It’s not just California that is experiencing severe water shortages. Saudi Arabia sits on one of the world’s biggest and oldest aquifers. But a (what is now recognised as) flawed agricultural policy in the late 1970s and ’80s, when a programme of food self-sufficiency was pursued has led to its virtual depletion.
This means that the country has become increasingly reliant on desalination plants for its water supply. Saudi Arabia is by far the world’s biggest user of desalination technology, with more than 30 plants on the coast processing millions of gallons of water each day, then piping it hundreds of kilometres to Riyadh and other population centres.
Over-dependence on desalination creates several problems. It’s expensive, requires large amounts of energy, produces correspondingly large amounts of CO2 emissions and the discharge of large amounts of salt brine into the sea has resulted in increased salinity in Gulf waters, threatening fish stocks.
We got this story from Water Demand Management Bulletin, which is a quarterly newsletter from the Environment Agency. Phillip Turton has just stopped editing it after 23 years. Hopefully the new team will live up to the brilliant standard he set, which was a highly informative and wide ranging newsletter. Archived volumes of WDMB can be found here. And the whole Saudi Arabia article is here.