Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Management in KSA

Sabya valley, KSA Water Management in KSA
Photo1: Sabya valley, KSA. (Source: Mohammad Mohsin, Flickr)

Institutional structure and organizational framework

According to the National Water Strategy,[1] the focus on policy making in KSA is limited. Governance is also below the required level, and there is a lack of a comprehensive set of policies and limited integration between water and agriculture policies.

Integrated water management in KSA is not carried out efficiently at the national and local levels, nor is there a comprehensive plan for the integrated management of resources. Moreover, there is a limited vision regarding the economics and resources of the sector. For instance, there are no records on groundwater wells or the quantities of groundwater abstraction.[2]

Water laws and regulations

The major water-related laws in KSA are summarized in Table 1. The current legislative framework is still subject to the water regime issued in 1980 and is considered to be inadequate. The current legal and legislative system suffers from several problems, namely:

  • fragmentation and a lack of cohesion, as it was formulated in stages to respond to urgent needs
  • absence of economic legislation, especially in terms of service level in the supply chain
  • absence of legislation and licenses to implement integrated water resource management practices
  • absence of environmental protection legislation, monitoring and enforcement provisions and practices
  • limited provisions for resolving water sector disputes.

The National Water Strategy suggests that the legal and legislative framework should provide the appropriate tools to implement the water sector policy adopted by KSA. The Electricity and Cogeneration Regulatory Authority regulates water and sanitation services, while the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture regulates water resources.[3]

Table 1: Major water laws in KSA.[4]

Name of lawIssue tool and dateScope and aims
Law of Saline Water Conversion CorporationRoyal Decree, 24/01/1974- Establishment of the corporation and the location of its headquarters. - Definition of the corporation’s purpose, which is ‘saline water conversion in the Kingdom’s regions and cities, where the natural resources are insufficient to meet the needs’. - Definition of the corporation’s responsibilities and authorities. - Administrative and financial affairs.
Organizational Arrangement of Water Plants/FactoriesCabinet Decision, 14/03/2011- Definition of the role of government agencies, their competencies, responsibilities and the tasks entrusted to them in everything related to water plants. This organizational arrangement does not include Zamzam water from a well in Mecca, which is considered holy. - The law defines the tasks of the Ministry of Water and Electricity (now the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture), the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and the General Authority for Food and Drug Administration.
Water LawCabinet Decision, 02/07/2020- The objectives of the law are to: • preserve, develop and protect water resources and ensure their sustainability and management • regulate water resources’ affairs, the rights related to them and their use • ensure safe, clean, reliable, high-quality and competitively priced water supplies achieve equity among consumers • enhance participation of the private sector in the activities subject to the regime and ensure effective governance. - The law contains 77 articles on topics such as tasks and responsibilities, waste resources and ownership, water uses, protection of water resources and water tariffs.
Regulating the Water and Electricity Regulatory AuthorityCabinet Decision, 29/12/2020- Approval of regulating the organization of the Water and Electricity Authority’s responsibilities and mandates.
Regulating the National Centre for Water Efficiency and RationalizationCabinet Decision, 02/02/2021- Approval of regulating the National Centre for Water Efficiency and Rationalization’s responsibilities and mandates.

Organizational structure

Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture

In 2016, Royal Decree No. A/133 was issued to abolish the Ministry of Water and Electricity and change the name of the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture (MEWA). Its water-related duties include supervising and developing environmental, water and agricultural affairs, providing irrigation water suitable for agriculture through wells and dams, designing, implementing, operating and maintaining irrigation and drainage projects and distributing irrigation water to promote the efficient use of these resources.[5]

MEWA is responsible for producing water from groundwater wells, except in areas managed by the National Water Company (NWC). It also manages water distribution in all regions, except for those managed by the NWC and a few other areas. MEWA also manages billing and customer services as well as the collection and treatment of sewage in all regions, except for those managed by the NWC.[6]

Electricity and Cogeneration Regulatory Authority (ECRA)

ECRA was established under the Council of Ministers’ Resolution No. 236 issued in 2001, to regulate the electricity and water desalination sector as well as district cooling​. Among its duties related to the water desalination sector are the production, trade and transportation of desalinated water; monitoring licensees’ compliance with their license requirements and conditions; development of unified regulatory accounting and reporting procedures for desalination providers; coordination of the infrastructure of the sector; assessing tariffs charged for the services and proposing new tariffs (as needed); protecting the interests of stakeholders in the sector; ensuring the adequacy of new regulations for expanding the infrastructure; and encouraging private sector participation and investments.[7]

National Water Company (NWC)

A joint stock company fully owned by the Saudi government (namely the Public Investment Fund), the NWC was established to provide water and wastewater treatment services according to the latest international standards.[8] The NWC specializes in providing the highest quality drinking water, ensuring the presence of water and wastewater connections in all households, preserving natural water resources and the environment, using treated sewage effluent with maximum efficiency and training qualified Saudi employees.

Saudi Water Partnership Company

The Saudi Water Partnership Company was established in 2003.[9] [10] It is fully owned by the Ministry of Finance and mandated to ensure adequate water production capacity and drive local content development and private sector participation. The company’s primary purpose is to purchase water and electricity from private sector projects (developers) in Saudi Arabia and sell water to the Saline Water Conversion Corporation. It is also responsible for the tenders for desalination plants, water purification plants, WWTPs, water storage tanks and water transmission networks.

Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC)

The SWCC is an independent government corporation responsible for desalinating seawater, producing electric power and supplying various regions with desalinated water.[11] The corporation was established by royal decree in 1974. The desalination of water alongside the production of electricity are the most important objectives of the development plans envisaged by the corporation. One of the main strategic goals for the implementation of these plans is to build several desalination plants, along with support facilities in regions suffering from shortages of fresh water, based on the outcomes of technical feasibility studies.

General Authority of Meteorology and Environmental Protection

One of the most important tasks of this authority is monitoring meteorological phenomena and weather forecasting for the safety of life and the protection of properties. Rationalizing and optimizing natural resource use (including water) in the Kingdom is performed by the associated National Centre for Meteorology.[12] Meanwhile, the National Centre for Environmental Compliance is responsible for protecting present and future generations from environmental pollution damage through environmental management and pollution monitoring and assessment, while achieving balanced development.[13]

[1] Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, 2018. National Water Strategy 2030.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] The Bureau of Experts at the Council of Ministers website.
[5] Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture website.
[6] Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture, 2018. National Water Strategy 2030.
[7] Electricity and Cogeneration Regulatory Authority website.
[8] Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture website.
[9] Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture website.
[10] Saudi Water Partnership Company website.
[11] Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture website.
[12] National Centre for Meteorology website.
[13] National Centre for Environmental Compliance website.