 and quadruple by 2030

NWC had also planned to award water management contracts to serve the cities of Medina and Dammam. A request for proposals for the Medina contract was set to be issued in early September 2010 and the Dammam tender was to follow later. But NWC has since reviewed its policy and has now opted for operations and maintenance contracts that will run for longer periods than the management contracts.

Services have improved as a result of the involvement of the private sector. In Jeddah and Riyadh, the number of new wastewater connections made every year has increased from 20,700 in 2010 to 38,000 in 2011, representing an 84 per cent increase.

Treated sewage effluent sales
(Cubic metres a day)
2008 0
2009 287,200
2010 395,000
2011 495,000
Source: NWC

The time taken to install connections in the two cities has also been reduced. In 2008, it took 180 days to install a new connection in Riyadh. It now takes just 30 days. Meanwhile, in Jeddah, the number of days taken to install a connection has dropped from 70 to 28 days.

Jeddah’s figures have been improved and continue to be improved by an $8bn capital spending programme for wastewater networks and treatment projects. The scheme includes the connection of 120,000 houses and the construction of four wastewater treatment plants, with a combined capacity of 450,000 cubic metres a day (cm/d).

The first phase, which was recently completed, has extended NWC’s coverage of wastewater services from 22 per cent of the city to 72 per cent. The first phase was originally planned to take five years to complete, but the construction process was accelerated to finish in three years due to Jeddah’s urgent need for wastewater services.

Another wastewater treatment plant is planned for Al-Khurah. This will add a further 360,000 cm/d of capacity to Jeddah’s network and further improve NWC’s services. Once the programme is complete, NWC expects its coverage in Jeddah to exceed 99 per cent.

At the same time, efforts have been made to undo the impact of the daily dumping of thousands of tankers of untreated sewage in the desert over the past two decades. The Misk wastewater lake was deemed a major environmental hazard, with the potential to threaten the water supply in the country’s second largest city.

At a cost of SR95m, the lake, which spanned 2.5 million square metres, was drained and dried. Sludge from the bottom of the lake was treated and the project was completed within three months.

The Al-Nathem lake in Riyadh has also been drained. At 5 million sq m, it was an even larger task, but took only two months to drain and treat.

Lift project in Jeddah

NWC is also currently constructing a major lift station in the north of Jeddah. Work is 80 per cent complete and the system is expected to be fully operational by May 2012.

The landmark project, which cost about SR900m in total, will be the fourth largest in the world. The wells reach 80 metres underground and will receive wastewater from Jeddah’s northern districts. Each well has a diameter of 43m and the facility will have a pumping capacity of 0.75-1 million cm/d when complete.

Meanwhile, Riyadh is set to benefit from the country’s first wastewater treatment plant with an integrated biogas unit. The project is under construction at the Al-Kharj area at a cost of SR200m. Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arrab Contracting Company and its international partner were selected to build the project, which will have a capacity of 200,000 cm/d. The plant will serve the Saudi capital and will generate electricity from a 2.5MW power generating unit, which will run on the by-product coming out of the plant.

NWC has also launched a tender for a 500,000 cm/d wastewater treatment plant at Jeddah Airport, which will feature an 8MW biogas heat-to-power unit. The project will be the second wastewater treatment plant at the King Abdulaziz International airport.

Treated sewage

At the same time as investing in new wastewater treatment plants and networks, the water authority is looking to increase the use of treated sewage effluent, to reduce the use of desalinated water in non-potable applications. NWC intends to create TSE businesses from its existing wastewater assets by developing a long-term market for treated wastewater.

TSE is currently only used in Riyadh and Jeddah on a very small scale. Today, less than 20 per cent of TSE is reused in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, the increased usage over recent years is impressive.

Zero volumes of TSE were sold in 2008, but in 2009, 287,200 cm/d was sold. This figure rose to 395,000 cm/d in 2010 and 495,000 cm/d in 2011. The rise is expected to continue. The overall use of TSE in Saudi Arabia is expected to treble by 2020 and almost quadruple by 2030. By then, TSE will become an important revenue stream for NWC. In 2022, the water company expects TSE sales to exceed revenues from potable water sales across six major cities in the kingdom. By 2030, about SR2.83bn will be generated from potable water sales, while TSE revenue is forecast to reach SR3.28bn.

With SR133.9bn-worth of wastewater projects planned until the end of the decade, the next few years will offer lots of opportunities for construction contractors, consultants and operations and maintenance specialists in the kingdom. NWC plans to tender several major wastewater contracts in the first quarter of 2012, including sewer networks to serve several districts in Riyadh, and wastewater mainlines, firstly in the east of the city and then in the west and north of Riyadh.

New wastewater contracts

In Jeddah, contracts for wastewater house connections in the Faisalyah and Rawdah districts will be tendered in early 2012. Another contract for main lines and branches for a sewer system in Jeddah is also due to be tendered.

In Mecca and Taif, NWC plans to tender a contract for the rehabilitation and replacement of existing water and wastewater networks in the first quarter of 2012.

For customers, the increased spending will result in improved services and wider coverage. But more importantly, the investments should hopefully mean the tragedy of the 2009 floods can be prevented from happening again.