With no fresh surface water and an average rainfall of just 110 mm per year, Kuwait depends heavily on desalination to meet its fresh water requirements. Rapid growth in the country’s resident population, coupled with some of the world’s highest per capita consumption levels, has fuelled demand and contributed to a serious water problem. As new communities are constructed, additional facilities will be required for the storage and distribution of potable water.

Water Sources

The early 20th century marked the beginning of Kuwait’s water shortage issues, when shallow wells that had been used to collect rainwater began to dry out, forcing the government to ship in fresh water. In 1939 the first water transport company was established, and by 1946 a fleet of 45 sailing boats was importing 80,000 gallons of fresh water per day.

That same year saw the first exports of Kuwaiti crude oil, and six years later, in 1951, the then privately run Kuwait Oil Company opened the country’s first desalination plant at Mina Al Ahmadi, which processed 80,000 gallons per day. With the rising revenues coming from oil, Kuwait was able to build more desalination plants, and by 1976 production capacity had reached 62m imperial gallons per day (MIGD) with an average consumption of 39.1 MIGD.

Production & Capacity

Installed capacity has continued to keep pace with population growth and rising water consumption. By 2016 capacity registered 624.3 MIGD, while average consumption was 430.8 MIGD. According to the Ministry of Electricity and Water (MoEW), average per capita consumption in Kuwait is one of the highest in the world, growing from 9252 imperial gallons in 1970 to 35,744 in 2016. The total consumption rate in 2016 was 157.6bn imperial gallons. Desalination makes up the lion’s share of fresh water produced in the country. There are 10 desalination stations in Kuwait, including two reverse osmosis (RO) plants at the Az Zour South and Shuwaikh stations that each contribute 30 MIGD of installed capacity. Two new 60-MIGD RO plants are being built at Doha station, with the first due to open at the end of 2018, followed by a second at the end of 2021, at which time the 30-MIGD Shuaiba South Power Station will be decommissioned. Of the 158.1bn imperial gallons of fresh water produced in 2016, 156bn imperial gallons came from the country’s desalination plants.

Some groundwater is extracted from sub-surface reservoirs in the south-west and in the north of the country at Raudhatain and Umm Al Aish. The water found in these areas is brackish, or salty, and is predominantly used for agricultural purposes, in construction and for landscaping. It is also mixed with desalinated water to make it safe to drink. According to MoEW, the total production and consumption of brackish water has fallen steadily over the past decade. Production peaked in 2006 with 36.2bn gallons, while consumption reached its highest point in 2005 at 33.9bn gallons. In 2016 production and consumption registered 18.7bn and 17bn gallons, respectively.

Storage & Distrubution

Fresh and brackish water is stored in underground reservoirs and in water towers. In 2016 total storage capacity for fresh water amounted to 4.33bn gallons, with 4.28bn gallons in 102 underground reservoirs and 55.19m gallons held in 84 elevated storage towers. Total brackish water storage capacity was 547.7m gallons, with 28 underground reservoirs and 15 elevated towers holding 537.8m and 9.9m gallons, respectively.

Kuwait operates two distinct distribution networks, piping fresh and brackish water through separate systems, which are monitored and supervised from the water control centre in Shuwaikh, the site of the country’s first storage reservoirs. By the end of 2016 the total length of the entire network was 17,796 km, with 163,070 metered connections for fresh water and 78,655 connections for brackish water. The total length of fresh water pipes registered 9678 km, while the brackish distribution network was 8118 km.

Where pipe connections are not available, water is supplied to customers by tankers. According to MoEW estimates, some 10-12% of all water consumption is off-grid, although numbers are reducing as new pipelines are laid. A total of 4326 new connections and water lines were made in 2016, with 4104 of those for fresh water and 222 for brackish. Data from the MoEW shows that older asbestos pipes are twice as likely to fail due to corrosion and decay with 536 natural bursts reported for asbestos pipes carrying fresh water compared to 247 among ductile iron pipes. There was also considerable damage caused to the network as pipes were breached during construction work, and in 2016 the MoEW carried out 18,422 repairs to the fresh water network and 1556 to brackish pipes.

Private Sector Involvement

The Az Zour North-1 independent water and power plant (IWPP) opened in November 2016 as Kuwait’s first public-private partnership (PPP) project. Government entities own 60% of the project, with the remaining 40% held by a consortium of three private companies: GDF Suez (17.5%), Sumitomo (17.5%) and AH Al Sagar & Brothers (5%). With a capacity of 107 MIGD, the $1.7bn facility was planned as step one of a five-phase development using the PPP financing model; however, the cancellation of the 102-MIGD Az Zour North-2 plant by the government led some stakeholders to cast doubts on the viability of such projects. The government has since moved to assure the second plant would be incorporated into the Az Zour North-3 project.

According to the National Bank of Kuwait, the value of contracts awarded in the water segment reached a record KD900m ($3bn) in 2017, including an agreement to build an extension to Umm Al Hayman wastewater treatment plant in Al Ahmadi. The Kuwait Authority for Partnership Projects appointed a consortium led by Germany’s WTE Wassertechnik and Kuwaiti shareholding company International Financial Advisers to design, finance and build the wastewater treatment plant extension with a capacity of 500,000 sq metres per day at a cost of KD473m ($1.6bn).

Another PPP project awaiting final approval is the Al Khairan IWPP development adjacent to the Az Zour South desalination plant. The new site will have the capacity to produce 125 MIGD of desalinated water. In June 2018 MEW announced it was receiving expressions of interest for the first phase of Al Khairan.

Infrastructure Needs

As Kuwait’s population grows, new communities are being built to meet demand for housing necessitating water infrastructure projects. In June 2016 the Public Authority for Housing Welfare awarded a $955m contract to a consortium led by Italian construction company Salini Impregilo to build the 12,000-ha South Al Mutlaa residential development on the northern side of Kuwait Bay. The community is expected to be home to 400,000 residents, with 12 suburbs, more than 28,000 houses, 116 schools, 156 mosques and 12 public health centres. Infrastructure required for the development includes 150 km of roads, traffic control systems and telecommunications networks, as well as water distribution networks, and rain-water gathering and sewage systems. In the meantime, up to 60 new contracts are being awarded for parcels of work connected to the new town’s infrastructure, including utilities and power plants. In January 2018 Bakheet Al Rashidi, the minister of oil and president of Kuwait Petroleum International, signed a three-year, KD44m ($145.9m) contract to build five underground water tanks in to service the South Al Mutlaa residential development. Additional contracts will see extensions to the water distribution network. In December 2017 a KD14m ($46.4m) contract was awarded to build a pipeline south from the Mina Abdulla distribution plant to Julaiaa and Nuwaiseeb over a period of 30 months. The pipeline is expected to reduce the dependence on tanker deliveries, which are still used to service domestic consumption needs in some communities.