Water Industry News

Saudi Arabia Unveils Plans For Longest ‘River’ In The World

One of the biggest challenges presented by climate breakdown is water stress and scarcity, an issue that will affect every country around the world in one way or another in the future.


Even the UK, with its famously damp climate, will see water shortages affect many parts of the country in as little as ten years… which means that action must be taken urgently – and on a global scale – to shore up supplies, safeguarding resources for future generations.


Because different countries face different pressures where water is concerned, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can be adopted and each nation will need to devise their own water management plans in order to adapt to and mitigate the impacts that the climate crisis is having on water resources.


In Saudi Arabia, one of the most water-scarce nations to be found anywhere in the world, the development of its water sector will have a major role to play in ensuring that increased demand for water can be met now and well into the future.


Accelerating urbanisation, population growth and economic development all mean that increasing amounts of pressure are being put on water and energy, which means that work must now be done to ensure continuous adequate to sufficient quantities of water, for both typical day-to-day use and usage in emergency situations, as well.


Other priorities for the country include improving water demand management across the board, delivering cost-effective water services, optimising water usage and working to protect the natural environment to the benefit of society as a whole, as well as ensuring that the water sector remains competitive to drive innovation in the future.


The population of Saudi Arabia is predicted to grow from 36 million people now to around 40 million by 2030, so finding solutions now is an absolute must.


The country has long relied on desalination to ensure that its population has reliable access to potable water, important since the majority of its groundwater resources goes towards agriculture… and now it seems that further inroads are being made to drive usage of this technology and increase drinking water availability.


According to Construction Week Online, a huge project is about to get underway in the country that will see the biggest source of drinkable water created – a 12,000km-long ‘river’ that will be one of the largest desalinated water networks in the world, capable of creating 9.4 million cubic metres of water per day.


As Saudi journalist Ahmad Al Shugairi explains in his TV series Seen, the plan will involve digging a channel spanning 12,000km in length, four metres deep and 11 metres wide… which will mean it ends up being longer than the River Nile.


Anti-corrosion pipes will be installed along the network, extending 126,000 kilometres in total, which is long enough to wrap around the world three times.


Saudi itself is the biggest producer of desalinated water in the world, generating more than one billion cubic metres each year, accounting for 18 per cent of global production.


The Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC) recently announced that it had, in fact, achieved a world record for desalinated water production, generating 6.6 million cubic metres per day as it stands right now.


Other initiatives to increase water resources over the years have served to strengthen production systems along the east and west coasts of the Kingdom, as well as driving radical change and innovation in the water desalination sector by setting up ten production systems with a capacity of 760,000 cubic metres of water a day.


There are also now 17 strategic reservoirs with a total capacity of over 2.9 million cubic metres, helping to consolidate the mains supply and increase water security around the country.


Given the potential capacity of this new project, it seems that Saudi Arabia is positioning itself at the forefront of the water crisis. But is water desalination the best course of action? What are the pros and cons of this particular technology?


Is water desalination sustainable?


Desalination, where salt is removed from seawater (as well as wastewater and brackish water) to make supplies drinkable, has been steadily climbing in popularity as a potential solution for water scarcity.


The Middle East makes particular use of desalination plants, with official stats showing that some countries in the region use it to produce up to 90 per cent of all drinking water needs.


In fact, the Middle East is home to around 40 per cent of all global desalinated water capacity, with significant usage seen in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.


However, although the ocean is in plentiful supply (which may make desalination seem like one of the best solutions out there), it is still an expensive and energy-intensive process in its own right… and it has a significant impact on the environment, as well.


For example, it produces waste and toxic chemicals that put wildlife and plants at risk, as well as raising salt levels in seawater, which can affect fish populations.


A recent study published in the Science of the Total Environment journal found that in order to produce around 95 million cubic metres of freshwater, desalination plants consequently produce around 141 million cubic metres of brine.


This brine byproduct is then dumped into natural waterways, causing potential harm to sea life by lowering the amount of oxygen in the water.


As such, while desalination may very well have its place and a role to play in how we address the issue of water stress and scarcity, it seems that to rely solely on it would perhaps be counterproductive. Finding alternative solutions that have less immediate impact on the planet could prove to be the best way to go.


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