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How is Saudi Arabia Quenching its Thirst for Water?

By David Mckenna, Sustainability Performance Director at The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC) 

World Water Day is an annual event supported by the United Nations on the 22nd of March, which focuses on the importance of freshwater availability for all. 

This international day is very meaningful for those of us in Saudi Arabia, as this is one of the driest regions in the world. In times past, around 2000 years ago, people adapted and learned to live with the limited amount of water that fell as average rainfall. Currently, in our region we receive around 100mm average rainfall each year (by way of comparison, the UK’s average rainfall is 1,320mm a year).

There are some key examples of how this adaption to limited water was applied. In AlGhatt National Park, just outside of Riyadh, the ancient water management techniques demonstrating the clever capture and re-use of water have been detailed as an important part of Saudi Arabia’s heritage by the National Centre for Vegetation Cover (NCVC). During a recent visit to the park, we were shown a wide range of pilot rainwater “Harvesting Systems,” experiments conducted with continuous soil and vegetation monitoring and testing. 

Image from Riyadh, our visit to AlGhatt National Park showing heritage water management techniques for agriculture

 

Saudi Vision 2030 and addressing the water issue

The Kingdom, in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, introduced a National Water Strategy for 2030 which aims to address all key challenges, conduct studies, and reform the water and wastewater sector, to ensure sustainable development and use of water resources in Saudi Arabia. Right now, there is a great reliance on seawater desalination plants to quench the Kingdom’s thirst for water—particularly to meet municipal and industrial water demands.

Seawater desalination is an energy intensive process compared to traditional water treatment methods, but it is expected to play a pivotal role in meeting Saudi Arabia’s future water demands. 

The Kingdom, in alignment with its 2030 Vision, is rethinking water usage, learning from the past and global best practices, and applying them to today’s context. Apart from the great efforts to make the desalination processes more effective and efficient, the Kingdom is beginning to examine and implement water recycling and reuse programs as alternative strategies to conserve water. In addition, to curb the water demand from the agricultural sector, (84 percent of the Kingdom’s total water is used for the agricultural sector and maintaining green spaces) the government has banned the growing of water-intensive crops and implemented plans for outsourcing food production to other countries.

Another government initiative is the establishment of the “Qatrah” program which aims to reduce the daily water consumption in the Kingdom from 263 litres to 150 litres by 2030. This ambitious program aims to directly address the overuse and waste of water. It involves taking a pledge, which can be signed here

The Red Sea and AMAALA Pledge - Our efforts to preserve water

At both the Red Sea and AMAALA, teams are working on ambitious targets to balance the demand for potable water with efficient desalination powered by renewables. This is in addition to applying efficiency landscape designs to reduce our irrigation water demand. As per our sustainability Accreditation Strategies, we are meeting the prerequisite requirements of LEEDv4 and seeking at least 20 percent reduction from baselines for typical buildings.

In addition, we will be benefitting the most by our use of recycled water from our wastewater treatment plants—all treated wastewater and recycled water will be used for irrigation. Also, we are experimenting with site-wide trials of various soil specifications for our ‘high intensity’ and ‘assisted nature’ landscape and developing planting zone, which will ensure water efficiency and moisture retention in the root-zone as well as examining smarter Irrigation Systems. 

  

Image from The Red Sea Project – pilot experiment second picture contains optimal organic matter content versus the first sandy normal soil mix (both under same planting & irrigation conditions) 

Moreover, we are experimenting with food production onsite, using saltwater for irrigation as an example (The Red Sea Farms Pilot). We also recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Ethmaar and Ghoroos to support local farmers in producing food for our resorts, including knowledge sharing and finance for smarter irrigation techniques. On top of that, we will ensure the sourcing of smarter Metering Systems to alert us once we’ve reached high consumption capacity. These tools are great for continuous monitoring and reporting metrics. 

World Water Day is a great opportunity for us to speak about the real issues facing our planet, raise awareness of our water abundance and what should we do to preserve it for the generations to come. Sharing our learnings and successes in a continuous conversation among key stakeholders is the best approach to driving positive changes to meet the challenges of the world today when it comes to water.