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Water Management in Bahrain

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Photo1: Arial View of Fishing boats, Bahrain (Source: George Mathew, Flickr )

Key governmental and non-governmental organizations

Bahrain has made major progress in the governance of its water sector. In 2009, Royal Decree No. 36/2009 Concerning the Amendments of Some Items of Decree 7/1982 on the Establishment of the Water Resources Council (WRC) was issued. The stated WRC responsibilities are:

i. Formulating the overall water resources policies and strategies for the country, including setting up appropriate institutional and legislative frameworks;
ii. Coordinating government water policies and ensuring integration of these policies; and
iii. Following up the implementation of water policies and plans and setting priorities for the implementation of the developed strategies and programmes.

The WRC is headed by the deputy prime minister with membership by the minister of electricity and water; minister of works, municipalities affairs and urban planning; minister of housing; minister of industry, commerce and tourism; minister of transportation and telecommunication; minister of finance; and the minister of cabinet affairs. The WRC is supported by a permanent Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) with membership by all the water-related ministries and agencies in addition to academia. The establishment of the WRC has consolidated the water resources management agencies. In 2017, the WRC started formulating a comprehensive, integrated, national water policy and strategy based on integrated water resources management principles. The strategy formulation is expected to be completed in the last quarter of 2019.

At the executive level, there are many ministries, agencies and institutions that have a stake in water resources management and use in Bahrain. The following are the main agencies responsible for the management of the various water sectors.

The Electricity and Water Authority (EWA) is a government-owned municipal water supply utility. The EWA is responsible for planning, producing and distributing municipal water, and operating and maintaining desalination plants and groundwater pumping stations, storage facilities and the water distribution network. It also organizes awareness campaigns for conservation of municipal water. The EWA works under the political and administrative umbrella of the Ministry of Electricity and Water Affairs.

The Ministry of Works, Municipalities Affairs and Urban Planning is responsible for wastewater, groundwater and the agriculture sector. Agricultural Affairs within the ministry is responsible for developing, managing, monitoring, protecting, controlling and rationalizing the use of groundwater resources. It also allocates treated wastewater for irrigation purposes and coordinates with relevant authorities to develop the standards for reuse which regulate the use of that wastewater. Sanitation Affairs is responsible for producing, distributing and monitoring the quality of the treated wastewater, managing wastewater treatment facilities, coordinating with the other sectors within the ministry (e.g. agricultural, groundwater, municipal landscaping) and other relevant authorities, such as the Ministry of Health, to allocate treated wastewater and develop the standards for reuse that protect public health and the environment.

In addition to these four agencies, there are a number of supporting and services agencies such as the Supreme Council for Environment (environmental protection, including water resources), Ministry of Health (water quality) and Bahrain Meteorological Services (meteorological data).

Laws and regulations

Bahrain has a relatively large number of decrees, ordinances and regulations that have been enacted to regulate and control water use in the various consuming sectors as well as to conserve the groundwater resource from salinization and depletion. However, these laws are not consolidated under a comprehensive water law. Table 1 displays the most important of this legislation.

Table 1: Water legislation in Bahrain.

Proclamation No. 48/1351H/1933Consisted of the general principles for permits for water use in the agricultural sector, and the need for a license to drill wells with the general specifications for the drilling of artesian wells. Considered the first water law in Bahrain
Amiri Decree No. 2/1971 Concerning Water Monitoring and Control RegulationsGave the water council full administrative, legislative and executive authority for all water-related matters, including well drilling licensing and specifications
Amiri Decree No. 12/1980 Concerning the Use of Groundwater (modified in 1997, 1999)Aimed to regulate the use of groundwater to help in its conservation; it included well drilling, the imposition of tariffs on the consumption of groundwater and wastewater treatment, and it required the installation of water metres on groundwater wells
Ministerial Order No. 23/1980 Concerning the Prohibition of Water Abstraction from the Dammam AquiferThe order was issued to reduce groundwater abstraction from the Dammam aquifer (Khobar and Alat zones) and allow their recovery
Legislative Decree No. 7/1982 Concerning the Formation of the High Council of Water Resources (modified in 2007)The primary duties of the council were stated as: to draw up the country’s water policies in view of the results of water resources studies and surveys; to protect and develop the water resources so as to ensure their prolonged availability and efficiency; and to take necessary measures to solve any problems that might arise during the implementation of the water policies
Ministerial Order No. 10/1982Obliged well owners to install water metres on their wells as a first step for the study of groundwater consumption in different sectors
Ministerial Order No. 4/1983 Concerning the Extension of Ministerial Order No. 23/1980 Concerning the Prohibition of Water Abstraction from the Dammam AquiferExtended the prohibition of water abstraction from the Dammam aquifer for another two years
Ministerial Order No. 3/1985 Concerning the Establishment of Municipal Desalinated WaterEstablished a municipal water tariff
Amiri Decree No. 11/1991 (modified by Law No. 33/2006)This law is related to sanitation and drainage. It prohibits the dumping of waste and pollutants in the wastewater networks and the surface runoff networks. Law 33/2006 regulates sanitation services, wastewater treatment and reuse of treated wastewater and sludge
Royal Decree No. 36/2009 Concerning the Amendments of Some Items of Decree No. 7/1982 on the Establishment of the Water Resources CouncilAimed to reactivate the High Council of Water Resources formed in 1982, which was seen as the most suitable organizational framework to ensure efficient levels of water resources management. The council’s stated responsibilities are: to formulate the overall water resources policies and strategies for the country, including setting up appropriate institutional and legislative frameworks; coordinate government water policies and ensure integration of these policies; and follow up the implementation of water policies and plans and set priorities for the implementation of the developed strategies and programmes

Moreover, Bahrain’s constitution (2002; item 11) states that ‘all natural wealth and resources are state property. The state shall safeguard them and exploit them properly, while observing the requirement of the security of the state and of the national economy’. In other words, as a natural resource, groundwater is public property and the state is entrusted with its management as a common good.

Financing of the water sector

In general, the water sector is financed by government allocations. Water tariffs are applied only in the municipal sector (drinking water) and to the use of groundwater from the Dammam aquifer for industrial purposes (Table 2). This not only negatively affects consumption rates and patterns by depriving the sector of a price-signalling mechanism, but it also limits cost recovery, which eventually impacts the financial performance of the water management sector and makes it highly dependable on government allocations. Moreover, sanitation services are provided free of charge, which makes the sector captive to government allocations.

Table 2: Tariffs in the water-consuming sectors.

AgriculturalIndustrialMunicipal
Escalating block rate for domestic and non-domestic users (industrial, commercial, tourism, government etc.)Escalating block rate for use of the Dammam aquifer; use of the Rus-UER aquifer is free of charge Groundwater and treated sewage effluent used in the agricultural sector are free of charge

In the drinking water supply sector, financial sustainability is addressed through two policies: reducing the cost by privatizing desalination plants and reviewing tariffs to enhance cost recovery. As indicated in section 5, the EWA is planning to have all future desalination plants constructed and managed by the private sector.

Bahrain started implementing a block rate tariff in the municipal water sector in 1986, and the kingdom has a complete water metring system. In the period from 2016-2019, a gradual annual review was made for the water (and electricity) tariffs. The objectives of the review were twofold: the first was to better target the water subsidies and the second to enhance the EWA’s cost recovery. The review was made for non-residential accounts, expat residential accounts, in addition to Bahraini nationals having more than one residential account.

The current tariffs for municipal water for the domestic/residential sector for the first national account is shown in Table 3. For all other accounts, the price of one cubic metre of supplied water is $2 regardless of consumption blocks. According to the EWA, this price is based on the total cost of producing and conveying one cubic metre of water in the municipal sector. Information on water subsidies prior and post the tariff reform are not available.

Table 3: Municipal water supply tariff structure.

BlockConsumption/month (m3)Price (BD/m3)Price ($/m3)
1<600.025 0.066
261-1000.0800.212
3>1000.2000.530

Currently, there are no existing tariffs for wastewater collection and treatment or for reuse, which is provided free of charge. Hence, the wastewater sector depends entirely on government budget. To address this financial challenge, the wastewater sector has adopted two policies: decentralization and privatization. This is manifested in the Muharraq sewage treatment plant. It is expected that future wastewater works and wastewater treatment plants in the two new cities will be implemented and managed by the private sector. In terms of cost, the latest available estimated figures (2013) for the cost of wastewater collection, treatment and reuse are $0.4/m3, $0.53/m3 and $0.13-0.27/m3 respectively, i.e. a total of about $1.1/m3.[1] The cost of wastewater treatment in Muharraq by the private sector is $0.45/m3. Contract details related to the energy charges, facility charges and related costs to be borne by the government are not known. However, a general and rough analysis would indicate that public-private partnerships have led to cost reduction.

[1] Al-Zubari W, 2014. The costs of municipal water supply in Bahrain. Produced as part of the Valuing Vital Resources in the Gulf series. Chatham House, UK.