Cover Image
close this bookManaging Water for Peace in the Middle East: Alternative Strategies (UNU, 1995, 309 pages)
close this folder3. Hydro-powered reverse-osmosis desalination in water-resources development in Kuwait
View the document3.1 Background and objectives
View the document3.2 Potential water resources
View the document3.3 Water-resources development projects
View the document3.4 Experimental seawater reverse-osmosis desalination
View the document3.5 Experimental brackish -ground water reverse -osmosis desalination
View the document3.6 Hydro-powered brackish-groundwater reverse-osmosis desalination: A new proposal
View the document3.7 Development alternatives and a conjunctive-use plan

3.3 Water-resources development projects

The water needs of Kuwait expanded after crude-oil marketing was initiated in 1946, requiring the import of water by lighter and barge from the Shatt alArab in Iraq, some 100 km to the north-west. Intensive test well drillings in 1945 discovered an extensive brackish-water aquifer in the Abduliya area. The first desalination plant was commissioned in 1950 at Fahahil in Kuwait city. A parallel development followed to meet the growth of the city, including the Sulaibiya brackish-water wellfield. The combined development of cogeneration and this brackish-water wellfield was commissioned in 1953. Kuwait is now dependent on distilled water to blend with brackish groundwater as the main source of its water supply. Another source of water is treated sewage effluents, which are being used for landscape irrigation and agriculture.

The present sources of water supply for municipal and industrial use in Kuwait, with their salinity (milligrams of TDS per litre) and annual volumes, are as follows:

  • groundwater, shallow (1,000-2,000 mg/l 2.5 million m³,
  • brackish groundwater (2,000-8,000 mg/l), 109 million m³,
  • seawater desalination by MSF (25-50 mg/l), 184 million m³,
  • reclaimed waste water (2,500 mall), 97 million m³.

Small-scale crop irrigation is exploiting 57-67 million m³ of brackish groundwater per year. Water-resources development projects undertaken in Kuwait since the 1950s are described as below.

3.3.1 Surface water and artificial recharge

Kuwait's hydrology, topography, geology, and surface water resources do not favour the country, and no promising storage-dam scheme may be possible. The possibility of effective use of temporary surface runoff in the wadis was examined in a research project on groundwater recharge at Rawdatain in 1962, in which recharge pits with a total volume of 25,000 m³ were dug in the wadi depression to evaluate the infiltration potential of the run-off into the upper Kuwait group aquifer where the water table is shallow. The prospects of increasing the potential of fresh groundwater in the shallow Kuwait group are good, but artificial recharge will not be a key application, owing to the limited amount of surface run-off.

3.3.2 Groundwater exploitation

Groundwater has been exploited in two major aquifers, in the Kuwait group of the Neogene-Quaternary and in the Hasa group of the Eocene.

The selection of wellfields in Kuwait has been governed by many factors. In areas such as the Jahara, Abdali, and Wafra farms, groundwater exploitation has been concentrated on the shallow-water-table aquifer with a salinity of 2,000-8,000 mg of TDS per litre for local irrigation. At the initial stage of development, large-diameter handdug wells were constructed in the shallow aquifer at a depth of between 10 and 15 m. Later, tube wells 50-60 m deep were drilled in the saturated section of the Kuwait group at the end of 1960s. Relatively deep groundwater wells penetrating into the upper part of the confined Damman aquifer were drilled by the Kuwait Oil Company in the early 1940s to provide brackish water for the oil industry and gardening at Abdali and other areas. The Sulaibiya wellfield was developed in the early 1950s to supply water for gardening and mixing with distilled water. The exploitation of fresh groundwater resources in Rawdatain and Umm el-Aish was later initiated for Kuwait city. In view of the limited sustainable yield of the aquifer system and possible leakage contamination from the underlying saline water body, the abstraction has been controlled since the mid-1970s. The Damman aquifers in remote areas were also explored by steps in the mid1960s to coordinate with the substantial increase in water demand in Kuwait city. The Shigaya wellfield south-west of Kuwait city was commissioned for use in the early 1970s.

Fig. 3.7 Production of brackish groundwater and distilled water in Kuwait

Annual abstraction of groundwater for water supply is estimated at 109 million m³ of brackish water and 2.5 million m³ of rather fresh water (fig. 3.7). Crop irrigation is being carried out by pumping 53-67 million m³ of brackish groundwater per year from the wellfields in Wafra and Abdali-Um Nigga. The existing yield, estimated potential yield, and water salinity of each wellfield are shown in table 3.1.

3.3.3 Seawater desalination

Kuwait is one of the world's leaders in the production of fresh water from the sea. Co-generation stations, using the multi-stage flash process to distil seawater, were developed in the early 1950s and have been in use since then (table 3.2). The annual production of fresh (distilled) water is estimated to be now 184 million m³, as shown in fig. 3.7.

SHUWAIKH CO-GENERATION STATION Shuwaikh was the first cogeneration station in Kuwait to be built since 1953. Between 1965 and 1982 distillation units were installed in response to a rapid increase in the demand for fresh water. In 1987 the installed capacities of the power generation units and distillation plants were 324 MW and 32 mig (145,500 m³) per day respectively. Distillation plants were installed as a part of the following co-generation stations (Al-Farhoud 1988).

Table 3.1 Wellfields in Kuwait, 1985

Field Aquifer No. of wells Yield(million m³/year) Salinity (TDS, mg/l) Purpose
Existing Potential
Rawdatain and Um al-Aish Dibdibba F 52 2.5 6.6 700-1,200 water supply
Shigaya A, B. C Kuwait G 60 53 66 3,000-4,000 water supply
Shigaya D, E DammanF 54 - 42 3,000-4,500 water supply
Sulaibiya Damman F 133 25-33 33 4,500-5,500 water supply
Abduliya Damman F 14 8 - 4,500 water supply
Wafra Kuwait G (110) 33-42 50 4,000-6,000 irrigation
Abdali-Um Nigga Dibdibba F (110) 20-25 33-42 3,000-7,000 irrigation

Source: Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, in 1990.

Table 3.2 Installed capacity of co-generation stations in Kuwait

  Fresh water production Power generation (MW) Date
Million m³/year Mig/day
Shuwaikh 53 32 324 1960-70
Shuaiba North 23 14 400 1965-71
Shuaiba South 50 30 804 1971-75
Doha East 71 43 1,158 1978-79
Doha West 159 96 2,400 1985
Az-Zour South        
stage I 10 6 -  
stage II (119) (72) (2,511) (1991)
Total 366 221 5,769  

Source: Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, in 1990.

SHUAIBA CO-GENERATION STATION. The Shuaiba station is composed of two stations, Shuaiba North and Shuaiba South. The installed capacity of the power generation units is 1,204 MW in total, being 400 MW at Shuaiba North and 804 MW at Shuaiba South. Distillation plants with a total installed capacity of 44 mig per day were installed between 1965 and 1975, including 14 mig (63,650 m³) at Shuaiba North (1965-1971) and 30 mig (136,400 m³) at Shuaiba South (1971-1975).

DOHA CO-GENERATION STATION. The Doha station is also composed of two stations, Doha West and Doha East. The installed capacity of the power generation units is 3,558 MW in total, 1,158 MW at Doha East and 2,400 MW at Doha West. Distillation plants with a total installed capacity of 139 mig per day were installed between 1978 and 1985, including 43 mig (195,500 m³) at Doha East (1978-1979) and 96 mig (436,500 m³) at Doha West (1983-1985).

AL-ZOUR CO-GENERATION UNIT. The Al-Zour station, scheduled to be completed by 1991, was designed to have an installed capacity of 2,511 MW of power generation and 72 mig (327,300 m³) of distillation per day.

The problem with seawater distillation is the high cost of the MSF evaporation process. The cost of the thermal process is largely dependent on the rate of energy (fuel) consumption for operating the system, which can account for as much as about 50% of the unit water cost and is sensitive to the unstable world market price of crude oil.

3.3.4 Reuse of treated sewage effluents

The amount of reuse of the sewage effluents in Kuwait in 1988 was 97 million m³, which was one third of the volume of water supply.

Three municipal waste-water treatment plants, at Ardiya, Rekka, and Jahara, were designed to treat municipal waste-water through tertiary treatment for reuse in landscape irrigation. The installed capacity of these plants is 290,000 m³ per day in total, comprising 150,000 m³ at Ardiya, 65,000 m³ at Rekka, and 80,000 m³ at Jahara. The output is 265,000 m³ per day, including 175,000 m³ at Ardiya, 30,000 m³ at Rekka, and 60,000 m³ at Jahara. After tertiary treatment by sand filtration, the quality of the treated water is controlled to be 10-20 mg of BOD, 3-40 mg of NH3-N, and 2,500 mg of TDS per litre (table 3.3). Some of the reclaimed sewage water is being used for landscape irrigation and some for agriculture.

Table 3.3 Sewage treatment plants for reuse en Kuwait

Plant Installed capacity (m³/day) Present output (m³/day)
Ardiya 150,000 175,000
Rekka 60,000 30,000
Jahara 80,000 60,000
TOTAL 290,000 265,000
  Water quality (mg/l)
  Actual Standard
BOD 10-20  
NH3-N 3-40 1-10
TDS 2,500 1,500-4,500

Source: Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, in 1990.