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Shared Water Resources in KSA

Wadi Al-Disah, Shared Water Resources in KSA
Photo1: Camel grazing farm in Wadi Al-Disah, KSA. (Source: Lota Hilton, Flickr)

Groundwater aquifers are recognized as shared water resources in KSA. Table 1 summarizes these aquifers while Map 1 shows their location.

Table 1: Overview of shared groundwater aquifers in KSA.[1]

AquifersRiparian countriesExtent (km2)Renewability Average abstraction (MCM/yr)Storage (BCM)Water quality Water use
Umm er Radhuma-Dammam Aquifer System (North)Iraq, Kuwait, KSA~246,000 Very low to low (0-20 mm/yr)Iraq: ~45 (early 1990s), Kuwait: ~90 (1993), KSA: NA-Fresh to hypersalineAgricultural, industrial and domestic use except for drinking
Saq-Ram Aquifer System (West), Disi, Mudawwara-Disi, Rum, SaqJordan, KSA 308,000 Low (2-20 mm/yr)Jordan: 90, KSA: >1,000Jordan: 4-10, KSA: ~740Fresh (mostly <1,000 mg/L TDS)Mainly agricultural. A rise in municipal and industrial use is expected
Wajid Aquifer System, Bani Khatmah FormationKSA, Yemen~455,000 Very low (0-2 mm/yr)KSA: 2,260 (2004), Yemen: ~100 (2002)KSA: 30-225, Yemen: 4-6Fresh to slightly brackish (700-1,000 mg/L TDS)Predominantly agricultural; limited municipal and industrial
Wasia-Biyadh-Aruma Aquifer System (South), Tawila Mahra, Cretaceous SandsKSA, Yemen~157,000 Very low (0-2 mm/yr)Unknown, but very limited~500 Fresh (400-800 mg/L TDS)Water supply for desert nomads and the Sharurah/Abr border posts
Wasia-Biyadh-Aruma Aquifer System (North), Sakaka-Rutba, Rutba-Msad-Hartha-Tayaraty, Wasia Group Sakaka-ArumaIraq, KSA~112,000 Very low to low (0-20 mm/yr)≥ 30-35-Fresh to slightly brackish (400-3,000 mg/L TDS)Domestic and irrigation
Umm er Radhuma-Dammam, Hadhramaut Group Aquifer System (South), Rub al-KhaliOman, KSA, UAE, Yemen~680,000 Very low to low (0-20 mm/yr)Oman: 45, UAE: 7.7Najd area: 0.18-1.1Fresh to hypersalineAgricultural, domestic and oil injection in Oman
Umm er Radhuma-Dammam Aquifer System (Centre), Gulf, Alat, Khobar, Dammam, Rus, Umm er RadhumaBahrain, Qatar, KSA~281,000 Very low to low (0-20 mm/yr)Bahrain: Dammam: 97 (2010), Umm er Radhuma: 54.3 (2006), Qatar: 91 (1983) KSA: ~608 (2006)Bahrain: 0.09 (safe yield), Qatar: 2.5, KSA: 235Fresh (mostly <1 g/L TDS) to hypersaline in some coastal areasMainly agricultural, also domestic, industrial and urban irrigation use
Tawil Quaternary Aquifer System, Azraq Graben, Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary Aquifer Complex (STQ), Sharawra, Sirhan Basin, Sirhan Hamza Graben, Wadi Sirhan BasinJordan, KSA~44,000 Very low (0-2 mm/yr)1984: 100 MCM, 2004: 3,500 MCM22Fresh to salineIrrigation
Neogene Aquifer System; (South-east), Dibdibba-Kuwait Group, Dibdibba Delta Basin, Dibdibba Stony Desert, Dibdibba Alluvial Fan, Dibdibba Plain, Kuwait PlainIraq, Kuwait, KSA153,000 Very low to low (0-20 mm/yr)Iraq: ~370 MCM, Kuwait: 88 MCMIraq: 1.26Brackish to saline (2,500 mg/L to 15,000 mg/L TDS)Mainly agricultural
groundwater KSA, Shared Water Resources in KSA
Map 1: Shared groundwater aquifers in KSA. @Fanack water

Umm er Radhuma-Dammam Aquifer System (North): Widyan-Salman
Umm er Radhuma-Dammam, Hadhramaut Group Aquifer System (South), Rub al-Khali

The southern section of the Umm er Radhuma-Dammam Aquifer System spreads from the Gulf Coast in the north and the Oman Mountains in the south-east over about 800 km (Map 2). It covers a total area of 678,000 km2, stretching across the vast Rub al-Khali Desert, the Dhofar-Najd Plain in Oman and the north-eastern Hadhramaut-Mahra Plateau in Yemen. Of the total area, around 249,000 km2 lies in Oman, 296,000 km2 in Saudi Arabia, 61,000 km2 in the UAE and 72,000 km2 in Yemen.[2] About 392,000 km2 of the aquifer system is exploitable.

Abstraction from the aquifers in the Rub al-Khali Desert area that extends across the borders of all four countries is negligible. The most significant use of this aquifer system happens in the Dhofar-Najd areas in Oman (45 MCM/yr) and the Jebel Hafit area in the UAE (7.7 MCM/yr), where it is being developed for agricultural and domestic use after treatment and, to a lesser extent, for industrial (water injection for the oil industry) and recreational purposes.[3]

The distribution of groundwater salinity in this aquifer (Map 3) indicates that the aquifer is a potential source of relatively fresh water for Oman, KSA and Yemen. Salinity varies locally, and fresh water with <2,000 mg/L TDS can be found in the central areas of the aquifer as well as further east in the Najd areas. Hypersaline conditions have been defined in the north-eastern areas where hypersaline conditions prevail in the vicinity of sabkhas (coastal flats). In addition, high radon (Rn) and radium (Ra) content has been detected in the groundwater in Jebel Hafit.

There are no water agreements in place between the riparian countries for the Umm er Radhuma- Dammam Aquifer System (South).[4]

Aquifer System KSA, Shared Water Resources in KSA
Map 2: Overview of Umm er Radhuma-Dammam Aquifer System (South). @Fanack water
groundwater KSA, Shared Water Resources in KSA
Map 3: Groundwater salinity distribution in the Umm er Radhuma-Dammam Aquifer System (South). @Fanack water

Saq-Ram Aquifer System (West)

The Saq-Ram Aquifer System (West) extends on the surface from northern Saudi Arabia into Jordan (Map 4). The aquifer system covers a total area of approximately 560,00 km2, of which 15% is situated in Jordan and 85% in KSA.[5] At present, the aquifer is exploited from the Tabuk Plain in Saudi Arabia to Wadi Rum in Jordan.

Aquifer System KSA, Shared Water Resources in KSA
Map 4: Saq-Ram Aquifer System (West).[6] @Fanack water

In Jordan, where the aquifer system is known as the Ram Group, it is widely exposed in the southern desert and is present in the subsurface throughout most of the country. Abstraction in the Mudawwara-Disi area (Jordan) was about 60 MCM/yr in 2013, although higher values of 70-80 MCM/yr were reported in 2008. The abstracted water is used for different purposes.[7]

In KSA, south of the Jordanian border, groundwater abstraction in the Tabuk area increased drastically from about 29 MCM/yr in 1983 to between 1,050-1,700 MCM/yr in 2004, mostly for agriculture, while recharge remains at 3-10 MCM/yr. The heavy mining of the aquifer system resulted in drops in the water level of up to 32 m/yr in the late 1980s in KSA. There are indications that the exploitable part of the resource may be exhausted within 30-40 years unless abstraction can be controlled on both sides of the border.[8]

Water quality in the Saq-Ram Aquifer System (West) is generally good, with TDS levels between 1,000-1,200 mg/L and dominated by calcium (Ca2+) and bicarbonate (HCO3). Salinity increases northwards along the flow path, from fresh water (TDS: 200-400 mg/L) in the Mudawwara-Disi area, to slightly brackish (TDS:1,000-3,000 mg/L) at the Dead Sea, where thermal springs are common. In KSA, salinity levels are slightly elevated in unconfined areas.

The riparian countries have to date not signed an official treaty. However, the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation and the Saudi Ministry of Electricity and Water signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) at the technical level in 2007. The agreement prohibits the drilling of new production wells and the expansion of agricultural activities within an area of 10 km along both sides of the border between the new Dibdib/Dubaydib and Tabuk well fields (indicated as a ‘no drilling zone’ on the map). However, the MoU is non-binding as it does not constitute a treaty under international law.[9]

[1] UN-ESCWA and BGR (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe). 2013. Inventory of shared water resources in Western Asia. Beirut.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, 2016.
[6] UN-ESCWA and BGR (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia; Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe). 2013. Inventory of shared water resources in Western Asia. Beirut.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.