Saudi Arabia is facing a water crisis. Despite the Kingdom’s massive investments in desalination plants, demand is growing at a rate that threatens to outstrip supply, leading to the formulation of ambitious plans for the expansion of its desalination plants at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. Policy makers and private sector stake holders in the Kingdom have been calling for reforms in the water sector, including water use, wastewater recycling and introduce innovative technologies.

Arab News Riyadh Bureau chief caught up with a prominent water expert Badr Ghawji, managing director of the Riyadh-based Veolia Water Technologies, to discuss problems faced by the water-stressed countries like Saudi Arabia, the role of Veolia Water Technologies and the educational skills taught to Saudis by the company.
Ghawji, who holds a doctorate degree from the UK’s Loughborough University of Technology has more than 30 years experience in water industry. He is also the director of Global Hydrex Platform supporting water treatment chemical activity worldwide.
Excerpts of the interview:

Q: At a high level, how would you describe Veolia Water Technologies’ core focus and capabilities? How much of that focus is devoted to R&D that will also eventually benefit the Kingdom?
A: Veolia Water Technologies is a world leader in delivering water solutions that respond to the diverse needs of municipalities and industries. Our commitment to ensuring safe, dependable and affordable drinking water is backed by decades of hands-on experience at thousands of water treatment facilities around the world and top of the industry research capabilities.
To ensure water supply quality and safety, we offer an array of treatment solutions backed up by extensive research & development programs. Veolia’s unique range of differentiating technologies come from the group’s R&D centers and ensure that municipalities and industries receive the most innovative and effective technological solutions. We create new models based on anticipating tomorrow’s requirements rather than waiting for a problem to emerge before taking action. The group’s 350 researchers worldwide work on developing new solutions for every stage in water cycle management.

Q: Which are the major projects currently being implemented by Veolia Water Technologies in Saudi Arabia? Please provide brief information about the projects and their value.
A: We have many projects around the Kingdom with many different clients, including but not limited to the MOW, Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC), Saudi Aramco, and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC). We just commissioned Hili dam water treatment plant where our scope includes clarification, filtration & chemical dosing to treat water coming from Hili Dam. Another project commissioned earlier this year was Marabah, where we introduced a new technology in Saudi Arabia called Actiflo that is much efficient comparing to the traditional clarification along with pressure pultimedia filter and RO. The plant produces 50,000 M3/D. Ongoing projects in municipal market include Quwaiyah, Wajeed, Beash and others where RO plants are used to produce drinking water. In Aramco, we are executing various jobs in Shaybah gas plant, Master gas plant, Wasit gas plants and Lubref refinery. Applications vary from Demineralization to condensation polishing systems to industrial waste treatment.

Q: Veolia’s Water Technologies activities can be grouped into two main areas — providing clean drinking water, and collecting and treating waste water/sewerage water. What are your achievements in these areas as far as the Kingdom is concerned?
A: For drinking water, Veolia Water Technologies installed many water plants utilizing dam water to produce drinking water. Our newly introduced Actiflo technology has reduced water losses and improves produced water quality. We have also built a huge sea water RO plant to provide water for Sadara refinery. For waste water, we have introduced Hydrotech Discfilters, which are used as tertiary treatment out of sewage treatment plants. Discfilters can produce water suitable for irrigation use. Other technology introduced was AnoxKaldnes MBBR, which was used in a plant built at King Saud University to convert sewage to water suitable for cooling water usage.

Q: Will membranes and reverse osmosis (RO) continue to be the best available technologies for tough to treat water, particularly for water reuse and desalination applications? They have been criticized for being energy-intensive as compared to some emerging technologies?
A: Membranes are becoming more competitive in terms of price and energy saving. This has led to enhance their usage and position in the market. For the energy concerns, there are many technologies introduced to the market to save the energy and increase the efficiency like the pressure exchanger technology (PX), which is considered as an energy recovery solution.
Q: The Saudi market has been stifled in recent months by the slow economy backed by an ambitious budget. What’s your take on the market going forward?
A: The water sector is vital and important sector, which is under the auspices of the government’s support. Saudi Arabia has a strong economy along with a growing demand, and the increased participation of the private sector in services like water make Saudi market very attractive. We believe water will continue to be among the most important priorities for the Saudi government.

Q: Saudi Arabia has set a goal to reuse 100 percent of urban wastewater by 2025. Do you think that this goal is realistic? What measures you suggest to implement this plan?
A: Saudi Arabia is a water-stressed country and the cost of producing water is very high, hence increasing the reuse of waste water will save a lot of money. Veolia believes that it’s possible to reach such a target. This can be accomplished by increasing public awareness on the importance of water reuse and the real value of water, revise the regulation toward water reuse, push industries to full reuse of their water and introduce innovative technologies that can tackle difficult water applications. Moreover, water reuse in Saudi Arabia is growing, both at the level of buildings and at the level of cities. For example, ablution water in mosques is being reused for the flushing of toilets. At the city level, treated wastewater is being reused for landscaping, irrigation and in industries such as refining. In Riyadh, 50 million cubic meter per year is pumped over 40 km (25 mi) and 60 m elevation to irrigate 15,000 hectares of wheat, fodder, orchards and palm trees.

Q: Is Veolia Water Technologies exerting substantial efforts to employ more Saudis and cut reliance on foreign workers? How and to what extent you are following the Nitaqat program guidelines of Saudization?
A: Saudization has always been a priority for Veolia Water Technologies; we attract young talents by offering them the needed training and the promising career path to develop their skills and enhance their knowledge. Veolia Water Technologies Saudi worked closely with many universities in the Kingdom and participated in many job fairs like King Fahd University for Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) to achieve that. As a result of various initiatives, we are fully compliant with the Nitaqat program and committed to further improve in the future.

Q: What kind of training you are offering to Saudi employees at top and lower levels? How many Saudis you intend to hire in the next three years beginning Jan. 1, 2016 (a conservative estimate will do).
A: Veolia Water Technologies Saudi provides various trainings, including personal and technical skills development, run by internal experts and Veolia global campus staff. At the same time, we remain focused on the job coaching program to give them direct exposure to the process and way of working. Our target is to improve our Saudization with 4-7 percent on yearly basis with special focus on technical team development in collaboration with leading universities in the Kingdom.

Q: As part of your corporate social responsibility (CSR), which major Saudi or Gulf social or government initiatives are being supported by Veolia? Please provide brief information.
A: One of the initiatives was our collaboration with Princess Al-Anood Foundation to provide clean water to Haqal, where 65 villages have benefited from the plant. The plant was given free of charge and local people were trained to run the plant by themselves. Another initiative we take each year during the Water Day is to educate the public about the importance of water and environmental issues. Veolia Water Technologies distributed kids’ environment drawings along with brochures explaining the value of water to selected schools and kindergarten in the Kingdom, which emphasize the importance to be involved in sustaining a friendly environment and saving water. Also, we supported the water sustainability and development symposium organized by Dammam University, which was held under the title, International Water Day 2015 and Sustainable Development. A group of scientists and specialists in water technologies from Saudi Arabia and a number of countries, including Japan, Malaysia and Kuwait, participated in the event along with Veolia Water Technologies experts who talked about water treatment plants, wastewater treatment facilities and the water impact index and carbon emissions indicator.
Q: Have you set up any manufacturing or service facility in Saudi Arabia? I mean any chemical manufacturing or equipment etc? Please provide details.
A: Yes. Veolia Water Technologies has two factories in the Kingdom, one for producing water treatment chemicals (Hydrex) located in Riyadh Industrial City and another located in Dammam Second Industrial City where we produce many of water and industrial waste water systems related to oil and gas, municipal and chemical industries. Both plants are accredited to ISO 9001, 14001 and OHSAS18001. Having those factories is a proof of our commitment to transfer technology to Saudi and our long-term plan to participate in water treatment market in Saudi Arabia.

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