Kuwait was one of the first Gulf states to build a wastewater network, covering about 100 square kilometres, in the 1950s. Yet as in many other areas of Kuwait’s infrastructure, the country’s ageing water and wastewater networks have struggled to cope with demand in recent decades.

As a result, the wastewater sector is under considerable pressure. Kuwaiti treatment plants received about 734,000 cubic metres a day (cm/d) of wastewater in 2008, of which about 78 per cent was treated. This is already above the 602,000 cm/d combined capacity of the country’s four plants.

The older facilities are under particular strain. The Jahra plant is processing about 100,000 cm/d of wastewater, more than 50 per cent above its design capacity. In August, the Mishref wastewater pumping station, which feeds the Riqqa and Sulaibiya processing plants, malfunctioned. The Public Works Ministry used tankers to transfer sewage to the plants, but local media reports say it also dumped up to 180,000 cm/d of raw sewage into the sea.

“Under plans drawn up by the Public Works Ministry, Kuwait plans to install 800,000 cm/d of capacity by 2015”

The obvious deterioration of Kuwait’s plants has forced the government’s hand. Under plans drawn up by the Public Works Ministry, which oversees wastewater collection and distribution, as well as running all but one of the country’s treatment plants, Kuwait plans to install 800,000 cm/d of additional capacity by 2015.

The first task will be to replace the existing plants at Riqqa and Jahra with new capacity at Umm al-Hayman and Kabad respectively. When completed in 2012, the Kabad plant will treat about 345,000 cm/d of wastewater, making it one of the largest such plants in the region. At the same time, the existing Jahra plant will be decommissioned and converted into a pumping station. The two will be linked by a 38-kilometre-long pipeline.

The ministry also plans to replace capacity at Riqqa by expanding an existing plant at Umm al-Hayman, the country’s smallest such facility. Following the project, Umm al-Hayman will be capable of processing up to 300,000 cm/d of wastewater, a figure that may be increased to 500,000 cm/d. The Riqqa facility will be decommissioned and turned into a data monitoring centre, although it will continue to receive some treated water for distribution around Kuwait.

Network overhaul

These expansion projects are accompanied by an ongoing overhaul of the Kuwaiti wastewater network, which covers about 65 per cent of the country. A programme has been drawn up by the ministry to upgrade and expand networks and replace asbestos piping in 16 districts, with nine stages completed so far.

Only 70 per cent of treated effluent is reused in Kuwait, mostly for irrigation, with the remainder dumped at sea. The ministry plans to achieve total reuse by 2011, doubling the amount of treated sewage used by farms in the Al-Abdali area and supplying treated waste-water to the Al-Wafra agricultural area.

Most of the infrastructure work so far has come under the aegis of the public sector, with one notable exception. The Sulaibiya treatment plant is the only privately owned facility in Kuwait and was the first in the Middle East to be developed on a build-own-operate basis, in 2004. With a design capacity of 425,000 cm/d, it is also the largest wastewater and reclamation project in the world. The developer, Utilities Development Company, holds a 30-year concession.

Only a few years after beginning operations, Sulaibiya is already operating above its design capacity, with peak throughput recorded at 500,000 cm/d. UDC has been in discussions with the government to expand the capacity of the plant to 600,000 cm/d.

To a certain extent, the Sulaibiya plant has provided the template for the government’s expansion and upgrade programme. It was built partly to resolve problems at the ageing Ardiya wastewater treatment facility, which was converted into a preliminary treatment plant. Sewage is screened and degreased at Ardiya before being pumped by pipeline to the larger plant for further treatment.

Sulaibiya saves the government about $250m on desalination costs every year, amounting to about $7.5bn over the lifetime of the concession. But it could also act as a financial model for future projects, should Kuwait choose to rely more heavily on the private sector.

The ministry currently acts as go-between, buying treated wastewater or effluent from Sulaibiya and selling it to consumers for less than a quarter of the price. Although it pays a premium for the privately processed product, it can sell it at double the price to end-users.