Saudi Arabia has seen a number of new initiatives that aim to use water more efficiently.
Degremont, the water-treatment unit of Suez Environnement (SEV) has won a $52 million contract. It will desalinate brackish groundwater to produce drinking water for 3,000 households in the Riyadh area that have been hitherto supplied by water trucks.
As water tables sink and one has to drill deeper and deeper into aquifers, desalination is not only needed for sea water but also for increasingly brackish groundwater. As far as such water is used for agriculture there is a direct trade-off between water security and the demands of subsidized food production.
In another development, the Precision Agriculture Research Chair (PARC) of King Saud University (KSU) is implementing a research project funded by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) under the National Plan for Science and Technology (NPST). The goal is to use water, fertilizer and pesticides more efficiently with the help of drip irrigation and precision farming.
On two pilot farms in Haradh and Al-Kharj water savings for wheat amount to 30 percent and for alfalfa to 20 percent. While this is laudable it has to be kept in mind that even then water consumption of the two crops is prodigious, particularly for alfalfa which can be planted year round and needs about five times more water than wheat.
Water efficiency gains are not an alternative to reduce these crops and focus on more value added crops like vegetables that can be grown in green houses. This is the focus of a third project of PARC on the “Use of saline water for tomato production in hydroponic green houses”.