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Water Resources in Kuwait

fishing boats Water resources in Kuwait
Photo 1: Fishing boats in Kuwait. (Source: Anton Rogozin, Flickr)

Freshwater resources in Kuwait are very scarce due to low precipitation, a high rate of evaporation and the dry sandy nature of the topsoil. Kuwait has no lakes or rivers, and the main natural water resources are limited to brackish groundwater.[1]

Water requirements are obtained from three main sources: seawater desalination, treated wastewater and brackish groundwater, as indicated in Figure 1.

  • Desalination
  • Treated wastewater
  • Groundwater

Figure 1: Water resources distribution in Kuwait.

Groundwater

The regional hydraulic system consists of two main aquifers. The upper one is called Kuwait Group, which is composed of layers of sediment and clastic rocks saturated with water.[2] The lower aquifer is the Dammam Formation, which is separated from the upper one by a semi-pervious layer.[3]

The groundwater quality varies between brackish and saline. Limited isolated freshwater lenses recharged by rainfall, with total dissolved solids (TDS) of less than 1,000 milligrams per litre (mg/L), are located in northern Kuwait at the Raudhatain and Umm al-Aish depressions. Water extraction from these aquifers is 5,500 and 3,500 cubic metres per day (m3/d), respectively.[4] Brackish groundwater is located in the Kuwait Group and the Dammam Formation aquifers and has a salinity ranging from 4,000-9,000 mg/L and 3,000-6,000 mg/L, respectively.[5] This brackish groundwater is abstracted from the wellfields in Sulaibiya, Shagaya, Wafra, Um-Qadir and Atraf. The rest of the groundwater is mostly saline.[6]

Figure 2: Groundwater abstraction in Kuwait (1990-2019).[10]

Over the years, prolonged groundwater abstraction, which exceeded the renewable volume, caused the depletion of aquifer storage and resulted in a decline in groundwater levels and an increase in the water’s salinity. Figure 2 shows the abstraction rate between 1990 and 2019.[7] The annual groundwater recharge is estimated at about 160 million cubic metres (MCM). In 2010, groundwater abstraction amounted to 491 MCM. The withdrawal rate decreased to 255 MCM/yr in 2015 but was still higher than its annual recharge by about 60 MCM. Of the total water withdrawn annually, 54% is used for agriculture, 44% for municipal purposes and 2% for industrial purposes.[8] The total groundwater production was estimated at 240.6 MCM/yr in 2019, with maximum daily consumption of 0.27 MCM.[9]

Non-conventional water resources

Desalination

In 1951, Kuwait constructed its first desalination plant to meet its increasing freshwater needs. Over the years, desalination plants became the primary source of fresh water for drinking purposes, providing 92% of water for domestic and industrial needs and about 60% of total water supply.[11] Figures 3 and 4 show the gradual increase in the installed desalination capacity and desalinated water consumption. Currently, there are eight desalination plants in Kuwait, located along the coast, with a total installed capacity of 3.11 MCM/d. The gross production of desalinated water amounted to 717.90 MCM in 2019.[12] More information on desalination plants is available in the water infrastructure section.

Figure 3: Development of desalination capacity (1978-2019).[13]

Figure 4: Daily average consumption of desalinated water (1978-2019).[14] [15]

Treated wastewater

The treatment of municipal wastewater has become crucial for Kuwait, not only for protecting aquatic ecosystems from the environmental impact that results from discharging untreated wastewater into the sea, but also for reducing the consumption of expensive desalinated water and relieving pressure on the depleted groundwater aquifers by reusing treated wastewater.[16] [17]

The total wastewater generated is approximately 1 MCM/d, and the per capita wastewater generation is 154.6 m3/yr, which is increasing by 3.6% annually. The generated wastewater is estimated to be 70-80% of the freshwater consumption.[18] Approximately 75% of all wastewater is treated to reverse osmosis (RO) quality, of which 58% is reused. Approximately 31% of treated effluent is unutilized.[19] A total of 30% of untreated wastewater is discharged into the sea. Kuwait plans to increase its water resources by using 100% of its wastewater in agricultural irrigation, greenery landscaping and reforestation.[20]

About 19% of all water consumed in the agricultural sector is treated wastewater (TWW). About 270,000 m3 of TWW is used for landscape and fodder irrigation but not for edible produce. RO-treated effluents of 318,000 m3/d are used for irrigating crops and natural reserves.[21] The chemical and microbiological characteristics of TWW comply with the standards of both the Kuwait Environmental Public Authority and the World Health Organization. The regulations exclude all amenity uses for the treated effluent and restrict agricultural use to safe crops, even if its quality exceeds that for potable use.[22]

[1] Alhumoud, J et al., 2010. Groundwater quality analysis of limestone aquifer of Sulaibiya Field, Kuwait. Desalination 254: 58-67.
[2] Statistical Yearbook Water Edition 2019, 2020. Ministry of Electricity and Water.
[3] Al-Senaf, M and Abraham, J, 2004. Vulnerability of groundwater resources from agricultural activities in southern Kuwait. Agricultural Water Management 64: 1-15.
[4] First Biennial Update Report of the State of Kuwait, 2019. Environment Public Authority.
[5] Statistical Yearbook Water Edition 2019, 2020. Ministry of Electricity and Water.
[6] AlAli, E H, 2008. Groundwater history and trends in Kuwait. Sustainable Irrigation Management, Technologies and Policies II.
[7] Al-Zubari, W et al., 2017. An overview of the GCC Unified Water Strategy (2016-2035). Desalination and Water Treatment 81: 1-18.
[8] Ismail, H, 2015. Kuwait: Food and water security. Future Directions International.
[9] Statistical Yearbook Water Edition 2019, 2020. Ministry of Electricity and Water.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ismail, H, 2015. Kuwait: Food and water security. Future Directions International.
[12] Statistical Yearbook Water Edition 2019, 2020. Ministry of Electricity and Water.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Statistical Yearbook Water Edition 2019, 2020. Ministry of Electricity and Water.
[16] Al-Anzi, B et al., 2012. Assessment of wastewater reuse in Kuwait and its Impact on amount of pollutants discharged into the sea. Journal of Environmental Protection, 3: 935-939.
[17] Aleisa, E and Zubari, W, 2017. Wastewater reuse in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC): The lost opportunity. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 189(11): 553.
[18] Al-Shammari, S and Shahalam, A, 2006. Effluent from an advanced wastewater treatment plant – an alternate source of non-potable water for Kuwait. Desalination, 196(1): 215-220.
[19] Aleisa, E and Alshayji, K, 2019. Analysis on reclamation and reuse of wastewater in Kuwait. Kuwait Journal of Science and Engineering, 7(1).
[20] Ismail, H, 2015. Kuwait: Food and water security. Future Directions International.
[21] Aleisa, E and Alshayji, K, 2019. Analysis on reclamation and reuse of wastewater in Kuwait. Kuwait Journal of Science and Engineering, 7(1).
[22] Ibid.