Between Jeddah’s municipality and the kingdom’s National Water Company (NWC), approximately $3.2bn is currently being invested in wastewater and flood water-related infrastructure for the kingdom’s Red Sea city.

Despite being the gateway to Mecca and home to 3.5 million inhabitants, Jeddah has evolved without a comprehensive sewerage network or adequate engineered flood defences. But after years of poor planning, project delays and dangerous ‘temporary’ solutions, Jeddah is finally receiving flood drainage and wastewater systems fit for a modern city.

Devastating floods in Jeddah

Unfortunately, it took flooding in the winters of 2009 and 2011 to catalyse the municipality into taking action on drainage. The worst event occurred in November 2009 when more than 120 people were killed after more than 90 millimetres of rain fell during a four-hour period, overwhelming the city and causing flash flooding. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, average annual rainfall for the city is just 56mm. The rainfall in just a few hours was almost twice the yearly average.

The effects were devastating. Water more than 1 metre high flooded streets, hundreds of vehicles were washed away and thousands of homes and businesses were destroyed as the existing network of 80 natural watercourses and a small amount of existing drainage failed to channel the deluge of rain into the Red Sea.

In the aftermath of the incident, the municipality, working with other authorities, began to implement 14 emergency flood management projects that included storage tanks located across the city, permanent and mobile water pumps, temporary and permanent dams in the mountainous areas to the east and south of the city, new pipelines and clean up of the existing drains. The government also directed the Control and Investigation Board (CIB) to investigate the poor performance of government bodies, focusing on allegations of corruption. To date, the CIB prosecutions have focused on pursuing officials and business people who they believe were involved in developing real estate in flood-prone areas.

Planned investment
Projects ($m)
Environmental treatment plants 555
Wastewater mains  523
Wastewater networks 693
Wastewater house connections 107
Water plants, wells and reservoirs  275
Water mains  213
Water networks  187
Water house connections  1
  2,552
Source: National Water Company

However, Jeddah’s inadequate drainage and poor planning were major contributors to the fatal incident. In response, the municipality is now spending about $1bn on a raft of permanent flood defence projects. Awarded in March 2012, the schemes include five new dams, drainage channels in the north, south and east and a new floodwater drainage system at the airport. Local and international contractors fought to win the deals with the local Nesma & Partners collecting two major contracts for the five dam projects and the southern drainage system worth a total of $314m. Construction is scheduled for completion by the end of the year, as is the $38m China Communications Construction Group contract for the 20-kilometre northern floodwater channel.

Local Saudi Pan Kingdom (Sapac) collected the $200m, eastern floodwater channel contract for a 25km drainage path, which is due for completion in February 2013, and Italy’s Snamprogetti is building the 56km drainage network at the airport worth $347m. This scheme is scheduled for completion in Q1, 2015.

Meanwhile, NWC has accelerated plans for a new city-wide sewerage system for transporting and treating wastewater. NWC took over operations from the Ministry of Water and Electricity in 2008, with the remit to manage the privatisation of water assets in Jeddah, Riyadh, Mecca and Taif. By 2015, it will have taken control of assets in all 15 major Saudi Arabian cities.

The director of corporate projects at NWC, Abdullah al-Hagbani, says it inherited a struggling system. “The rapid development and expansion of Jeddah means that the existing system was overloaded. In many areas, including in new developments, there were neither wastewater collection networks nor treatment facilities,” he explains.

“Wastewater projects were delayed and network coverage was only 20 per cent for the whole city. It was facing the added problem that the septic tanks were transferred by tanker to a huge wastewater lake, so the requirements were for a complete collection and transmission network.”

Temporary wastewater solution

Ironically nicknamed ‘Musk Lake’ by residents thanks to its foul odour, the sewage lake – situated south-east of the city – received about 40,000 cubic metres of sewage a day. This was collected by tankers from septic tanks across the city, which for most were the only source of sewage provision.

When it was constructed in the 1990s, it was considered a temporary solution, but almost two decades later a permanent sewage network had still not been created.

Residents of south-east Jeddah feared that heavy rainfall could cause the earth banks of the dam to burst, spilling toxic wastewater into inhabited areas. Although studies by King Abdulaziz University showed this was unlikely, the devastating floods of 2009 became a catalyst for action and despite previous announcements that the lake would be cleaned up, draining began in earnest in May 2010. The 12-month project to drain and rehabilitate the area was completed in just three months, earning NWC international accolades and demonstrating what can be achieved in the kingdom with the right political support.

NWC is now treating the rest of its $2.2bn wastewater investment programme with similar urgency and has accelerated its schedule to deliver two new sewerage networks, one for the north of the city and the other for the south.

“The north of Jeddah has the infrastructure completed,” says Al-Hagbani. “It collects [wastewater] in the branches and transfers it to the new 20km-long tunnel down into the 70-metre-deep lifting station and off to airport number one treatment works.”

Airport number one treatment works has a capacity of 250,000 cubic metres a day (cm/d)and will soon be joined by a much bigger 500,000-cm/d second-phase plant. MEED understands that nine bidders are currently vying for the $273m sewage treatment plant, which will incorporate energy recovery.

“This has world-class technology because we can produce electrical power from the sludge treatment,” says a source. “This is the largest treatment plant in the region equipped with this technology and within a few weeks it will be finalised and awarded to a specific contractor to commence construction.”

Phased schedule wastewater plant

In order to begin operation as soon as possible, NWC has included in the project scope a phased operational schedule, with the first 100,000 cm/d commencing 20 months after the project award. After 30 months, it will open to 200,000 cm/d, with the total 500,000 cm/d becoming operational within 48 months.

Unusually for the region, the wastewater treatment works will be partially self-powering, providing about 35 to 40 per cent of the energy required to run the treatment plant.

This innovative approach is used more widely in Europe and involves the methane – generated during anaerobic digestion of the sludge removed from the wastewater – being burned in an on-site combined heat and power unit. Another smaller plant (200,000 cm/d) is currently under construction at Al-Kharj in Riyadh. Bidders on the Jeddah project tell MEED that interviews are currently under way.

Bids must score at least 70 per cent in the technical and lifecycle assessment before their financial offers are opened. The US’ CH2M Hill is technical adviser on the project. An award is scheduled for Q1, 2013.

Meanwhile, with a newly operational 2,500km sewage pipe network, NWC has also accelerated its schedule to connect properties to the new system. “The house connections started in November 2011,” says Al-Hagbani. “We are trying to execute 25,000 this year, 35,000 in 2013 and 35,000 in 2015 until we reach 150,000 new connections. We are delivering more than 200 house connections daily.” 

A similar network is also being constructed to the south of the city, where major components, such as the 16km-long wastewater collection tunnel and the 20-metre-deep pumping station, are being constructed. This is all set for completion by the end of 2013, with flows being directed into the existing Al-Khumra treatment works.

Originally, the new networks were expected to take more than five years to complete, but NWC is pushing to achieve its plans in three years as it seeks to become a world-class utility company. “We brought in international consultants to help us in the management of these projects,” says Al-Hagbani, explaining that using companies such as the UK’s Faithful & Gould (now part of Atkins) and the US’ Aecom have helped the organisation to change its culture from that of a governmental body to a private company.

He says other measures to improve productivity include training the engineers who are managing and supervising the projects; working more closely with contractors; and supporting firms in getting the required permits from government agencies. Another key initiative has been the award of advance payments worth 20 per cent of the contract value to further stimulate progress.

As a result of the increased support, Al-Hagbani says contractors have become more productive. “[They] have become more active and they also have improved health and safety [standards]. Things have changed and this really is one of the reasons behind the acceleration.”

Wastewater network coverage

Today, NWC says 73 per cent of the city benefits from the sewage network and the aggressive programme will see this increase a further 7 per cent by the end of 2014. “Jeddah city is expanding and we are trying to catch up. Within the next two years we will have increased the network coverage to 80 per cent,” says Al-Hagbani.

For residents, this will be welcome news. Although it was a lack of stormwater drainage that led to flooding in the streets, inadequate sanitation meant floodwater was inundated with sewage as septic tanks and domestic systems overflowed. In the aftermath of the tragic events of 2009 and 2011, government bodies have been working hard to implement new solutions, but only successful management of another flood event will prove to residents that Jeddah has solved its infrastructure crisis.

Key fact

The municipality is spending about $1bn on a host of permanent flood defence schemes

Source: MEED