Public-private partnerships ideal for developing wastewater network, says Besix

Besix figures estimate that Dh1.1 billion of water that could be used by industry is being discharged back into the sea while groundwater sources are being drained.

Dubai has a treated sewage effluent network around the emirate, where treated wastewater is used to water plants and trees. Jeff Topping / The National
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Public-private partnerships (PPPs) can improve the UAE’s wastewater network and prevent more than Dh1 billion of treated wastewater being discharged back into the sea, according to Besix.

The Belgian construction company, which gave a presentation to the International Water Summit in Abu Dhabi last week, said that industries across the UAE use about 20 million cubic metres of desalinated water each year at a cost of Dh240m, while a further 460 million cubic metres is drawn from priceless groundwater resources. At the same time, about 197 million cubic metres of treated wastewater, with an approximate value of Dh1.1bn per year, according to the company’s estimates, is not used and pumped into the Arabian Gulf.

Olivier Crasson, the executive vice president for business development at Besix, said that the production and distribution of wastewater across the country was too “fragmented”, with each emirate relying on its own network of unconnected treatment plants.

“We are actively looking at solutions, with different emirates, to propose sustainable solutions under a PPP scheme for reusing the water.”

Besix and its partners Veolia and Black & Veatch have a 25-year concession to run Ajman’s first sewage treatment network, which was built in 2009.

Mr Crasson said that this was one of the first PPPs in the region that involved real commercial risk for the partners, as its client was not the government but the 100,000 or so households that were connected to the network, which had to pay for a service that had been previously free (although it involved sewage collection by lorry, with waste dumped in the desert).

“This exercise was very tough in the beginning because people could not yet see the benefits. But today, the same people who were reluctant to pay are the ones asking us to connect additional properties.”

A similar sales job may be required to increase take-up of treated wastewater by industry, including a potential two-tier charging structure.

“It will need a change of policy. The decision-makers are aware of that and they are working on it,” said Mr Crasson. “Already, we are proposing solutions in the Northern Emirates and we have ideas in Abu Dhabi where we can develop a scheme where water is produced, used, treated and reused – hence reducing the need for water, while respecting religious values that are very important.”

In Ajman, only about one-third of treated wastewater is being used, but Mr Crasson said that a target has been set by the royal family to reuse 100 per cent. “We are actively looking at solutions.”

Jane Boyle, the Middle East head of sustainability and energy at WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff, said that in Dubai there was a treated sewage effluent [TSE] network around the emirate, where treated wastewater is used to water plants and trees.

“There are a couple of buildings that offer TSE for toilet flushing, which is a great idea. One of the issues with this is cultural, because it’s seen as unclean, but it’s not. It’s not up to potable standards, so it’s not classed as drinking water, but it’s treated to a fairly high level,” she said.