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INVESTIGATIONS FOR UPDATING THE

GROUNDWATER MATHEMATICAL MODEL(S)


OF THE SAQ AND OVERLYING AQUIFERS

MAIN REPORT

VOLUME 1

Abunayyan Trading Corporation Rabi’I 1429 H


BRGM Geosciences for a sustainable Earth March 2008 G
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Note

The present document is part of the Draft Final Report of the study entitled “Investigations for
updating the groundwater mathematical model(s) of the Saq and overlying aquifers”.
The Draft Final Report is composed of the following thirteen (13) volumes:

Volume 1 Main Report


Volume 2 Groundwater Management

Volume 3 Groundwater Mathematical Modelling


Volume 4 Data Management
Volume 5 Domestic & Industrial Water Demand

Volume 6 Irrigation Water Abstraction


Volume 7 Hydrology and Groundwater Recharge
Volume 8 Groundwater Quality
Volume 9 Hydrogeology
Volume 10 Water Point Inventory
Volume 11 Pumping Tests

Volume 12 Geophysical Logging


Volume 13 Geology
Executive Summary

The present document is Volume 1 out of 13.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia I


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Contents

1 Introduction.......................................................................................................................... 1
2 Main findings........................................................................................................................ 2
2.1 GEOLOGICAL MODELLING ......................................................................................................................... 2
2.1.1 Methodology........................................................................................................................... 2
2.1.2 Horizons modelled.................................................................................................................. 3
2.1.3 Model contribution to the understanding of the structure........................................................ 4
2.1.4 Conclusions............................................................................................................................ 5
2.2 FIELD INVESTIGATIONS ............................................................................................................................. 8
2.2.1 Water-point inventory ............................................................................................................. 8
2.2.2 Pumping tests....................................................................................................................... 15
2.2.3 Geophysical logging ............................................................................................................. 17
2.3 HYDROGEOLOGY ................................................................................................................................... 20
2.3.1 History of groundwater use in Saq study area...................................................................... 20
2.3.2 Main hydrogeological units ................................................................................................... 20
2.3.3 Aquifer exploitation and water salinity .................................................................................. 21
2.3.4 Groundwater Levels in the Saq aquifer ................................................................................ 24
2.3.5 Groundwater Levels in the Kahfah aquifer ........................................................................... 28
2.3.6 Groundwater Levels in the Quwarah-Sarah aquifer ............................................................. 28
2.3.7 Piezometry of the Tawil aquifer ............................................................................................ 28
2.3.8 Groundwater levels in the Jauf, Jubah and Berwath aquifers............................................... 29
2.3.9 Groundwater levels in the Khuff aquifer................................................................................ 29
2.3.10 Piezometry of the STQ aquifer system ................................................................................. 30
2.4 GROUNDWATER QUALITY ........................................................................................................................ 32
2.4.1 Comparison between the data collected during the SAQ-1 and SAQ-2 projects.................. 32
2.4.2 Salinity distribution ............................................................................................................... 32
2.4.3 Chemical facies .................................................................................................................... 34
2.4.4 Distribution of the magnesium versus chloride ratio ............................................................. 34
2.4.5 Compliance of water quality with WHO guidelines ............................................................... 34
2.4.6 Possible impact of agriculture on water resource quality...................................................... 35
2.5 GROUNDWATER RECHARGE .................................................................................................................... 38
2.6 IRRIGATION-WATER ABSTRACTION ........................................................................................................... 40
2.7 DOMESTIC AND INDUSTRIAL GROUNDWATER USE....................................................................................... 44
2.7.1 Population ............................................................................................................................ 44
2.7.2 Industry................................................................................................................................. 45
2.7.3 Public groundwater supply in the study area ........................................................................ 45
2.7.4 Present domestic-water demand.......................................................................................... 46
2.7.5 Present industrial-water demand.......................................................................................... 47
2.7.6 Forecasting future domestic and industrial water demand ................................................... 48
2.7.7 Recommendations ............................................................................................................... 49
2.8 GROUNDWATER MATHEMATICAL MODELLING ............................................................................................. 50
2.8.1 Scope of work....................................................................................................................... 50
2.8.2 Conceptual groundwater model............................................................................................ 50
2.8.3 Groundwater model design and calibration .......................................................................... 50
2.8.4 Main results of the model calibration .................................................................................... 51
2.8.5 Impact of groundwater abstraction on leakage between aquifers and aquitards .................. 56
2.8.6 Conclusions.......................................................................................................................... 58
3 Present status of water resources................................................................................... 60
3.1 BALANCE BETWEEN ABSTRACTIONS AND GROUNDWATER RECHARGE........................................................... 60
3.2 INFLUENCE OF THE WATER-TABLE DECLINE ON WATER-SUPPLY WELLS ......................................................... 64
3.3 EXISTING GROUNDWATER RESERVE......................................................................................................... 67
3.4 IMPACT OF ABSTRACTION ON GROUNDWATER QUALITY ............................................................................... 68
4 Constraints on groundwater use ..................................................................................... 70
4.1 AQUIFER EXPLOITABILITY........................................................................................................................ 70
4.2 DECLINING GROUNDWATER LEVELS ......................................................................................................... 70
4.3 WATER QUALITY PROBLEMS.................................................................................................................... 72
4.4 PRESENCE OF RADIOELEMENTS .............................................................................................................. 74

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

5 Strategies in groundwater management ......................................................................... 78


5.1 POSSIBLE LINES OF ACTION .................................................................................................................... 78
5.1.1 Quantitative aspects ............................................................................................................. 78
5.1.2 Qualitative aspects ............................................................................................................... 78
5.2 SHORT-TERM VERSUS LONG-TERM APPROACH .......................................................................................... 79
5.2.1 Short- to medium-term approach.......................................................................................... 79
5.2.2 Long-term approach ............................................................................................................. 79
5.3 MODELLING SCENARIOS......................................................................................................................... 80
5.3.1 Scope of predictive modelling scenarios .............................................................................. 80
5.3.2 Main results of the predictive scenarios................................................................................ 81
5.3.3 Simulation of “reasonable” groundwater exploitation conditions........................................... 88
6 Conclusions and Recommendations .............................................................................. 92
6.1 CONCLUSIONS ...................................................................................................................................... 92
6.1.1 On the water use .................................................................................................................. 92
6.1.2 On the aquifers..................................................................................................................... 92
6.1.3 On the water levels............................................................................................................... 93
6.1.4 On the groundwater quality .................................................................................................. 93
6.1.5 On the exploitable reserves.................................................................................................. 95
6.1.6 On future trends ................................................................................................................... 95
6.2 RECOMMENDATIONS .............................................................................................................................. 98
6.2.1 To enhance the life-time of water supply infrastructures ...................................................... 98
6.2.2 To achieve reductions in groundwater abstractions ............................................................. 98
6.2.3 To improve the quality of available water ........................................................................... 100

Annex 1: Legal instruments to ensure a sustainable use of groundwater resources in France

Annex 2: Plates

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia II


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

List of figures

Figure 1. Geological map of the Saq study area (BRGM, 2005) ................................................. 2
Figure 2. Structure of the top of basement, view from the southeast (colour zone = 1,000 m) ... 3
Figure 3. Completed 3D geological model ................................................................................... 4
Figure 4. North-south cross-section along the 40°E meridian (longitude of Sakakah) ................ 6
Figure 5. Location map of the inventoried water points ............................................................... 9
Figure 6. Location map of the inventoried MoWE wells ............................................................. 10
Figure 7. Location map of the inventoried observation wells ..................................................... 14
Figure 8. Location of the geophysically logged wells ................................................................. 18
Figure 9. Example of lithological interpretation .......................................................................... 19
Figure 10. Evolution of the volume of groundwater abstractions in the Saq study area............ 20
Figure 11. Evolution of the volume of groundwater abstractions per aquifer............................. 22
Figure 12. Depth of top of the Saq aquifer and location of wells tapping the aquifer ................ 23
Figure 13. Groundwater-head contour map for the year 2005 – Saq aquifer ............................ 26
Figure 14. Piezometric series of the Al Mukharim well (1-Q-210-S / BU9210).......................... 27
Figure 15. Piezometric series at Rawd al Uyun (1-Q-136-S / BU9136)..................................... 27
Figure 16. Distribution of groundwater salinity within the Saq study area ................................. 33
Figure 17. TDS versus well depth within the Saq study area .................................................... 34
Figure 18. Location of water samples with radioisotopes exceeding WHO guidelines within
the Saq study area....................................................................................................... 36
Figure 19. Schematic cross-section through the sedimentary cover of the Arabian Shield
showing the different types of rainfall recharge and other components of the
underground flow pattern. ............................................................................................ 39
Figure 20. Crop identification from satellite images ................................................................... 41
Figure 21. Crop-area variations derived from remote sensing and interpolation....................... 41

Figure 22. Irrigated area per region derived from remote sensing and interpolation................. 42
Figure 23. Irrigation water abstraction per crop type over the Saq study area from 1971
to2003 .......................................................................................................................... 42
Figure 24. Irrigation water abstraction per region over the Saq study area from 1971-2003 .... 42
Figure 25. Time variation of the irrigation-water abstraction in Mm3/a per region within the
Saq study area ............................................................................................................. 43

Figure 26. 3D grid of the groundwater mathematical model ...................................................... 51


Figure 27. East-west cross section at the latitude of the Dead Sea .......................................... 52
Figure 28. Natural groundwater-head distribution and streamlines simulated in the Saq
aquifer .......................................................................................................................... 52

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Figure 29. Simulated groundwater-head distribution and streamlines in the Saq aquifer for
2005 ............................................................................................................................. 54
Figure 30. Simulated groundwater-head decline in the Saq aquifer from 1960 to 2005............ 54
Figure 31. Simulated groundwater-head distribution and streamlines in the Tawil-Sharawra
aquifer for 2005 ............................................................................................................ 55
Figure 32. Simulated groundwater-head decline in the Tawil-Sharawra aquifer from 1960 to
2005 ............................................................................................................................. 55
Figure 33. Time variation of vertical leakage between aquifers and aquitards (Vertical
leakage and abstraction in Mm3/a) .............................................................................. 57
Figure 34. Groundwater abstractions in the Saq study area for different uses.......................... 60
Figure 35. Renewable groundwater resource in the Saq study area compared to the
groundwater abstraction .............................................................................................. 60
Figure 36. Location of wells used for irrigation with tapped aquifer ........................................... 62
Figure 37. Simulated groundwater-head depletion in the Saq aquifer and location of water-
supply wells (decline in metres from 1960 to 2005)..................................................... 63
Figure 38. Location of wells used for domestic water supply with tapped aquifer ..................... 65
Figure 39. Simulated groundwater-head decline between 1960 and 2005 in inventoried
water-supply wells........................................................................................................ 66
Figure 40. Evolution of groundwater head in two observation wells in the Qassim region........ 71
Figure 41. Evolution of groundwater head in two observation wells in the Tabuk region .......... 71

Figure 42. Evolution of groundwater head in two observation wells in the Al Jawf region ........ 71
Figure 43. Occurrence of samples with a boron content exceeding WHO guidelines............... 73
Figure 44. Total radium content of Saq groundwater vs. water-level decline over the period
1960 – 2005 (Qassim and Ha’il regions) ..................................................................... 76
Figure 45. Simulated decline in the Saq aquifer from 2005 to 2055 (Scenario 2) ..................... 81
Figure 46. Piezometric evolutions in the Saq aquifer simulated in Al Qassim area
(Scenario 2).................................................................................................................. 82
Figure 47. Simulated decline in the Tawil aquifer from 2005 to 2055 (Scenario 2) ................... 82
Figure 48. Optimized abstraction vs cut-off depth in the aquifer system taken as a whole
(Scenario 4).................................................................................................................. 83
Figure 49. Optimized abstraction vs cut-off depth in the Saq aquifer and Al Qassim province
(Scenario 4).................................................................................................................. 84

Figure 50. Zoning of the Saq aquifer for the siting of new domestic well fields (Scenario 5) .... 85
Figure 51. Zoning of the Tawil aquifer for the siting of new domestic well fields (Scenario 5) .. 85
Figure 52. Simulated drawdown in the Saq aquifer from 2005 to 2055 with current pumping
rates and new well-fields in Saudi Arabia and Jordan (Scenario 3 - Simulation 1) .... 86
Figure 53. Global abstraction per crop from 1971 to 2005 and projection up to 2020
(Scenario 8-4) .............................................................................................................. 87
Figure 54. Reduction of the 2055 Saq simulated drawdown with Scenario 8-4 (MOA plan) ..... 87

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Figure 55. Irrigated areas within the Saq study area and limits of the most affected areas ...... 88
Figure 56. Qassim central area – Baseline scenario and agricultural abstraction reduced by
50% .............................................................................................................................. 89
Figure 57. Qassim central area – Baseline scenario and reduced agricultural abstraction
scenarios...................................................................................................................... 90
Figure 1: French aquifers classified as “ZRE” in 2003, i.e. requiring lower abstraction
volumes and a better management of the different uses (French Ministry for the
Ecology and the Sustainable Development).............................................................. 108

List of tables

Table 1. Number of water points inventoried per province ............................................................... 11


Table 2. Main uses of the inventoried water points ........................................................................... 11

Table 3. Types of inventoried water points ......................................................................................... 11


Table 4. Classification of the inventoried water points according to tapped aquifer and static
water level ................................................................................................................................ 12

Table 5. Inventoried well-depth statistics per aquifer ........................................................................ 13


Table 6. Aquifers monitored by the MoWE observation wells ......................................................... 13
Table 7. Results of the pumping test campaign ................................................................................. 16

Table 8. Evolution of groundwater abstraction for different aquifer units in the Saq study
area ........................................................................................................................................... 22
Table 9. Species contents versus WHO guidelines and recommendations .................................. 35
Table 10. Public groundwater abstraction in the study area and comparison with other uses ... 46
Table 11. Present domestic water demand in the study area .......................................................... 47
Table 12. Present industrial-water demand in the study area ......................................................... 47
Table 13. Future domestic- and industrial-water demand in the Saq study area ......................... 48
Table 14. Present-day groundwater abstraction per Province......................................................... 61
Table 15. Immediate reduction required in agricultural groundwater demand to ensure a
reasonable use of groundwater resources.......................................................................... 91

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List of plates

Plate 1. Location map of the Saq study area ........................................................................... 112


Plate 2. Geological map of the Saq study area........................................................................ 113
Plate 3. Lithostratigraphical and hydrogeological units of the Saq study area ........................ 114

Plate 4. Aquifers tapped by inventoried wells .......................................................................... 115


Plate 5. Observation wells used for model calibration of the Northern and Western areas..... 116
Plate 6. Observation wells used for model calibration of the Qassim area.............................. 117

Plate 7. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Saq aquifer in 2005 in Qassim
central area ................................................................................................................ 118
Plate 8. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Saq aquifer in 2030 in Qassim
central area in the case of constant agricultural pumping at 2005 rates ................... 119
Plate 9. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Saq aquifer in 2055 in Qassim
central area in the case of constant agricultural pumping at 2005 rates ................... 120

Plate 10. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Saq aquifer in 2005 in Tabuk area121
Plate 11. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Saq aquifer in 2030 in Tabuk area
in the case of constant agricultural pumping at 2005 rates ....................................... 122

Plate 12. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Saq aquifer in 2055 in Tabuk area
in the case of constant agricultural pumping at 2005 rates ....................................... 123
Plate 13. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Tawil aquifer in 2005 in Busayta
area ............................................................................................................................ 124
Plate 14. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Tawil aquifer in 2030 in Busayta
area (most probable scenario) ................................................................................... 125

Plate 15. Simulated depth of the groundwater table in the Tawil aquifer in 2055 in Busayta
area (most probable scenario) ................................................................................... 126

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List of Abbreviations

Aquifer A formation, group of formations, or part of a formation that is water bearing.


Aquiclude The term ‘aquiclude’ is used to designate a layer with such a low permeability
that the underlying aquifer is completely sealed off. Such conditions do not
occur in the Project area. Therefore, in this report the terms ‘major aquitard’
and ‘weak aquitard’ are used to describe the different confining layers.

Aquitard The term ‘aquitard’ is used in hydrogeology to describe a layer with low or very
low permeability.
DEM Digital Elevation Model
GIS Geo-Information System
GPS Global Positioning System
m.a.s.l. metres above sea level

MARTHE™ Groundwater modelling software developed by BRGM.


mbgl metres below ground level
MODFLOW™ Groundwater modelling software developed by USGS.
MoWE Ministry of Water and Electricity
MoA Ministry of Agriculture

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

1 INTRODUCTION

The groundwater resources of the Saq study area (Plate 1) are intensively exploited for
drinking-water supply and irrigation (see Volumes 5 and 6 of the report); today, groundwater
abstraction by far exceeds groundwater recharge (see Volume 7 of the report). However, the
wells tapping the various aquifers of the region are unevenly distributed. As a result, water
levels of some aquifers have dropped sharply over the past three decades in parts of the Saq
study area, but show little or no decline elsewhere.
A locally observed decline in water level is in itself not a measure for the degree of over-
exploitation of an aquifer, nor is the absence of a declining trend in another area a sign of
sustainability of the groundwater reserves. Due to its very large lateral and vertical extent, the
multi-layer aquifer system of the Saq study area is slow to react to any stresses imposed on it.
Considering the complexity of the water balance of this multi-layer aquifer system, the degree of
interaction between the various aquifers, and the relative importance of de-storage of water
contained in aquifers and aquitards, it is understood that long-term predictions concerning the
evolution of the aquifer system can most accurately be made by a groundwater mathematical
model covering the full extent of the aquifer system. The construction and calibration of such a
multi-layer aquifer model was therefore one of the main objectives of this project.
Such a groundwater mathematical model can simulate realistically how the multi-layer aquifer
system will react under different water-resource management scenarios, provided the model
faithfully reproduces the system geometry and uses accurate data sets for its calibration. For
this reason, the construction of the model was preceded by two main tasks: the construction of
a 3D-geological model and the execution of a major field survey to accurately assess the
present status of the water resources and to update the existing knowledge on the aquifer
system.
The present report is composed of 13 volumes. Volumes 4 to 13 each describe one of the
tasks related to data collection and interpretation. Volumes 2 and 3 describe the construction of
the groundwater mathematical model and the results of the various management scenarios
simulated with the model. Volume 1 summarizes the main findings of the different project tasks
and presents key data for a reflection on water-resources management within the Saq study
area.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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2 MAIN FINDINGS

2.1 Geological modelling


The goal of the geological modelling task was to construct a numerical geological model based on
the most recent scientific concepts and field data on geology, in order to improve our
understanding of the flow model for groundwater-resource assessment.

Previous work included the earlier flow model of the Saq 1 project (BRGM, 1985), as well as the
publications since then on the stratigraphy and structure of the northern Saudi Arabian and
adjacent sedimentary basins. The progress of geological knowledge since 1980 is mainly based,
for outcropping formations, on the regional geological mapping (Figure 1 and Plate 2) carried out
by BRGM and DMMR (now the Saudi Geological Survey), and for the subsurface on the oil
exploration carried out by Saudi Aramco in the Nafud basin as well as in Central Arabia.

34° 36° 44° 46°


38° 40° 42°
32°

N
Wadi Sirhan Aruma
graben Al Qurayyat Formation

0 50 100 200

k ilom etre
30° Tawil
Sandstone Sakakah
D aw m at-al-Jandal

Tabuk

28° Jubbah Baq'a

Taym a
H a'il Qibah

Harrats Saq Sandstone


AL U la Buraydah
U nayzah
26°

Sajir

Ad D aw adim i

24°

Figure 1. Geological map of the Saq study area (BRGM, 2005)

2.1.1 Methodology
The method for constructing the numerical geological model is based on the knowledge of basin-
stacking patterns, i.e. of how stratigraphic units and the main unconformity surfaces separating
them are related to each other in a vertical and horizontal sense, as well as on the identification
and validation of 3D-georeferenced data describing the structure of the aquifer systems from a
geometric point of view. This work could be broken down into six steps.
The first step delineated the horizontal and vertical extent of several groups of geometrically related
geological formations (packages) separated by major unconformity surfaces or faults. This was
done on the basis of chrono- and litho-stratigraphical concepts as well as of a rough conceptual
model of the basin structure defining the rules of the mutual horizon relationships.

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The second step was to set up a correspondence chart between lithostratigraphy and
hydrostratigraphy, i.e. between geological formations and their aquifer or aquitard properties,
looking for a separation or connection between the different hydrologic units.

The third, most time-consuming, step was to collect the necessary 3D (x, y, z) information for
defining both the shape of these horizons and the geometry of the layers throughout the project
area and beyond. Such data originate from a great variety of sources, implying a major work of
compilation, conversion to digital format, and georeferencing with GIS tools.
The fourth step was to build several versions of the model using dedicated software (ArcGIS, GDM,
EarthVision) and, through iterations, to correct and improve this model by adding new layers and
new control points until the model appears geologically correct.
The fifth step was the display of 3D views, cross sections, and isochoric maps.
The sixth step was the calculation of the clipped output grids from the model and their export as x,
y, z files toward the flow model.

2.1.2 Horizons modelled


All outcropping horizons were in priority matched to outcrops through a combination of the digital
geological map compiled for this project (Plate 2) and of the digital elevation model (DEM),
regardless of subsurface data. Within the stratigraphical sequence, 26 main lithological units were
identified so as to separately represent all main hydrogeological units (both aquifers and aquitards),
considering at the same time the different stratigraphical unconformities present within the
sequence. Plate 3 presents the lithostratigraphical column with the 26 identified geological units.
The constructed 3D geological model is shown in Figure 2 and Figure 3.

Figure 2. Structure of the top of basement, view from the southeast (colour zone = 1,000 m)

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Figure 3. Completed 3D geological model

2.1.3 Model contribution to the understanding of the structure


Great progress has been made by constructing the 3D model and using the 3D modeller. The first
improvement was to identify properly and separately the structure of the Wadi Sirhan graben,
which deeply cuts into the Nafud basin following the strike of the Basement edge from Central
Arabia.
This structure has been identified as mainly resulting from Hercynian uplift (several thousands of
metres), followed by deep truncation especially in the northwest. During a second stage, this
structure was cross-cut by the Wadi Sirhan (Azraq) Graben, which complicates our understanding
of the final geological result. One of the main effects of these cumulative movements has been the
rapid wedging-out of the Devonian succession and the unconformable contact of a thick
Cretaceous-Tertiary succession over Early Paleozoic rocks. However, at depth on the Jordanian
side, a sub-continuous series from Triassic to Tertiary persists. Due to the great depths of the
basin, the existence of some of these complications (e.g. Triassic rocks) has little or no effect on
the groundwater management of shallower aquifers.
Looking in particular at the aquifer units, a north-south section along the 40°E meridian (Figure 4)
illustrates the N-S wedge shape of the succession. All Early Paleozoic aquifers are present. At
great depth, the Cambro-Ordovician (Siq+Burj+Saq) appears to be very thick. In spite of changing
facies (prograding delta front), the Sharawra Member (orange) is here considered as partly sandy
and connected to the Tawil Formation. The Jauf Formation, the hydraulic behaviour of which is
complex, forms a vertical seal to the Jubah Formation, although it is water-bearing as well. The
system is capped by the Maastrichtian-to-Eocene succession.
From west to east, the continuity of the aquifer systems can be disrupted by the down-thrown of
faults on both sides of the graben. In particular, the Saq and Qasim aquifer systems (Plate 3)
come in contact with impervious layers of the Basement and the Qusaiba shale. In the northwest,

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the Paleozoic sequence is drastically truncated and the Saq aquifer becomes disconnected at the
bottom of the graben. The Cretaceous-Eocene becomes the main aquifer in the graben, and fault-
related vertical connections are possible. On the eastern side, the broad Mesozoic-Cainozoic
wedge opens in Central and Eastern Arabia towards the east.
In Central Arabia (south of the Qassim area, in the Al Faydah and Ad Dawadimi quadrangles) the
Saq and Qasim formations pinch out against basement paleo-highs. Here, the Qusaiba shale is
reduced or absent.

2.1.4 Conclusions
Considering groundwater-flow patterns within the Saq study area, the following items are
emphasized:
- The Saq Sandstone is a huge aquifer compared to the other ones.
- The Hanadir Member forms a continuous seal.

- The Qasim aquifers develop good reservoir properties where the Sarah Formation is thick and
connected to the Kahfah Member by erosion of the Ra’an Member.
- The Sharawra Member and Tawil Formation will be merged, but a differential permeability
should be used to account for the variable and less-permeable properties of the Sharawra
Member. In the first Saq project, this member was merged with the Qusaiba Member, which is
probably true at depth in the north, but not closer to the outcrop.

- Differing from the first Saq project, the Jauf Formation should be considered as a semi-pervious
system including some water resources, but acting as a confining unit between the Tawil and
Jubah formations.

- The Sakaka Sandstone (obsolete term) is now known as the Devonian Jubah Formation, which
is a good reservoir.
- The Berwath Formation acts as local screen or seal, the extent of which is largely assumed. Its
role is completed by the effect of the Sudair Shale and of the basal Wasia Formation, both
unconformably overlying the Jubah Formation sandstone.
- One of the most important innovations of the flow model is a better knowledge of the basement
structure, of the Pre-Unayzah unconformity (PUU), and of the Wadi Sirhan (Azraq) Graben in
terms of their geometric and connecting implications.

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(m.a.s.l.) Aquifers cross-section x=505,000 m


Late Cretaceous unconformity

Harrats
(Qusa
iba)

Pre-Qusaiba aquifers

W. Sirhan (Azraq)
Azraq) graben
Pre-Hercynian, post-
Qusaiba aquifers

(m)

Figure 4. North-south cross-section along the 40°E meridian (longitude of Sakakah)

6
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2.2 Field investigations

2.2.1 Water-point inventory


The purpose of the water-point inventory was to collect basic data for the updating of our
information on the status of groundwater resources within the Saq and overlying aquifers.
Because these objectives relate to updating different types of hydrological information, the
water-point inventory of the Saq project was the corner stone for several of the other project
tasks. For example, the information gathered during the water-point inventory was used for
defining the groundwater-sampling program and also, within previously identified areas, for
selecting wells suitable for geophysical logging and wells amenable to test pumping. Moreover,
the inventory has provided essential data on irrigation practices by the farmers, which is
necessary for assessing current water-abstraction rates for irrigation.
Finally, the data collected during the water-point inventory were the major source of up-to-date
information on hydrogeology, hydrogeochemistry and water consumption. This, in turn, allowed
identifying trends in the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the water resources of the Saq
study area, through comparison with literature and historical data.
A total of 5,969 water points was inventoried, covering all parts of the Saq study area where
wells are present, and covering all the aquifers. With all drinking-water and groundwater
monitoring wells being included in the inventory, the collected data provide a complete and
comprehensive picture of the current status of groundwater resources within the study area
(Figure 5 and Figure 6).

Geographical data
The 5,969 inventoried water points in the field database comprise 5,745 water points visited in
the study area and 211 water points identified outside it. Depending on the estimate used for
the total number of wells in the area, this number of 5,969 represents between about 40% (for
the lower estimate) and 50% (higher estimate) of the total wells existing in the study area.
Two additional water points (TB9800 and TB9801) were added to the project database from the
literature. Although not found during the field inventory, they are known to exist from the MoWE
archives and are of specific interest because of being associated with piezometric data
gathered by MoWE. Note that among the 5,747 water points within the project area, 733 are
under the responsibility of MoWE.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 8


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

36° 38° 40° 42° 44°

32° 32°

§
30° 30°
0 20 40

Kilometres

Legend
28° 28°
Province limit
Governorate or district limit
Limit of Saq study area
Use of the inventoried water points
Domestic water supply
Irrigation
26° 26° Observation well
Others / Not known

0 50 100 200

Kilometres
36° 38° 40° 42° 44°

Figure 5. Location map of the inventoried water points

9
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

36° 38° 40° 42° 44°

32° 32°

§
30° 30°
0 10 20

Kilometres

Legend
28° Province limit
28°
Governorate or district limit
Limit of Saq study area
Use of the inventoried MoWE
water points
Domestic water supply
Irrigation
26° 26° Observation well
Others / Not known

0 50 100 200

Kilometres
36° 38° 40° 42° 44°

Figure 6. Location map of the inventoried MoWE wells

10
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

The water-point locations have been classified according to the Province limits determined by the Ministry
of Planning (see Table 1). Figure 5 shows the unequal geographical distribution of the inventoried water
points over the total project area, with most of them being concentrated in the Al Qassim, Al Jawf, Tabuk
and Riyadh provinces. This situation reflects the actual distribution of the wells drilled over the Saq study
area.

Table 1. Number of water points inventoried per province


All wells MoWE Wells only
Province
Number Percentage Number Percentage
Al Jawf 2,129 37.0% 101 13.8%
Al Madinah 196 3.4% 10 1.4%
Al Qassim 1,421 24.7% 271 37.0%
Ha'il 469 8.2% 94 12.8%
Northern Border 91 1.6% 81 11.1%
Riyadh 742 12.9% 77 10.5%
Tabuk 699 12.2% 99 13.5%
TOTAL 5,747 100.0% 733 100.0%

Use and nature of the water points


Table 2 and Table 3 show various general statistics regarding the inventory. Table 2 breaks down the
inventoried water points into their main uses: i.e. domestic water supply (including well-fields),
observation wells, and irrigation, livestock and industry wells. The MoWE wells associated with irrigation
correspond to municipal wells used for watering public gardens (Figure 6). If several uses are made of a
single borehole, only the main one is indicated.

Table 2. Main uses of the inventoried water points


All wells MoWE Wells only
Well use
Number Percentage Number Percentage
Domestic water supply 573 10.0% 564 76.9%
Irrigation 4,972 86.5% 70 9.5%
Livestock 23 0.4% 0 0.0%
Industry 16 0.3% 0 0.0%
Observation well 115 2.0% 91 12.4%
Not known 48 0.8% 8 1.1%
TOTAL 5,747 100.0% 733 100.0%

Table 3 presents the nature of the water points: i.e. drilled well, dug well, drilled well within a dug well
(hand-dug well later deepened by drilling), open hole (non-equipped drilled well: i.e. no casing, no
screen), or spring.

Table 3. Types of inventoried water points


All wells MoWE Wells only
Type of water point
Number Percentage Number Percentage
Drilled well 5,704 99.3% 727 99.2%
Drilled well inside dug well 1 0.0% 0 0.0%
Dug well 14 0.2% 5 0.7%
Open hole 27 0.5% 1 0.1%
Spring 1 0.0% 0 0.0%
TOTAL 5,747 100.0% 733 100.0%

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 11


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Hydrogeological data
The tapped aquifer has been identified for 5,060 (86.4%) of the water points; identification was not
possible for the remaining wells due to their unknown depth and/or to the absence of a general trend for a
specific water-point use within the area.
It should be noted that some geological layers, generally considered as aquitards, could be tapped locally
due to a spatial heterogeneity of their lithology.

Saq Sandstone is by far the main aquifer tapped in the area; it accounts for almost half the inventoried
wells (47.3%). However, the targeted aquifers do vary from one province to another. For example, the
Saq aquifer is tapped by 90% or more of the inventoried water points in the Tabuk, Ha’il and Riyadh
provinces, and is not tapped at all in the Northern Border and Al Jawf provinces.
One particular point of concern within the Saq study area is the considerable amount of wells supposedly
tapping more than one aquifer.

Out of all the water points visited in the field, the static water level (SWL) is known, through measurement,
estimation, or information given by the owner, for 4,728 (82.3%) of them. The SWL ranges from flowing
water at the surface (artesian) to 310 m below ground level (mbgl) as in Ar’Ar. Table 4 shows the water
points classified according to their SWL, with 78% ranging between 50 and 150 mbgl.
The well depth is known for 4,902 of the inventoried water points, i.e. 85.3% of those visited. Table 5,
presenting the mean, minimum and maximum well depths per aquifer (along with the standard deviation),
shows for example that the Berwath aquifer exploited in the far northeastern part of the study area is on
average tapped by deep wells with little variation around the mean depth. Other aquifers, such as the
Jubah and Tawil aquifers, show a much larger range of exploitation depth.

Table 4. Classification of the inventoried water points according to tapped aquifer and static water level
Static water level in m below ground level
Aquifer name
<=50 51-100 101-150 150-200 >200 Total
Alluvium 64 64
Basalt 1 1
Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary 126 541 102 1 7 777
Sudair 7 18 2 27
Khuff 6 8 18 4 36
Unayzah 3 2 1 6
Berwath 3 4 7
Jubah 25 5 1 1 15 47
Jauf 65 50 17 1 1 134
Tawil 17 422 439 12 1 891
Sharawra 16 10 2 1 29
Quwarah-Sarah 24 11 9 1 1 46
Kahfah 16 88 50 2 156
Saq 205 866 755 292 14 2132
Saq & Alluvium 42 42
Basement 1 2 3
Not known 35 161 97 32 5 330
TOTAL 653 2185 1493 349 48 4728

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 12


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Table 5. Inventoried well-depth statistics per aquifer


Number of Mean depth Minimum Maximum Standard
Aquifer
wells in m depth in m depth in m Deviation (m)
Alluvium 63 81 6 200 30
Basalt 1 28 28 28
Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary 974 265 15 1451 131
Sudair 28 184 80 470 105
Khuff 50 226 30 700 153
Unayzah 7 189 90 400 116
Berwath 9 472 350 600 91
Jubah 55 334 100 1500 263
Jauf 147 265 40 1500 309
Tawil 908 364 100 2510 149
Sharawra 29 179 95 450 95
Quwarah-Sarah 52 241 50 700 206
Kahfah 171 345 30 1100 228
Saq 2358 479 50 2400 295
Saq & Alluvium 42 74 40 120 19
Basement 2 215 180 250 49
Not known 6 392 40 960 353
All aquifers 4896 246 6 2510 258

Observation wells
Of the 115 observation wells (Figure 7), 91 are MoWE wells most of which, as shown in Table 6, record
the water-level fluctuations in the Saq Sandstone.

Table 6. Aquifers monitored by the MoWE observation wells


Aquifer Piezometers
Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary 11
Khuff 2
Jubah 2
Jauf 3
Tawil 7
Kahfah 10
Saq 56
TOTAL 91

Inventory of the SAQ-1 Project hydroclimatological stations


The 1985 Saq-1 project led by BRGM included the installation of 29 hydroclimatological stations: 9 runoff
(hydrological) stations and 20 meteorological (climatological) stations. All locations given in the 1985
report were visited in the field.
Of the nine hydrological stations installed during the Saq-1 project, three were either not found (probably
destroyed or dismantled) or out of order. Of the remaining six, none were operated when visited in the
field. Nevertheless, they could still be operational if equipped with a recorder and/or in the presence of a
technical operator during flood events, whenever the measurement section has not been by-passed.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 13


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

36° 38° 40° 42° 44°


#

32° 32° JA0650


# JA0645
JA0596
JA9088 JA5013 ##
JA9651

§
JA0578
# JA9091 # #
# JA5009
JA0630 #
#
JA9089 JA0608
JA9625 # JA0583
#
JA9139
# JA0564
JA9623 # JA9090 JA0306
# JA9143
#
#
JA9624
JA9627 JA9094 JA9146
JA9093 JA9011 JA5002
JA5003
# #
#
##
30° TB9107
###
##
## #
30°
TB9099 JA0151
TB9097 JA9612 # 0 6 12
TB9098 JA9145 JA5000
TB9109 JA9092 Kilometres
JA9147

TB9077
TB9112
TB9108 TB9800
TB9405 TB9111 Legend
TB9173 TB9178
TB9152 TB9158
TB9114
TB9116
TB9070 Province limit
TB9553 TB9115
HA9130 HA9139
BU0207
Governorate or district limit
TB9072 TB9071 HA9056
BU0260
28° Limit of Saq study area
28° TB9075
TB9117
BU0246
BU9053
BU0252
HA9054
BU0247
Tapped aquifer
TB9162 TB9161 BU9164
HA9055 # Not known
TB9163
HA9053 #
TB9801
BU0205
BU0206 BU1150 BU9205 # Sec. Tertiary Quater.
TB9160 BU0245 BU9135
TB9159 BU9136
BU9210
BU9734
Khuff
BU9204 BU9203
BU9139
AW9650 BU9202 Jubah
BU9134 BU9163 BU9575
#
Jauf
BU9159 BU9157
BU9087
26°
# 26° Tawil
BU9158 AS9036 BU9099

BU9097 BU9094 BU9137 Kahfah


BU9100

BU9098
BU9065 BU9043 Saq
BU9000 BU9187
BU9052
BU9060
BU9013
BU9070
0 50 100 200
BU9014
BU9162 Kilometres
36° 38° 40° 42° 44° BU9086

Figure 7. Location map of the inventoried observation wells

14
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Of the 20 meteorological stations installed during the Saq-1 project, none were operated when
visited in the field. No instrumentation was found at eight of the sites, this having probably been
destroyed or buried under sand dunes (see HC station TB201) after more than 20 years. The
other 12 sites are still equipped, but the equipment suffers from aging.

2.2.2 Pumping tests


The Consortium has performed pumping tests in 11 wells. Nine of these wells tap the Saq
aquifer and the two other ones concern the Tawil and Neogene formations. Two types of tests
were performed:
- Step-drawdown tests for the assessment of well characteristics;
- Constant-discharge tests for assessing the local hydrodynamic parameters of the tested
aquifer.
The tested wells tap various geological formations, including the Saq, Tawil and Neogene
aquifers.
Nine of these wells are used for drinking-water supply to the population. Among the tested
wells, one was available with an observation well. The exploitation pumps were removed by
MoWE in order to allow the installation of test pumps by the Consortium.
The pumping program was completed as planned, except that the duration of some constant-
discharge tests had to be reduced to restore water supply to the population.
Step-drawdown tests were used to determine the hydrodynamic characteristics of the wells.
The data recorded during constant-discharge tests were used for assessing the local
hydrodynamic parameters of the tested aquifers.
Data from one additional well have also been interpreted. These data were handed over by
MoWE; they are related to a well tapping the Saq aquifer along the international border with
Jordan. This well is provided with two observation wells.
The recorded data were then used for modelling radial flow by means of different models, such
as the Jacob, Theis, Hantush-Jacob, Boulton-Streltsova, and Warren-Root approaches. The
results are shown in Table 7.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 15


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Table 7. Results of the pumping test campaign

16
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

2.2.3 Geophysical logging


Twenty-five boreholes were investigated with geophysical methods. This involved the use of
nine geophysical probes for measuring different parameters relative to borehole geometry, the
characterization of lithology, water quality, and radioactive contamination of groundwater. The
nine probes were the (1) Three-Arm Caliper/CCL, (2) Cement Bond Log probe (CBL),
(3) Flowmeter probe, (4) Sidewall Density (Gamma-Gamma) probe, (5) Dual Neutron probe,
(6) Electric probe, (7) Gamma Spectrometry probe, (8) Temperature/Conductivity probe, and
(9) Borehole Video Camera.

The 25 wells, each of which was visited with MoWE engineers before approval for logging, were
selected according to one or more of the following criteria:
- Geological and geographical interest, with a spatial distribution covering the project area
(Figure 8);
- Accessibility (most of the wells were not equipped with a pump);
- Recently drilled, so that the inside of the well could be visually checked using the video
camera probe;
- Radiometric interest: the Gamma Spectrometry probe (also called the Spectral Gamma
probe) is a specific instrument for determining the presence of radionuclides; “spectral
gamma” can distinguish uranium-, thorium- and potassium-isotope signatures within natural
radioactivity.
It is well known that the Saq Sandstone contains thin shale interbeds. These thin layers show
high gamma-radiation levels on the geophysical logs and thus may, to a certain degree, be
responsible for radium contamination in the water. The level of contamination will depend on
many factors, such as the layer's thickness, its radio-isotope concentration, the type of
environment (reducing or oxidizing), etc. In some wells (e.g. the Baqa Well), the high-radiation
shaly zone is located at the bottom of the well; in others (e.g. the Midhnab Well), shaly layers
with high radiation levels occur at intervals throughout the intersected formation.

A second source of natural radioactivity seen on the geophysical logs is the Hanadir Member
(or Hanadir Shale) of the Qasim Formation. This formation is not everywhere cased in the
wells. For example, the Uyun Al-Jiwa Well shows a high radiation zone of partly uncased
Hanadir Shale. According to laboratory analyses, this well shows a high level of contamination.
A third possible source of natural radioactivity is the silty sandstone at the base of the Kahfah
Member of the Qasim Formation (previously “Lower Tabuk”) which shows high radiation levels,
especially in the Qassim region.
As shown by the spectral-gamma log, the predominant radioactive element in the rock is
thorium, ahead of uranium. This could result in higher concentrations of the radium-228
isotope, derived from thorium, compared to radium-226 derived from uranium.
Figure 9 shows two gamma-ray peaks. The first, around 945 m depth, correlates with a
decrease in the neutron logs indicating a lower effective porosity, a decrease in density and a
decrease in resistivity. The interpretation deriving from these observations is the likely
presence of a clay (shale) layer.
The second gamma-ray peak (or series of peaks) does not seem to correlate with any other log.
Interpreting this section as a clay (shale) layer is therefore much less obvious. This example
shows that:
- Several logs are needed to properly interpret a log chart and;
- Natural radioactivity in the Saq Sandstone may not systematically be associated with clay,
but may also be linked to sandstone layers containing a degree of silt/clay.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 17


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

32°
32°
32°
32°
32°
32°

Al
Al
AlQurayyat
Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat

QU9
QU9
QU900
00
00
00999
99
9 Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
QU9
QU9
QU9 00
00
AR91
AR91
AR9142
AR91
AR91
AR91 42
42
42
42
42

QU9
QU9
QU904
04
04333
JA951
JA9513
JA951
JA951
JA951
JA951 33
333
30°
30°
30°
30°
30°
30° Sakakah
Sakakah
Sakakah
QU9
QU9
QU955
QU9
QU9
QU9 55
55
553
55
55 33
33
3
JA951
JA951
JA951
JA9519
JA951
JA951 99
99
9

TT
TTT
TB90
B90
B90
B9097
B90
B9097
97
97
97
97 TT
TTTB90
TB90
B90
B90
B9099
B9099
99
99
99
99

TT
TTT
TB90
B90
B90
B9098
B90
B90 98
98
98
98
98
TTT
T TB94
B94
B9402
B94
B94 02
02
02
02
TTT
T TB94
B94
B9401
B94
B94 01
01
01
01
TT
TTT
TB91
B91
B91
B9120
B91
B9120
20
20
20
20
Tabuk
Tabuk
Tabuk
Tabuk
Tabuk
TT
TTT
TB91
B91
B91
B9115
B91
B9115
15
15
15
15
TT
TTT
TB90
B90
B90
B9072
B90
B9072
72
72
72
72 TTTB92
B92
B9247
47
47
28°
28°
28°
28°
28°
28° HA90
HA90
HA90
HA9039
HA90
HA90 39
39
39
39
39 Baq'a
Baq'a
Baq'a
Baq'a
Baq'a
Baq'a
BU91
BU91
BU91
BU9138
BU91
BU91 38
38
38
38
38
TT
TTT
TB91
B91
B91
B9117
B91
B9117
17
17
17
17 HA00
HA00
HA0026
26
26
26
Ha'il
Ha'il
Ha'il
Ha'il
Ha'il
Ha'il HA00
HA00
HA00 26
26
Tayma
Tayma
Tayma
Tayma
Tayma
Tayma
HA90
HA90
HA90
HA90
HA90 58
HA9058
58
58
58
58

Al'
Al'Ula
Al' Ula
Ula
Ula BU90
BU90
BU90
BU9003
BU90
BU90 03
03
03
03
03
Al'
Al'
Al' Ula
Ula
BU94
BU94
BU94
BU94
BU94 58
BU9458
58
58
58
58

Buraydah
Buraydah
Buraydah
Buraydah
Buraydah
Buraydah BU90
BU90
BU9061
BU90
BU90
BU90 61
61
61
61
61
26°
26°
26° BU93
BU93
BU9328
BU93
BU93
BU93 28
28
28
28
28
26°
26°
26° Unayzah
Unayzah
Unayzah
Unayzah
Unayzah
Unayzah
BU90
BU9071
BU90 71
71
LEGEND
w ell used for
geophysical logging As
As Sajir
As
As
As
As Sajir
Sajir
Sajir
Sajir

major tow n
minor tow n
Ad
Ad
Ad
Ad
Ad Duw
Duw
Ad Duw
Duw
Duw adami
adami
Duwadami
adami
adami
adami
0
00
00
0 10
10
100
10
10
10 00
00
0 20
20
200
20
20
20 00
00
0
boundary Saq study area
Ki
Ki
Kilo
Ki
Ki
Ki lo
lo
lometre
lo
lometre
m
mmetre
metre
etres
etress
ss
s
24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35° 37°
37°
37° 45°
45°
45°
45°
45°
45°
37°
37°
37° 39°
39°
39°
39°
39°
39° 41°
41°
41°
41°
41°
41° 43°
43°
43°
43°
43°
43°

Figure 8. Location of the geophysically logged wells

18
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Name TB9098
Neutron [Near]
Gamma Ray 0 500 1000 1500 Density long spac. Res. short Fl. cond. (µS/cm) Temp. (°C)
Density bed res.
DEPTH (M) Neutron [far] Res. long
Density high res.

40.0

50.0
0 50 100 1500 100 200 300 400 50015000 20000 25000 30000 350000 2500 5000 7500 10000 1000.0 51.0

935

940

945

950

955

960

965

970

975

980

985

990

995

1000

1005

1010

1015

1020

1025

1030

1035

1040

1045

Figure 9. Example of lithological interpretation


(for explanation see text above)

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 19


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

2.3 Hydrogeology

2.3.1 History of groundwater use in Saq study area


Figure 10 presents the evolution of groundwater abstraction in the Saq study area compiled
from different sources. Because of the predominant position of the region in the past and the
availability of historical data, separate figures are also provided for the Qassim region. It can be
seen that groundwater abstraction remained marginal till the 1960s. A rapid growth in the
abstracted volume occurred in the Qassim region between 1966 and 1984, which continued
between 1984 and 2005. In other regions, the growth of the abstracted groundwater volume
was moderate till 1984, but then was multiplied by ten during the past 20 years.
The total volume of groundwater annually abstracted in the Saq study area in 2005
(8,727 Mm3/a) equals a water column of 24 mm covering the entire Saq study area
(~370,000 km²). This is more than five times higher than the few mm of recharge occurring
during the same period and thus is not sustainable. Considering that groundwater abstraction is
concentrated in the main irrigated areas representing not more than 10% of the Saq study area,
it is obvious that in these regions the ratio between groundwater abstraction and groundwater
recharge is over 50:1.

10000
in total Saq study area (Mm3/yr)
9000 in Qassim region (Mm3/yr) (this study)

8000
Groundwater abstraction (Mm3/yr)

7000

6000

5000

4000

3000
(BRGM, 1985)

2000

1000
(Parsons Basil, 1968)

0
1920 1930 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
year (G)

Figure 10. Evolution of the volume of groundwater abstractions in the Saq study area
(source between brackets)

2.3.2 Main hydrogeological units


Plate 3 shows, besides the lithostratigraphical and geological logs, the main hydrogeological
units. In the groundwater model, three groups can be distinguished among the 13 model layers.
These groups are ‘Aquifers’, ‘Aquitards that are locally aquifers’, and ‘Aquitards’.

Aquifers
There are seven main aquifers or aquifer groups, from bottom to top:
• Saq Sandstone;
• Kahfah sandstone;

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 20


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

• Quwarah - Sarah sandstones;


• Sharawra and Tawil sandstones;
• Jubah sandstone;
• Khuff limestone;
• Secondary (Mesozoic) -Tertiary - Quaternary (STQ) sandstone and limestone.

Aquitards that are locally aquifers


Two layers act regionally as aquitards, but contain units that are locally exploited as aquifer:
• Jauf limestone and sandstone;
• Unayzah and Berwath sandstones.

Aquitards

Four layers have been identified as aquitards. The term ‘aquitard’ is used in hydrogeology to
describe a layer with low or very low permeability. The term ‘aquiclude’ is used to designate a
layer with such a low permeability that the underlying aquifer is completely sealed off, but such
conditions do not occur in the Saq study area. Therefore, in this report the terms ‘major
aquitard’ and ‘weak aquitard’ are used to describe the different confining layers. The following
aquitards play a role in the underground flow pattern (from bottom to top):
• Hanadir shale;
• Ra’an shale;
• Qusaiba shale;
• Sudair shale.

2.3.3 Aquifer exploitation and water salinity


The aquifers encountered in the Saq study area do not all have the same regional extension
and, depending upon their presence, depth and also their salinity, at most locations in the Saq
study area only one or at most two aquifers are exploited. Plate 4 shows the inventoried (5,060
out of nearly 6,000) wells for which the tapped aquifer was determined. From this plate it can
be seen that in every region one aquifer is predominantly exploited.
Due to their differences in thickness, extension, hydraulic characteristics and water quality,
some aquifers have a much larger area of exploitation than others.
Table 8 and Figure 11 show the abstracted groundwater volumes for the main aquifer units for
1984 (BRGM, 1985) and 2005 (this study). It can be seen that the Saq Sandstone is by far the
most exploited aquifer, accounting in 2005 for almost two-thirds of all abstraction within the Saq
study area. The other main aquifer is the Tawil, accounting for 10% of the abstractions. The
Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary aquifer complex accounts for nearly 16% of abstractions, but
this unit combines a group of independent aquifers and not a single hydrogeological unit.

Saq aquifer
Figure 12 shows the extent and depth of the Saq aquifer and the location of the inventoried
wells tapping the aquifer. The aquifer has extensive outcrop areas along the boundary with the
Arabian Shield in the west, where it receives some recharge, albeit much less than the volumes
abstracted from the aquifer. East of the outcrops the aquifer is present below almost the entire
study area, except for a small area northeast of Buraydah. In the northeastern part of the study
area the aquifer is too deep to be exploited.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 21


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Table 8. Evolution of groundwater abstraction for different aquifer units in the Saq study area
Model 1984 2005 % of total in
Aquifer layer (Mm3/a) (Mm3/a) 2005
STQ 1 141 1388 15.9
Khuff 3 87 159 1.8
Jubah 5 86 12 0.1
Jauf 6 9 158 1.8
Tawil 7 39 876 10.0
Quwara 9 90 128 1.5
Kahfah 11 187 298 3.4
Saq 13 1427 5708 65.4
Total 2064 8727 100.0

6000

1984 2005

5000
groundwater abstraction (Mm3/yr)

4000

3000

2000

1000

0
Saq Kahfah Quwara Tawil Jauf Jubah Khuff STQ

Figure 11. Evolution of the volume of groundwater abstractions per aquifer

A total of 2,434 wells tapping the Saq aquifer has been inventoried. Most are located on
outcrops in the Qassim, Ha’il and Al’Ula regions, or in the confined parts of the aquifer in the
Qassim, Ha’il, Tayma and Tabuk regions. In the Qassim region, many wells tap the Saq aquifer
near or below 1,000 m depth, whereas in the Tabuk region few wells reach such a depth. The
central part of the outcrop area, south of Tayma, is fairly unexploited as are those parts of the
aquifer covered by the sand dunes of the Nafud desert.
For those wells where physico-chemical parameters could be measured in the field, the
electrical conductivity (EC, expressed in µS/cm) is shown on Figure 12. In the Qassim region,
salinity levels are high (EC >2,000 µS/cm) in unconfined parts of the aquifer, especially near the
main wadi channels such as Wadi Ar Rumah. High salinity levels can be explained by the
dissolution of salts through percolating surface water. Salt can accumulate in wadi channels in
areas where runoff waters stagnate, or in sabkhas, areas where exfiltrating groundwater exists
or existed in the past.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 22


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

32°
32°
32°
32°
32°
32°

LEGEND
Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat
major tow n
minor tow n
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
highw ay
main road
minor road

Saq area
30°
30°
30°
30°
30°
30° Sakaka
Sakaka
Sakakah
Sakaka
Sakaka
Sakaka hh
hh
h

TT
TTT
Tab
ab
ab
abuk
ab
abuk
uk
uk
uk
uk

28°
28°
28°
28°
28°
28° Baq
Baq
Baq'a
'a
'a
'a
Baq
Baq
Baq 'a
'a

TT
TTT
Taym
aym
aym
ayma
aym
aymaa
aa
a
Ha'i
Ha'i
Ha'illllll
Ha'i
Ha'i
Ha'i

0 20 40

Al
Al
Al''''''Ul
Al
Al
Al Ul
Ula
Ul
Ul aaa
a K il ometres

Burayd
Burayd
Buraydah
Burayd
Burayd
Burayd ah
ah
ah
ah
ah

Una
Una
Unayza
Una
Una
Una yza
yza
yzah
yza
yzahh
hh
h
26°
26°
26°

electrical conductivity measured in w ells depth top Saq aquifer (m bgl)


tapping Saq aquifer (µS/cm)
outcrop
5 000 < 0 - 1000 As
As
AsSaj
As
As
As Saj
Saj
Sajiiiiiirrrrrr
Saj
Saj
2 000 - 5 000 1000 - 2500
1 500 - 2 000 > 2500
1 000 - 1 500
500 - 1 000
0 - 500 Ad
Ad
Ad
Ad
Ad Duwa
Ad Duwa
Duwa
Duwa dam
damiiiii
Duwadam
dam
dam
0
00
00
0 10
10
10000 20
20
20000
w ell w /out EC measurement
Ki
Ki
Kilo
Ki
Ki
Ki lo
lo
lom
lo
lom
m
mmetre
metre
etre
etres
etre
etress
ss
s
24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35° 45°
45°
45°
45°
45°
45°
37°
37°
37°
37°
37°
37° 39°
39°
39°
39°
39°
39° 41°
41°
41°
41°
41°
41° 43°
43°
43°
43°
43°
43°

Figure 12. Depth of top of the Saq aquifer and location of wells tapping the aquifer

23
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

In the Tayma region the salinity of the phreatic parts of the aquifer is lower, indicating that
different recharge mechanisms may prevail here. The EC is generally lower
(1,000>EC>500 µS/cm) in the confined parts of the Saq aquifer. In the absence of mechanisms
that could explain the reduction of salt levels, the likely explanation for these low EC values is
that the waters stored in the deeper part of the aquifer result from recharge that occurred under
more humid climatic conditions, like those during the mid-Holocene up to 4,000 years BP.
Comparatively high EC values in confined parts of the Saq aquifer, such as in the region north
of Buraydah, may be the result of mixing of waters in wells tapping both Saq and Kahfah
aquifers.
Details of other aquifers are discussed in Volume 9 of the report.

2.3.4 Groundwater Levels in the Saq aquifer


The groundwater-head-contour or piezometric map of the Saq aquifer has been drawn based
on water levels recorded in 183 wells. These wells are not equally distributed over the aquifer,
as information is concentrated near towns and irrigated areas. Moreover, despite its presence
below almost the entire project area, the water levels are not known where its depth is below
2,000 m. For this reason, the piezometric map was drawn using plain contour lines wherever
the water-table elevation is known with a certain degree of reliability (sufficient data both in
quantity and quality), but using dashed lines where this elevation is estimated or extrapolated.

Within the Saq study area, two main regions can be distinguished based on the groundwater
flow directions:
− a) the Qassim-Ha’il region with a natural flow direction towards the northeast, and
− b) the Tabuk-Tayma region where the main flow direction is northward.

a) In the Qassim-Ha’il region, the Saq water table culminates at an elevation above 700 m.a.s.l.
north of Ha’il, as well as in the extreme south, east of Ad Dawadimi (Figure 13).
A particular situation is encountered along Wadi ar Rimah, where the alluvial aquifer appears to
be in contact with the Saq aquifer. The groundwater in the alluvial aquifer is highly mineralized
and where Wadi ar Rimah crosses Saq outcrops the groundwater in the Saq aquifer also shows
high conductivity, indicating downward percolation of water from the alluvial aquifer. It is likely
that an inverse situation existed before the intense agricultural development occurred. Until the
late 1970s, the piezometric levels in the Saq aquifer near Wadi ar Rimah were higher than the
ground elevation at the bottom of the deep valley created by the wadi. Groundwater flowed
from the Saq Sandstone to the alluvial aquifer and this seepage resulted in the creation of
sabkhas that can be found in the vicinity of Al Bada’i where Saq sandstone dips below Hanadir
shale.
Eastward, the Saq water table rapidly becomes confined below the Hanadir shale.
The main feature of the Saq water table in the Qassim area is the presence of a major depletion
that stretches parallel to the outcrops and the basement border. The centre of this depletion is
located north of Buraydah and the observed water-table elevation is below 500 m.a.s.l. The
depletion results from the intensive pumping in the irrigated areas and water levels have
dropped by more than 100 m since 1983. There is an eastward shift between the axis of the
depleted zone and the centre of the main irrigated areas, which is mainly due to the natural
eastward slope of the water table.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 24


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

The main northeast flow trend is thus completely disturbed by exploitation. West of Baq’a,
groundwater flow seems less affected by the local irrigated areas that are less important than
those around Buraydah.
b) The western area of the Saq basin in Saudi Arabia hosts the largest outcrops of Saq
Sandstone. The area south of Tayma represents the largest unconfined part of the Saq aquifer.
The aquifer remains unconfined below the large basalt flow (Harrat) northwest of Al’Ula, and
over a 40 km wide strip along the basement border west of Tabuk.

The natural flow direction is generally northward, except in unconfined areas near the contact
with the basement where it follows the dip towards the centre of the basin (Figure 13). One
exception to this pattern is the Al’Ula region, where the Al’Ula valley drains the Saq aquifer in
the opposite direction. Along the basement border some 100 km south of Tabuk, drainage is
also directed outward from the Saq basin. This “leakage” is confirmed by the existence of
springs in the valley draining towards the Red Sea.
East of Tabuk the natural flow bends northwards in the direction of Busayta. It seems that the
general water flow in the Saq aquifer in the northwestern part of the study area is directed
towards the Wadi Sirhan graben, which thus forms the main natural outlet of the Saq system.

In the wide-spread exposures south of Tayma and around the Nafud sand dunes, water levels
in the Saq aquifer show a very low gradient: this area corresponds to a thicker (1,200 to
1,800 m) zone in the aquifer resulting in an increased transmissivity.

Three depleted areas are noticeable in the western area. From south to north, Al’Ula is the first
one. The depletion is natural because of aquifer drainage by the valley, but it has been
accentuated by pumping in the past 20 years. Tayma is the second depleted area. This
situation is new by comparison to the previous piezometric map drawn by BRGM in 1983.
Tabuk has the largest depleted area of the western region, with a drawdown estimated at 100 m
in the north of the irrigated area.

In conclusion, the Saq water table is heavily affected by recent withdrawals. Compared to the
1983 situation, the historically artesian zones (mainly Tabuk and Buraydah) have disappeared
giving place to large depleted areas. Even the remote areas in the north, where withdrawals
are scarce, have lost a few tens of metres in water level. The only region not affected by
drawdown until now is located southeast of Tayma, because of its upstream and remote
position compared to the main irrigated areas.
Piezometric time-series have a completely different shape depending on whether they are
located in a confined or an unconfined part of the aquifer. Unconfined conditions are marked by
a smooth behaviour in which seasonal fluctuations are barely visible. This is due to the storage
properties of the aquifer that is not fully saturated. On the contrary, marked seasonal and short-
term fluctuations reflect confined conditions, where water levels react sharply over long
distances to the variation in stress induced by pumping variations.
Unconfined conditions represent about 20% of the Saq aquifer extension within the Saq study
area, which is evaluated at about 377,000 km² within Saudi Arabia. However, considering that
the exploitability is limited by aquifer depth, this ratio is assumed to reach 50%. Therefore,
about half of the piezometric series reflect unconfined conditions in this aquifer. This is the case
of, for instance, Al Mukharim well (Figure 14)

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 25


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

34° 48°
36° 44° 46°
38° 40° 42°
32° 32°

Water level
Water level elevation
elevation 2005
2005 (m.
(m. amsl)
amsl)
Al Qurayyat
Al Qurayyat
( measured
measured
measured WL
measured
measured
measured WL
WL
WL
WL
% estimated
estimated
estimated WL
estimated
estimated
estimated WL
WL
WL
WL
contour
contour
contour line
contour
contour
contour line
line
line
line
probable
probable
probable
probable contour
probable
probable contour
contour
contour line
contour
contour line
line
line
line
line

aquif
aquif
aquifer
er
er
er limit
limit
limit
limit
30°
30° aquif
aquif
aquif er
er limit
65
650
65
65
65000
0
Sakakah
Sakakah main
main
main irrigated
irrigated
irrigated areas
areas
areas
main
main
main irrigated
irrigated areas
areas
691
691
691
691
691
691 Dawmat al
Dawmat al Jandal
Jandal outcrops
outcrops
outcrops of
outcrops
outcrops
outcrops of
of Saq
of
of Saq
Saq aquif
Saq
Saq aquif
aquifer
aquif
aquif er
er
er
er
743
688
743
743
688
688
688
688 ( 667
667
667
667
667
667
743
743
685
685
685
685
685
685
( ( m.
m.amsl
m.
m. amsl =
amsl
amsl ===metres
== metres above
metres
metres above mean
above
above mean sea
mean
mean sea level
sea
sea level
level
( (( 698 770
770
70 m.
m. amsl
amsl metres
metres above
above mean
mean sea
sea level
level
level
0
00

698
70000
00
00

698
50

763
763
763 698
698
0
763
763
763
0
000
55

610
610
8885
50

773
773
773 610
610
610
(
555

773
773
773
(
75

(587
77
77
7

755
755 666
666
666 %741
741
741
741
741
66666555000

755 666
666
% ( ((
755
755 587
587 607
607
607

0
00
587
587 607
607

00
00
75
75
648 695
695
75
( (

00
00
648
648 695
00

75
750

00
648 695
695

70
0
648

0
00
709
709
709

00
77

650
709
709
709

77
7
% %628

65
Jubbah
Jubbah

65
707
707
707

65
65
628
628 %%
628
628 707
707
707
763
763
763
763
763 % % % %
775
775
775
775
775 ( 7 7000
00000
% %770
770
770
770
770 781
781
781
781
781
781 676
676
676
676
676
676
( (( 678
777
912
912
912
912
912 Tabuk
Tabuk
678
% 739 739
739
739
739 % 779
779
779
779
779
779
766
766
766
766
766
766 670
670
670
670
670
670 %637
637
637
637
637 28°
678
678
678 728
728
728
28° 653
653
653
653
653
( 777
777
777
777
777 790
790
790 (812
728
728
728 640
640
640
640
640
640 Baq'a
Baq'a
0
00

790
790
%(
900 00

%% ((
711
711
711
711
711
90

786
786
786
90
90
90
90
0
00

786
786
786 812
812
00

655
655
655
800

812
812
812 674 655655
655
%% Tayma Tayma 674
674 649
649
80

784
784
(( ( %674 668 %
649
80
80

784 674
674 649
649
80
80

784
784
((
%782
777
7 555
75 000
50 0 ( 781
781
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781 ( ( 782
782
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782
782
% 807 807
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807
807 ( ((
668
668
%668
668
668 586
586
586
586
586
586
00
800 ( 743
743
743
743 612
612
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508
508
508
508
((((
80
80
792( 754
754
754 612
612
612
0
792
792
80
792
792 754
754
754 704
704
704
704
704 % % Qibah
Qibah
( 815
815
815
815
815
815 837
837
837
837
837 ( 839
839
839
839
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Ha'il
Ha'il 713
713
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691 %608
691
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600
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(((
608 600 578 508 (
831
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% 578 508
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( (
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55555555
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80
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80 00
00 ( 728
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55000000
80
80 0 700
700
700
700
700 493
493
(

000000
793( 843 % %
843
843 493

000
843
843 493
493

66655555
601
601
601 514
514
%%
780
780
780
780
780
780 ( 793
793
(
88888555550
00
601
601
(% 555555 (
000 514
514
514
750
750
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750
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749
749 852
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( ( 852852
852
852 %909
% 909
909
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909 676
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676
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648
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( (619
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( 749
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749 839
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(
000000
498
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579((
695
695
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610
AL(Ula
914
914
914
914
914
914 695
695
695
579
579
AL Ula 680
680
680
579
579
%( 532 ( Buraydah
Buraydah
680
680
618
618 (532
618 ( (599
( 599
532
532
532 %(
522
522
522
522
522
522
618
618 599 (
599 26°
638
638 (
(((621 ( 599
( (612
(612 ( 551
612
612
612 Unayzah
Unayzah
26° 638
638
638
(621
621 (619
621
551
551
551
551
612
612
612
621
( (619619(
619
619
645
645
645
645
645
645 641
641
641
641
641%( ( 574
574
574
574
574
662 %
644
644
644

0
00
644
644662

000
662
662
662

00
00
%

60
% ( 613 613

66
613
613
613

6
555000000
655
655
655
655
655
655
(

000000
( 626(%
626
626
626
626
%
583
583
583
583
583
N % 672672
672
673
673
673
673
673 ( 672
672
672 Sajir
Sajir
%
(
686 ( ( 703
0000000
7777700
0 50 200
686
686
686
686 (
703
703
( 703
703
703
100
Ad Dawadimi
Ad Dawadimi
kilometre
24°
24°

34° 46° 48°


36° 38° 40° 42° 44°
Figure 13. Groundwater-head contour map for the year 2005 – Saq aquifer

26
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Depth (m)
68

70

72

74

76

78

80

82
m

84

86

88

90

92

94

96

10/12/1983 09/12/1985 09/12/1987 08/12/1989 08/12/1991 07/12/1993 07/12/1995 06/12/1997 06/12/1999 05/12/2001 05/12/2003

Figure 14. Piezometric series of the Al Mukharim well (1-Q-210-S / BU9210)

In the confined areas of the aquifer, the influence of seasonal pumping is clearly seen in the
piezometric series. This is obviously emphasized when pumping wells are located nearby.
Wells in the Qassim or Tabuk depressions illustrate this phenomenon. For instance, the
observation well at Rawd al Uyun (Figure 15) shows alternate drawdown and recovery linked to
the rate of pumping that developed in this area during the years 1983 to 1993, and decreased
afterwards. A sharp drawdown starting in December alternates with a smoother increase of the
water level from April to December as the aquifer recovers after irrigation.

Depth (m)

15

20

25

30
35

40

45

50
55
m

60
65

70

75

80
85

90
95

100

10/12/1983 09/12/1987 08/12/1991 07/12/1995 06/12/1999 05/12/2003

Figure 15. Piezometric series at Rawd al Uyun (1-Q-136-S / BU9136)

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 27


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

2.3.5 Groundwater Levels in the Kahfah aquifer


In the western part of the Saq study area, natural flow is towards the north, whereas in the
Qassim area groundwater flow is directed towards northeast. In 1983, in places such as the
Ha’il or Tabuk irrigated zones, the Saq water level was higher than that of the Kahfah aquifer.
Today, this situation has changed and the Saq water table is everywhere at a lower elevation.
In the Qassim area, the natural groundwater flow has been disturbed by intensive pumping.
Observations show a depleted area with a minimum elevation at 500 m.a.s.l. below Buraydah,
which is roughly the same elevation as in the Saq aquifer and could indicate that equilibrium is
reached between the two aquifers. This equilibrium may be due to the fact that many wells tap
both layers, thus establishing a hydraulic contact between the two layers. However, the
extension of the depleted area is slightly different compared to the depletion observed in the
Saq aquifer, and outside the centre of the depression the water table in the Kahfah aquifer is
generally 10 to 50 m above the Saq water table.
The Kahfah water table is presently down to 100 m below the 1983 water level in the centre of
the depletion, but this difference decreases when moving away from the Buraydah area. Water
levels are similar to those observed in 1983 southeast of Baq’a. North of Ha’il, the present
water table again appears to be lower than the 1983 levels. This pattern well reflects the
distribution of irrigated areas, the highest drawdown taking place near the centre of irrigated
areas.
In the western part of the Saq study area, the irrigated zone near Tabuk coincides with a large
depression in the water table. The water levels in the centre of the depression are below
650 m.a.s.l. Here, too, a large number of wells tap both aquifers and the influenced levels have
the same shape. However, there is no equilibrium between the two aquifers.

2.3.6 Groundwater Levels in the Quwarah-Sarah aquifer


The Quwarah-Sarah aquifer is a complex system in which the aquifer properties may vary
widely because of the presence of paleo-channels in the upper Zarqa and Sarah members.
These units are glacial deposits unconformably overlying the Quwarah sandstone. Paleo-
valleys also incise the Ra’an shale that forms the base of the system and connects it with the
underlying Kahfah and Saq formations. For this reason, the aquifer thickness is heterogeneous
and “holes” exist at different spots, such as 40 km north of Tabuk. The formation is not found
east and south of Unayzah.
Under these circumstances it is very difficult to draw a piezometric map for this aquifer. An
attempt is however presented, to show that the general flow direction follows the same trend as
the underlying aquifers. The groundwater flow is directed northeast in the Tabuk-Tayma region
and probably travels to the Wadi Sirhan graben. The gradient should be affected by the
thickness variation of the reservoir. In the Qassim area, the flow is directed northeast as well.

2.3.7 Piezometry of the Tawil aquifer


More than 900 wells have been identified in the Tawil aquifer (previously known as Upper
Tabuk, or TBK6), which is intensely exploited in the Busayta area west of Al Jawf, and in the
Dawmat al Jandal area. Despite this important number of data, only around 35 points have
been retained for the drawing of the map, because a huge number of wells are located in the
same zone and provide the same data.
The Tawil aquifer is present in the northern half of the study area. Large outcrops exist in the
area between Tabuk and Busayta. In the northwest of the Saq study area, the flow direction in
the Tawil aquifer is mainly towards Wadi Sirhan. East of longitude 40°E, flow is predominantly

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directed towards the north and northeast. Most of the groundwater flow originates from the
Nafud area and much lesser flow originates from the outcrops in the west. Two different
systems can be distinguished: west and east of Wadi Sirhan.

West of Wadi Sirhan (Busayta area), it is clear from the observed water levels that drainage
occurs along Wadi Sirhan. Water from the Tawil aquifer becomes vertically connected with
geological units above it, i.e. with Mesozoic and Tertiary deposits. Towards the north, the Tawil
Formation disappears and its groundwater flows in the Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary (STQ)
formations. This is confirmed by chemical parameters that show a dilution effect along the
wadi, due to the mixing of fresh Tawil water with brackish Wadi Sirhan groundwater. West of
Wadi Sirhan, the Tawil is a productive aquifer of good-quality water that is intensely exploited.
The drawdown created by withdrawals is about 40 m in its centre. Remote areas south of
Busayta are not yet affected by the depletion.
East of Wadi Sirhan, the hydrogeology constitutes an independent system. Because of the
steep dip towards the east, the Tawil aquifer is mainly tapped at Dawmat al Jandal. Water
elevation is between 570 and 600 m.a.s.l. in most of the wells.

2.3.8 Groundwater levels in the Jauf, Jubah and Berwath aquifers


The Jauf Formation of Devonian age directly overlies the Tawil sandstone in the northeast of
the Saq study area. Although outcrops occur west of Wadi Sirhan, it is not considered as a
major aquifer because such outcrops are isolated. East of Wadi Sirhan, despite the scarcity of
outcrops, the Jauf Formation is recognized in the Sakakah area as a local aquifer. However,
only one unit of this formation, i.e. the Qasr Member, should be considered as a productive
layer because it consists of limestone with good permeability. The Jubah sandstone (formerly
known as Sakakah formation) is exposed near the city of Sakakah and extends towards the
east and north.
About 150 wells have been identified in the Jauf Formation, in which 135 water levels have
been measured or estimated during the field inventory. However, 90% of the wells are located
near Sakakah, in an area representing less than 3% of the Jauf aquifer extension. Information
is lacking towards the north and the southeast.
The Jauf contour lines drawn for 2005 show a depression centred on Sakakah, resulting from
the important pumping in this area, and a northeast-ward drainage axis in the direction of Ar’ar.
The shape of this axis, which is controlled by one point at Ar’ar, might be influenced by the
scarcity of available data. Nevertheless, this axis was already interpreted in the same manner
in 1983, although several aquifers where considered together at that time.
As a matter of fact, the Jauf, Jubah and Berwath aquifers have locally similar water levels and
could be in contact. The Jubah Formation, where tapped near Sakakah, perfectly matches the
Jauf water levels. The Jubah and Berwath aquifers have similar water levels at Ar’ar (around
240 to 260 m.a.s.l. in elevation). The Jubah and Berwath at Ar’ar could be in contact with the
“STQ” (Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary) aquifer system as water heads are similar to those of
the Cretaceous Wasia Formation that unconformably overlies Devonian and Carboniferous
rocks.

2.3.9 Groundwater levels in the Khuff aquifer


The Khuff Formation extends northwest-ward, from the southeast boundary of the Saq study
area up to the Iraqi border in the north; it is absent from Wadi Sirhan. Outcrops are limited in
the Qassim area where they cover about 4000 km² between Sajir and Buraydah. Its lithology is
different from the older aquifers as it consists mainly of limestone and dolomite with some

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anhydrite layers. The Khuff is not a good aquifer as its quality is generally low (average EC is
about 2400 µS/cm) and thus the number of wells tapping it is limited. Moreover, water levels
could be measured or estimated in less than 20 wells. Contour lines drawn on the 2005
piezometric map should thus be taken as assumptions.
The assumed contour lines, parallel to the aquifer limit, show an east-northeast flow direction.
A depleted area appears 30 km north of Buraydah with minimum water-table elevations
measured at 505 m.a.s.l. This water level is more or less the same as those observed in the
Saq and Kahfah aquifers in this location. However, the Khuff aquifer is separated from these
other productive layers by more than 300 m of Ash Shiqqah and Ra’an aquitard shales, and is
independent. Actually, the depleted area is much smaller and, as elsewhere, the groundwater
heads in the Khuff aquifer are roughly 100 m above the levels observed in the Saq.
Compared to the 1983 situation, the present-day hydraulic heads are generally between 100 m
and 200 m lower in the area south of Sajir. The 1983 map shows a northward flow in this region
that no longer appears, with the highest point close to the village of Khuff. Since then, farming
has developed in this area and many wells tap the Khuff aquifer. Moreover, because the Khuff
unconformably overlies the older formations, there is a geological gap in the series at this
location: the Saq is covered directly by Ash Shiqqah shale, which is the lowest unit of the Khuff
Formation. It is likely that numerous wells that tap the Saq aquifer also tap the Khuff aquifer
and create the observed depression.

2.3.10 Piezometry of the STQ aquifer system


The STQ (Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary) aquifer system considers layers from Late
Cretaceous to Quaternary age. The system consists of a stack of geological units with different
aquifer properties that unconformably overlies Paleozoic layers. The system is quite complex.
Wells tapping the different Mesozoic to Quaternary formations are considered to represent the
STQ aquifer system. Sand dunes, harrats and alluvial aquifers are however not considered as
part of the STQ, as they constitute independent subsurface units.
In the eastern system, flow is directed northeast. A steeper gradient is assumed near the
western boundary of this system because the layers are thicker towards the east. The northern
part of this system (Ar’ar region) is in contact with Jubah sandstone and the Berwath that has
good aquifer properties in this area. The water depth in the STQ as well as in Jubah and
Berwath is close to 300 mbgl, which corresponds to an elevation of about 250 m.a.s.l..
Because of the elevation of its bottom, it is probable that the aquifer complex becomes dry or
unproductive west of the 40°E meridian. East of this meridian, the eastern dip of the Jubah and
overlying formations favours groundwater flow in this direction.
In the north, groundwater flows towards Wadi Sirhan where the water level is shallow. The
presence of large sabkhas attests to the occurrence of a considerable evaporation zone. This
groundwater flow is confirmed by groundwater quality. The STQ quality, which is fresh on the
western border of Wadi Sirhan where the Cretaceous is in contact with the underlying Tawil
aquifer, becomes salty in the valley.

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2.4 Groundwater quality


The main sources of water-quality data considered are:
- Water analyses of the BRGM project finalized in 1985, entitled “Water, Agriculture and Soil
Studies of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers” (SAQ-1),
- Water analyses of samples collected during the present project (SAQ-2).

Irrigated areas have increased considerably between these two project periods. In 1980,
irrigated areas accounted for 70,000 ha; this had grown to about 330,000 ha in 1984, and now
(2006) is evaluated at 740,000 ha (see Volume 6 of the present report). The related irrigation-
water abstractions have had an impact on the quantity of available water resources (see
Volume 9 - Hydrogeology and Volume 3 - Groundwater Mathematical Modelling). The possible
impact of the use of agrochemicals on the groundwater resource is yet to be assessed.
For the SAQ-1 and SAQ-2 projects, 1,980 and 301 wells were sampled respectively. The
analyses performed concerned major ions and trace elements: 32,681 analyses were carried
out during the SAQ-1 project and 4,800 during the SAQ-2 project.

During the present project, these analyses included physico-chemical analyses including TDS,
electrical conductivity, temperature, pH and oxygen-reduction potential. The chemical species
analysed include:

- Major ions: Ca, K, Mg, Na, Cl, SO4, HCO3, CO3, NO3;
- Trace elements: NO2, NH4, PO4, F, SiO2, S, Fe, Ag, Al, As, Ba, Cd, Cr, Cu, Hg, Mn, Ni, Pb,
Sb, Se, Zn;

- Radioactive isotopes: Ra-226, Ra-228, Rn-222.


The water samples were collected from aquifers in the following aquifer units, ranked from the
most recent to oldest: Alluvium, STQ, Khuff, Berwath, Jubah, Jauf, Tawil, Sharawra, Quwarah-
Sarah, Kahfah, Saq, and Basement. The main results are summarized below.

2.4.1 Comparison between the data collected during the SAQ-1 and SAQ-2 projects
The statistical distributions of major ion contents are very similar and no significant changes are
identified between 1984 and 2006. The obtained results are identical concerning TDS.

2.4.2 Salinity distribution


TDS distribution is influenced by various factors (Figure 16):
- Whether the aquifer is unconfined or confined: TDS is generally higher where the geological
formations corresponding to the aquifer are exposed. This situation leads to a decrease of
TDS versus depth (Figure 17). Such a trend is not common as groundwater enrichment in
dissolved elements is generally linked to the length of the underground flow. The low TDS of
the deep confined parts of aquifers is related to groundwater recharge that took place under
more humid climatic conditions in the past.
- The proximity of wadis subject to occasional floods and surface-water collection areas,
reflected by high TDS values in adjacent unconfined aquifers.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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36°E 38°E 40°E 42°E 44°E 46°E

32°N

32°N
TDS > 1.200m g/l

Saq aquifer

Aquifer overlying Saq aquifer


AL QURAYYAT
)
" TDS < 1.200m g/l

ARAR Saq aquifer


)
"

W
ad
Aquifer overlying Saq aquifer

i Si
rh
an
)
" major town

)
" minor town

SAKAKA Main road


30°N

30°N
)
"
Secondary road

Sand dunes

Sabkha / Wadi bed

TABUK
)
"
28°N

28°N
BAQ'A
)
"

TAYMA
)
" HA'IL
)
"

AL'ULA
)
"

BURAYDAH
Wadi Al Ula )
"
UNAYZAH
)
"
26°N

26°N
Wadi
Ar Rumah

SAJIR
)
"

AD DUWADIMI
0 100 200 )
"
Kilometres

36°E 38°E 40°E 42°E 44°E 46°E

Figure 16. Distribution of groundwater salinity within the Saq study area

33
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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14 000

12 000

10 000
TDS in mg/l

8 000

6 000

4 000

2 000

0
0 500 1 000 1 500 2 000 2 500
Depth in m

TDS TDS vs Depth envelope

Figure 17. TDS versus well depth within the Saq study area

2.4.3 Chemical facies


The general chemical facies are calcium-sulphate and sodium-chloride. However, three groups of
water profiles are identified:
- A sulphate-evaporitic group comprising only the Khuff aquifer. The origin of this facies cannot be
linked to the Khuff Formation as it is essentially composed of limestone. It must be related to the
lithologic facies of strata in the over- and underlying formations.

- A mixed sulphate and (dominant) chloride group including STQ, Quwarah–Sarah, and Saq.
- A mixed sulphate, chloride and bicarbonate group including Jubah–Jauf, Tawil, Kahfah, and
Basement rocks.

2.4.4 Distribution of the magnesium versus chloride ratio


The distribution of the Mg/Cl ratio in the different aquifers pinpoints probable hydraulic connections
between aquifers in areas where one or more intermediate layers are absent, due to major geological
disconformities.
Furthermore, a low Mg/Cl ratio combined with a high TDS indicates the occurrence of sporadic
recharge under arid conditions to unconfined aquifers along wadis and in shallow groundwater zones.

2.4.5 Compliance of water quality with WHO guidelines


The major sources of non-compliance with WHO guidelines are boron, chloride, sodium, TDS,
sulphate, and nitrate. The respective percentages of the groundwater samples exceeding the relative
guideline values for these elements are 47, 45, 40, 35, 25, and 21% (Table 9).
Excess values of lead, aluminium, cadmium, chrome, nickel, molybdenum, copper, and zinc concern a
small percentage of samples (0-5 %). Non-compliance of pH values affects 3% of the samples.
A total of 64 wells have been sampled for radioactive-isotope analysis. Water samples showing radio-
isotopes exceeding WHO guidelines are shown on Figure 18.

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Table 9. Species contents versus WHO guidelines and recommendations


Percentage of
Species Threshold unit WHO Remarks samples exceeding
threshold
B 0.5 mg/l Provisional guideline 47%
Cl 250 mg/l No health concern 45%
Na 200 mg/l No health concern/Taste 40%
TDS 1200 mg/l No health concern/Taste 35%
Se 10 µg/l Guideline 26%
SO4 500 mg/l No health concern 25%
NO3 50 mg/l Guideline 21%
Pb 10 µg/l Guideline 5%
Al 200 µg/l Recommendation 3%
Cd 3 µg/l Guideline 2%
Cr 50 µg/l Guideline 2%
Fe 3 mg/l No health concern 4%
F- 1.5 mg/l Guideline 3%
Ni 20 µg/l Provisional guideline 3%
pH 6.5 < pH < 9.5 Optimum required 3%
As 10 µg/l Guideline 2%
Mn 400 µg/l Guideline 2%
Mo 70 µg/l Guideline 1%

2.4.6 Possible impact of agriculture on water resource quality


Nitrate distribution generally follows TDS distribution, especially in the Alluvium, STQ, Khuff, and Saq
aquifers. Nitrate content versus depth shows a significant decreasing trend, which is consistent with
the general lack of nitrates in the confined parts of the aquifer. This could be because:

- They are protected against direct infiltration of nitrates below agricultural areas by the overlying
formations and/or,
- De-nitrification under reducing chemical conditions decreases the nitrate content of the
groundwater.
The relationship nitrate vs. chloride is a good indicator of the origin of nitrates. Since both chloride
and nitrate are important components of fertilizers these two elements should correlate in case of an
agricultural origin of nitrates in groundwater. The absence of such a relationship in most collected
samples suggests that the agricultural contribution of nitrate in groundwater is generally limited. The
contribution of other natural origins of nitrates is probably more important.

This condition is reinforced by the following observations:


- The nitrate-content profiles constructed for the SAQ-1 and SAQ-2 projects are very similar, despite
major agricultural development during the period 1984-2006,
- The trace-element profile deduced from the collected samples is very similar to that characterizing
the sandstone aquifer in general.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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36°E 38°E 40°E 42°E 44°E 46°E

32°N

32°N
.
U total > 15 µg/l
#
AL QURAYYAT Ra 226 > 1 Bq/l
)
" !
ARAR Ra 228 > 0.1 Bq/l
)
" "

W
ad
)
"

iS
major town

ir h
an
)
" minor town

Main road

Secondary road

"
SAKAKA Sabkha / Wadi bed
30°N

30°N
"
"
)
""
Sand dunes
"

"

" # " ! "


"

! TABUK
" )
" " " !
" ! "

" " BAQ'A


28°N

28°N
"
"
" )
"
"

TAYMA " "


)
"
" HA'IL
)
"
"
" "
!

" !

" " !
AL'ULA
)
"
""
" BURAYDAH
Wadi Al Ula
)
" " !

" # UNAYZAH
)
"
"!"
26°N

26°N
# "
#
Wadi
Ar Rumah "
" #
SAJIR
)
"

" #
AD DUWADIMI
0 100 200 )
"
Kilometres

36°E 38°E 40°E 42°E 44°E 46°E

Figure 18. Location of water samples with radioisotopes exceeding WHO guidelines within the Saq study area

36
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

These results tend to show that the present impact of agriculture on the groundwater quality is
limited. Such a situation is not what would be expected considering the scale of agricultural
development. This apparently favourable situation may be explained by the following
considerations:
- Agricultural-related pollution has reached only the shallow subsurface strata, which do not
contain exploitable water resources and are thus not tapped by wells,
- The accumulation of agrochemicals and related metabolites in the unsaturated zone is in
connection with its thickness, the low amount of rainfall and the related very low infiltration.
Such low infiltration is insufficient for drawing corresponding species down to the saturated
rocks forming aquifers.
Nevertheless, several isolated wells, even in the confined parts of the aquifers, show very high
nitrate levels indicating point-source pollution. These sources of contamination are probably the
agricultural wells themselves and due to improper handling of fertilizers and pesticides, such as
connection with storage of agrochemical packages near the well heads, improper cementation
of the well top casings, and/or connection of agrochemical tanks to discharge pipes without a
check-valve.
The noticeably decreasing trend of TDS vs. depth can be explained by the climatic variations
during the last several thousand years. Along the limit of Basement outcrops, the groundwater
corresponds to water that has infiltrated under increasingly arid conditions. Such conditions
have favoured the evaporation of runoff and the deposition of salty deposits in soils such as
duricrust, leading to an increase in the salinity of the water infiltrated down into the aquifers.
Farther from the Basement outcrops, in the confined parts of the aquifer that are preserved from
present runoff infiltration, it can be assumed that the corresponding water has infiltrated under
more temperate conditions characterized by a lower mineral enrichment during infiltration.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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2.5 Groundwater recharge


Traditionally, groundwater recharge is assessed either by direct or by indirect methods. In the
case of the Saq and overlying aquifers, this classic approach faces some practical difficulties
due to the size of the aquifer system, the interaction between different aquifers and the very low
rates of recharge.
Meteorological data for the Saq study area are available from a large number of stations
belonging to the networks of the Ministry of Water and Electricity (MoWE) and of the Presidency
of Meteorology and Environment (PME).
Highest rainfall occurs in the Qassim region in the southeastern part of the study area. From
here, the mean annual rainfall decreases towards the southeast (Riyadh region) as well as
towards the northwest (Al Jawf region) and west (Tabuk region). The mean annual rainfall
varies from 27 mm/a near Tabuk to 171 mm/a at Al Badai’. All stations show a similar seasonal
pattern with a first peak during the months of March and April, almost no rainfall during June to
August, followed by a second peak from October to January. The average number of days with
rainfall is 14.5 days/a. The average number of rainy days in a year varies from 4.0 in Tabuk to
27.5 at Qassim airport. The highest rainfall received in a single day was 86.0 mm, also at
Qassim airport.
The average evapotranspiration (ETP) for the Saq study area fluctuates from nearly
100 mm/month in December and January to 300 mm/month in July. Average annual ETP for
the Saq study area amounts to 2,376 mm/a. Using the monthly ETP values, average daily ETP
values have been calculated for every month. Daily ETP varies between 3.1 mm/day in
December to 9.6 mm/day in July.
Drainage basins have been delineated using a Digital Elevation Model (DEM) with a 3” (arc
seconds) resolution (~90 m). The largest part of the Saq study area falls within endoreic
drainage basins. A separate unit is formed by the sand dunes of the Great Nafud and the strips
of sand dunes stretching southeast-ward that cover one-fifth of the Saq study area. In these
areas no continuous drainage systems have developed.
Only a small amount of hydrological data is available for the Saq study area. Four runoff
stations were set up in 1965/1966 (Parsons Basil, 1968), but few observations were made due
to logistical difficulties. On a very broad basis, the observations during the period from 1965 to
1967 led to the conclusion that, on average, about 1.5% of the annual rainfall on the catchments
capable of generating runoff (excluding sand-dune areas) actually occurred as runoff.
During the Saq-1 project, nine hydrological stations were installed and equipped with automatic
waterlevel recorders. Raingauges and automatic weather stations were installed in or near the
catchments to obtain reliable rainfall measurements for correlation with runoff data. During the
years 1982 and 1983 a total of 59 floods was monitored by these stations, and the total average
runoff for all catchments was about 16% of the average rainfall recorded in these catchments,
much higher than the estimate for the entire Saq study area made by Parsons Basil.
Concentrations of the stable isotopes δD (2H) and δ18O were determined on rain and
groundwater samples during the Saq-1 project. Results suggest that the aquifers were
essentially “filled” during a less arid period. From tritium and 14C data it can be deduced that all
recent waters are found at shallow depth. These data indicate that at least some recharge
occurs under present-day conditions.
Agricultural development during the past decades has triggered large-scale groundwater
abstraction. Because such abstraction is unevenly distributed among the various aquifers,
groundwater levels have dropped at different rates in different aquifers. In some areas this has
resulted in reversing vertical hydraulic gradients. In the case of the Saq aquifer, a large share

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of the water pumped by the thousands of wells is water released from storage, which thus
should be considered as groundwater mining. In this regard it is important to consider that large
volumes of water are stored in the aquitards. Lowering of groundwater heads in an aquifer will
trigger drainage of water released from storage in the adjacent aquitards (Figure 19).
Groundwater recharge is a minor component of all those affecting the water balance of the
aquifers in the Saq study area. Because some of these components cannot be assessed with
precision, e.g. storage release by adjacent aquitards or deep groundwater flow leaving the area
below a depth reachable by wells, the water balance cannot be used to directly determine
groundwater recharge.
Nevertheless, an attempt was made to estimate the average groundwater recharge on the Saq
Sandstone outcrops south of Tayma, using the observed regional hydraulic gradient. Annual
groundwater recharge has been assessed at 2.5 mm/a. From the different literature sources it
can be concluded that, except for some smaller catchments, the overall groundwater recharge
in the Saq study area does not exceed a few millimetres per year and certainly less than
5 mm/a at the scale of the project area.
The geographical distribution of groundwater recharge has been studied by mapping geological,
geomorphological and hydrological phenomena that are directly related to the process of
groundwater recharge. Several geomorphological characteristics of the surface of the Saq
study area have been mapped and classified according to their positive or negative impact on
groundwater recharge. Subsequently, these indexed geomorphological parameters have been
grouped on a map of the annual rainfall, to prepare a map showing the distribution of recharge
potential.
Considering the complexity of the water balance of the multi-layer aquifer system, the degree of
interaction between the various aquifers and the relative importance of de-storage of water
stored in aquifers and aquitards, it is felt that groundwater recharge can most accurately be
quantified by a groundwater mathematical model simulating explicitly storage release from
aquitards and covering the full extent of the aquifer system.

Figure 19. Schematic cross-section through the sedimentary cover of the Arabian Shield showing
the different types of rainfall recharge and other components of the underground flow pattern.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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2.6 Irrigation-water abstraction


Calibration of the groundwater mathematical model relies on simulating the observed
groundwater levels evolution recorded from 1982 to the present. These levels are influenced by
groundwater abstraction, of which by far the most important within the study area is for
irrigation. Reconstructing the groundwater-pumping series for irrigation and the spatial
distribution of the pumping over the study area is a preliminary step in constructing the
groundwater model.
As no annual statistical data are available concerning the volumes of groundwater abstracted
for irrigation, the time series can only be reconstructed through indirect methods. The approach
that was used in this study is based on an assessment of the area under irrigation, combined
with a determination of the amount of water used per hectare of irrigated land. Although region-
by-region statistical data of the area under irrigation exist for different crops, they cannot be
used directly. Firstly, the limits of the Saq study area do not match the administrative
boundaries; the study area covers some administrative regions entirely and others only in part.
Secondly, the groundwater model requires the geographical distribution of groundwater
abstraction within a region. Finally, assessment by remote sensing is also used as a means of
validating the statistical data.
The assessment of the irrigation-pumping time series within the Saq study area for the period
1971-2003 was undertaken through the following steps:
1. Mapping and classification of irrigated areas using remote-sensing data. Assessing the crop
areas from remote sensing was done for three reference periods within the past 20 years
and was based on delineating irrigated fields on satellite images and identifying the crops
grown on these fields through simultaneous processing of images for three seasons within
the same year. Crop identification was based on a study of the related vegetation cycles, as
well as on the spectral signature of each crop.

2. Construction of time series showing the year-to-year evolution of the irrigated area of the
different crops through interpolation between the reference periods for which the irrigated
areas had been mapped by remote sensing. Interpolation was based on the annual trends
observed from statistical agricultural data.
3. Assessment of crop-related irrigation-pumping rates per hectare. The rates were assessed
using extensive field data.

4. Regional and global assessment of the irrigation-pumping time series over the considered
period. These data were then transferred to the model grid.
The time variation of the irrigated areas within the Saq study area was assessed from satellite
imagery processing for three periods, 1984, 1990-1991 and 2000-2002, that were linked by
interpolation. The irrigated areas have grown considerably since the beginning of the 1980s:
from 68,000 ha in 1980 to 775,700 ha in 1992 and 735,800 ha in 2003. Several crop types
have been discriminated: cereals (mainly wheat and barley), alfalfa, vegetables, palm trees and
other orchards (Figure 20). The irrigated-area variations are shown in Figure 21 and Figure 22.
The collected data, originating from a Saq-2 project survey among the farms, from documents
transmitted by farm companies, and from data retrieved from the water point inventory, enabled
an assessment of the irrigation-water pumping per hectare per year for each crop type. The
obtained pumping rates were applied to the corresponding crop areas so as to obtain an
evolution of the groundwater withdrawal between 1971 and 2003. According to the results, the
volume of irrigation water abstracted per year has risen from 890 Mm3 in 1980 to 7,950 Mm3 in
1992 and 8,430 Mm3 in 2003 (Figure 24, Figure 25 and Figure 25). The last figure corresponds
to a water column of 1,145 mm.

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33
332
32
22°°°°°°
332
3
322
2 2°°°

00 10
10 20
20

Kilometres 33
3
3
0
30
30
3
30
3
0°°°°°°
00
00 °°°

enlarged area
228
2228
8
288
8°°°°°°
2 2
2888 °°°

22
2 6
26
26
2 6°°°°°°
66
226
266 °°°

22
224
4
24
244
4°°°°°°
224
244 °°°
335
35
355°°°°°°
55 44
445
5
45
455
5°°°°°°
3
3 3
35
355 °°° 33
337
7
37
377
7°°°°°° 33
39
9
39
99
9°°°°°° 44
43
3
43
33
3°°°°°° 445
455 °°°
337
377 °°° 3
3 3
39
399 °°° 44
444
11
4
111
1°°°°°° 4
4 4
43
433 °°°
444
111 °°°

LEGEND
Crop classes
wheat
alfalfa
palm trees
maize/other
vegetables
orchards

43°E

Figure 20. Crop identification from satellite images

900 000

800 000

700 000

600 000
Crop area in ha

500 000

400 000

300 000

200 000

100 000

0
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003

Cereals Maize Fodder Vegetables Palm trees Orchards

Figure 21. Crop-area variations derived from remote sensing and interpolation

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 41


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

900 000

800 000

700 000 Tabuk

Al Jawf
600 000

Ha'il
Irrigated area in ha

500 000

400 000

300 000

Quassim
200 000

100 000

Riyadh
0
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
Riyadh Quassim Ha'il Madinah Tabuk Al Jawf North

Figure 22. Irrigated area per region derived from remote sensing and interpolation

10 000

9 000

8 000 Orchards
Palm trees
3

Vegetables
Irrigation water withdrawl in 10 m

7 000
+6

6 000 Fodder

5 000

4 000
Maize

3 000

2 000 Cereals

1 000

0
1971
1972
1973

1974
1975
1976
1977

1978
1979
1980
1981
1982

1983
1984
1985
1986

1987
1988
1989
1990
1991

1992
1993
1994
1995
1996

1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003

Cereals Maize Fodder Vegetables Palm trees Orchards

Figure 23. Irrigation water abstraction per crop type over the Saq study area from 1971 to2003

10 000.000

9 000.000

Northern
8 000.000
Al Jawf
Tabuk
7 000.000
Pumping in 10+6 m3/year

6 000.000

Hail Madinah
5 000.000

4 000.000

3 000.000 Qassim

2 000.000

1 000.000
Riyadh

0.000
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986
1987
1988
1989
1990
1991
1992
1993
1994
1995
1996
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
2003

Riyadh Qassim Hail Madinah Tabuk Al Jawf Northern

Figure 24. Irrigation water abstraction per region over the Saq study area from 1971-2003

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

36°E 38°E 40°E 42°E 44°E 46°E

32°N
§

32°N
Northern Frontier
)
" major town
)
" minor town
3 000
AL QURAYYAT Irrigated areas
)
" 2 000
Sabkha / Wadi Bed
1 000
ARAR Provinces
0 )
" "
) Orchads

1971
1976
1981
1986
1991
1996
2001
ad
)
" Date

iS
)
" Vegetable

i rh
an
)
" Fodder
Al Jawf )
" Maize
)
" Cereals
SAKAKA
30°N

30°N
3000 )
"
2000
1000
0

1971
1976
1981
1986
1991
1996
2001
Ha'il
Tabuk
3000

TABUK 3000 2000


)
" 2000 1000
1000 0 Riyadh
28°N

28°N
1971
1976
1981
1986
1991
1996
2001
0 BAQ'A
)
"
1971
1976
1981
1986
1991
1996
2001
TAYMA 3000
)
"
)
" 2000
HA'IL 1000
0

1971
1976
1981
1986
1991
1996
2001
Madinah
AL'ULA
)
"

3000 Qassim
BURAYDAH
)
"
2000
3000 UNAYZAH
1000 )
"
26°N

26°N
2000
0
1000
1971
1976
1981
1986
1991
1996
2001

1971
1976
1981
1986

1991
1996
2001
SAJIR
)
"

0 100 200
)
"
Kilometres
AD DUWADIMI

36°E 38°E 40°E 42°E 44°E 46°E

Figure 25. Time variation of the irrigation-water abstraction in Mm3/a per region within the Saq study area

43
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

These results are noticeably different from those obtained by other projects. They are,
however, the only ones to be obtained through extensive enquiry and data collection at
445 farms representing 1,275 operating wells. This type of methodological approach is the only
one apt to reflect the actual on-farm irrigation-water abstraction, as opposed to other processes
based on parameters aimed at optimizing crop yields. The same remark can be made for the
methodology that includes the use of a model calibrated on parameters derived from scientific
approaches and that may not represent actual field conditions.
The Saq project methodology enabled an assessment of actual present pumping rates and the
construction of a pumping time series since the beginning of the 1970s to be integrated into the
groundwater mathematical model for its calibration.
The methodology developed by the Consortium for assessing the irrigation-water abstraction
based on extensive field data is likely to provide groundwater-withdrawal series closer to the
actual figures for abstraction than those derived from scientific approaches relying on
experimental plots and pilot farms, or on theoretical calculations.
For the purposes of the groundwater model, the pumping series in each grid cell was computed
as follows. First, the crop areas for each year were plotted into the model grid. Then, for each
cell and each year, every crop area was multiplied on a yearly basis by the corresponding
pumping rate per hectare. The results were then added together to produce the yearly
abstracted volumes in each cell of the model.
In addition, it was necessary to determine the aquifer(s) tapped by each crop area. This
operation was made in combining several types of data: aquifer(s) existing below the related
area, name of the pumped aquifer declared by the farmer, well depth and screen depth
collected during field inventory, local geological log, water temperature and chemical analyses.

In the end, the process led to produce yearly series of groundwater volumes abstracted for
irrigation, with withdrawal rates distributed in around 15 000 pumping cells of the groundwater
model. These data are basic inputs for the transient state simulations.

2.7 Domestic and industrial groundwater use


Groundwater is a major source of potable water in many areas of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Thus, in terms of quantity and quality the state of groundwater is of vital importance.
The main purpose of this section is to present assessments of the past and current domestic
and industrial water demand in the study area, and to estimate the future domestic and
industrial water demand in the short-, medium- and long terms. This part of the study
investigates the present groundwater supply and to what extent the groundwater resources of
the Saq and its overlying aquifers can meet the future water demand.

2.7.1 Population
The study area extends over seven administrative regions (i.e. provinces), namely Ar Riyadh,
Al Qassim, Ha'il, Al Jawf, Al Madinah, Tabuk and the Northern Border. At a lower administrative
levels there are 29 governorates (i.e. districts) and 296 administrative centres (i.e.
municipalities), including municipalities supplied by groundwater from the Saq and overlying
aquifers.
Based on the 2004 census (1423/24 H), it is estimated that 2.67 million inhabitants live in the
study area, or are supplied by the Saq and overlying aquifers (12% of the total population of the

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 44


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). About 44% of the population in the study area is concentrated in
territorial parts of the Al Qassim and Ar Riyadh regions. With seven major urban centres, the
urban population represents about 88% of the total population in the study area. The remaining
12% is rural population (i.e. areas with less than 5,000 inhabitants). Thus, the increasing
domestic water demand mainly results from the increasing urban population and the
improvement of living standards in urban areas.
Based on conservative regional population-growth rates that are between 1.7% for the Northern
Border and 3% for Ar Riyadh, it is projected that the total population in the study area will
increase by about 60% to approximately 4.27 million inhabitants around 2030 (1449/50 H).

2.7.2 Industry
In general, there is little heavy industry in the study area. The present industrial activities are
concentrated in the major urban centres such as Buraydah and Unayzah in the Al Qassim
region. In order to assess the industrial-water demand in the study area, the number of
employees per sub-sector activity is used as an explicative variable.
In 2004, the total number of employees in the study area was estimated at approximately
44,842, distributed among ten industrial sub-sectors according to the ISIC (International
Standard for Industrial Classification) system.
Industrial activities in the study area are dominated by the agro-food industry (26% of total
employees) followed by construction, manufacture of chemical products, manufacture of metal
products, and machinery and equipment (20% each). These industrial sub-sectors also show
the greatest past development, both in terms of number of new factories and number of
employees.

2.7.3 Public groundwater supply in the study area


The groundwater used for domestic water supply in the study area largely originates from the
Saq and its overlying aquifers. The Consortium has surveyed and digitized 552 productive
wells (public and municipal) within the boundaries of the study area. Of these 552 wells,
186 belong to 17 well-fields supplying drinking water to the major urban centres. The remaining
wells are mainly municipal wells located in very small urban centres and in rural municipalities.
The present total abstraction from all municipal and public wells is estimated to be 361 Mm3/a,
of which 343 Mm3/a is for domestic water supply. About 18 Mm3/a (62 wells) are used by the
municipalities for other purposes (e.g. watering gardens). Total abstraction from the major
urban well-fields accounts for about 180 Mm3/a (or 52% of total domestic water supply).
The portion of water supply for domestic use varies considerably among the regions, depending
on the number of people served and the population density. A major part of the total abstraction
occurs in the Al Qassim region and is about 44% (152 Mm3/a), followed by the regions of Tabuk
(18%), Ar Riyadh (14%) and Ha’il (11%). In the less-populated regions, public water supply
represents less than 10% of total abstractions: 8% in Al Jawf, 5% in the Northern Border and
less than 1% in the Al Madinah region (Table 10).

Considering a conservative estimate of 25% of unaccounted-for water, the total domestic-water


demand withdrawn from the Saq aquifer system would amount to 257 Mm3/a. It must be noted
that surface water and desalinated seawater are not taken into account in the above
computation. In addition to groundwater, small quantities of surface water and desalinated
water are also used for satisfying the water demand in the study area. Desalinated water from
the Jubail desalination plant is supplied to Buraydah.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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Table 10. Public groundwater abstraction in the study area and comparison with other uses
Total
Domestic Industrial water Irrigation groundwater Domestic
Province Population water supply demand abstraction abstraction as % of
Mm3/a (1) Mm3/a (2) water Mm3/a Mm3/a total

Ar Riyadh (3) 291 855 47 6,2 1242 1295 3,6%


Al Qassim 889 215 152 7,3 2690 2849 5,3%
Ha'il 368 294 37 0,8 1500 1538 2,4%
Al Madinah 46 843 2 0,5 95 97 2,0%
Tabuk 511 130 61 1,5 990 1053 5,8%
Al Jawf 361 676 27 0,9 1907 1934 1,4%
Northern Border 196 820 17 0,1 9 26 65,1%
total 2 665 833 343 17,2 8433 8793 3,9%

(1) including other municipal water uses like watering of parks


(2) in absence of precise figures on the industrial water abstractions the industrial water demand is given
(3) including Afif and en-route villages & towns supplied from Ad Dawadimi wellfield

2.7.4 Present domestic-water demand


Two types of domestic water are distinguished for assessing the present domestic-water
demand:
a) urban-municipal water demand (domestic, commercial, institutional and municipal water
uses)
b) rural-domestic water demand.

The demand for these two domestic water types is also differentiated in terms of whether the
population is connected to the public water supply (‘connected’ population), or whether it is
served by water tankers or self supplied by private wells (‘unconnected’ population).

A review of the literature as well as the field investigations made it possible to define a domestic
per-capita water use ranging from 105 l/c/d to 336 l/c/d. A very low per-capita water use is
recorded in rural areas that are exclusively supplied by water tankers. High values are recorded
in major urban centres such as Tabuk, Buraydah and Ar’ar. It is assumed that the per-capita
water use is mainly influenced by the level of public water supply and water consumption habits.
Thus, concerning the percentage of water coverage by public supply and per-capita water use
for the two abovementioned categories of domestic water use, the following assumptions can
be made:
- 336 l/c/d for urban-municipal and ‘connected’ population (90% in major urban centres and
60% in the less-populated urban centres);
- 250 l/c/d for urban-municipal and ‘unconnected’ population (10% in major urban centres and
40% in the less populated urban centres);

- 155 l/c/d for rural and ‘connected’ population (30% of the rural population);
- 105 l/c/d for rural and ‘unconnected’ population (60% of the rural population).

According to these assumptions and the distribution of the rural and urban populations in the
study area, the total domestic water demand is estimated at 294 Mm3/a (Table 11). Urban-
municipal water demand represents 95% (280 Mm3/a) of the total, and the rural-domestic water
demand represents only 5% of total domestic water demand (13.4 Mm3/a).

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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Table 11. Present domestic water demand in the study area

Population (inh.) Water demand (Mm3/a) Total domestic


Region Rural- Urban- water demand
Rural Urban
domestic municipal (Mm3/a)

Ar Riyadh 81,922 209,933 3.5 24.7 28.2


Al Qassim 100,909 788,306 4.3 93.8 98.1
Al Madinah 14,559 32,284 0.6 3.8 4.5
Ha'il 42,271 326,023 1.9 38.7 40.5
Tabuk 23,787 487,343 1.1 58.2 59.3
Al Jawf 35,603 326,073 1.6 38.7 40.2
Northern Border 9,126 187,694 0.4 22.4 22.8
Total 308,175 2,357,655 13.4 280.3 293.6

It should be noted that the domestic water demand computed as such (294 Mm3/a) compares
fairly well with the approximation given above (257 Mm3/a) computed from the total abstraction
considering 25% of uncounted water. Indeed, the difference can easily be explained by the
small uncertainties in the computation method, and especially by the fact that surface and
desalinated water sources are not taken into consideration in the first estimate given above
(257 Mm3/a).

2.7.5 Present industrial-water demand


The assessment of industrial-water demand is based on the number of employees as well as
the water-use units (industrial-water use per employee). The data of ten industrial sub-sectors
were taken into account, as well as a unit of industry-specific water use adapted to Saudi
industries. The quantity of water used in the industrial sector is estimated at about 17 Mm3/a
(Table 12).

Table 12. Present industrial-water demand in the study area

Total number of employees Total industrial water


Region
in industrial sector demand Mm3/a
Ar Riyadh 9,651 6.15
Al Qassim 16,966 7.33
Al Madinah 2,133 0.48
Ha'il 4,151 0.75
Tabuk 5,249 1.47
Al Jawf 4,579 0.85
Northern Border 2,114 0.12
Total 44,842 17.13

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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2.7.6 Forecasting future domestic and industrial water demand


A forecast for the domestic and industrial water demand is developed for three scenarios, in the
short, medium and long term:
- Baseline scenario assuming a continuation of current trends and plans in water
management (e.g. increased connection to water supply);
- Low-growth scenario (with water conservation measures) containing a set of assumptions
that leads to estimate a lower water use than is adopted in the predictive baseline scenario
(groundwater modelling);

- High-growth scenario referring to a set of assumptions that leads to estimate a higher


water demand than adopted in the baseline scenario.
The water-demand scenarios include assumptions on the population growth (or projected
number of employees in an industrial sector) and on the trend of domestic and industrial water-
use units - per capita or per employee water use. The projected annual water demands in Mm3
for the years 2010, 2020 and 2030 are summarized in Table 13.

Table 13. Future domestic- and industrial-water demand in the Saq study area
Future water demand (Mm3/a)
Scenarios/year
Domestic Industrial Total
Current situation
2004 294 17 311
Baseline scenario
2010 342 25 368
2020 418 50 468
2030 486 100 585
Low-growth scenario
2010 327 24 351
2020 370 29 400
2030 396 41 438
High-growth scenario
2010 369 66 435
2020 511 131 642
2030 672 266 939

Based on these assumptions, the total projected domestic and industrial water demand in the
year 2030 is estimated at approximately 585 Mm3/a in the baseline scenario. This amount can
vary between 438 Mm3/a (low-growth scenario) and 939 Mm3/a (high-growth scenario). In all
scenarios, the projected industrial water demand has a higher growth rate than that of the
projected domestic water demand.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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2.7.7 Recommendations
Several measures could increase the efficiency and sustainability of water-resource
management in the Kingdom. A prerequisite for all such measures is the formulation of a
national water strategy and action plan. The Ministry of Water and Electricity (MoWE) is already
in the process of formulating a common national action plan involving all water sectors. The
main objectives of this action plan are:
- To create a regional Integrated Water Resources Planning and Management;
- To build the institutional capacity necessary for implementing a common water strategy;

- To formulate appropriate legislation, regulations and guidelines (water policy);


- Consolidated by the 8th National Development Plan, the overall objectives are to conserve
water resources and to rationalize water use in all sectors.

Based on the assessment of domestic and industrial water demand conducted in this study, the
following measures are recommended:
- Optimize data acquisition and data quality, since improved data are the most likely path to
improving a reliable assessment of domestic water demand and projections. Regional Water
Directorates may wish to consider actions that will improve the frequency and quality of data
collection on water use.
- Record data and information on industrial water use through extensive water audits in
industrial companies. This report shows that the industrial water use will have a higher
growth rate in the future. Particular efforts are needed to acquire sufficient information on
this sector.
- Enhance the control of water consumption through continuous metering of water use in
urban areas. It is demonstrated that per-capita water use heavily influences the total urban-
municipal domestic water demand. Rationalization of drinking-water use should be a key
element in controlling domestic water demand.
- Develop the urban and rural water-supply systems and reduce water losses in the water
supply networks through adequate operation and maintenance programmes.
- Improve coordination among the branches of the regional Water and Sewage authorities and
other interested administrative institutions, such as municipalities and districts.
- Encourage the use of treated wastewater for industrial purposes, where its return rates are
the highest in all economic sectors.
- Expand communication among local, private and public partners involved in the water sector
so that the problem of water-resource scarcity and quality is at least partly solved through
cooperation.
- Promote public awareness on the importance of rationalizing water consumption, and help
groups and communities to protect and conserve their local waters (specifically in rural
areas).

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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2.8 Groundwater mathematical modelling

2.8.1 Scope of work


Derived from the model developed in 1985 during the first Saq project, the 2006 model is an
improved three-dimensional groundwater model. It is based on a revised geological model, new
hydrogeological data, the present-day status of groundwater resources and abstraction, and an
updated assessment of the water abstraction. Its wider extent and finer grid have been defined
so as to include all natural features that influence groundwater flow on a regional scale, as well
as for developing a very precise tool for realistic and accurate modelling of future development
scenarios. The 2006 model was calibrated over the period from 1960 to 2005 and, in particular,
over the last 20 years during which a monitoring network of 80 observation wells was in
operation.

2.8.2 Conceptual groundwater model


The conceptual groundwater model has been defined according to the following guidelines:
• As far as possible, extension of the modelled area to the actual boundaries of the
hydrogeological system in order to avoid artificial boundary conditions. Where this rule
cannot be applied because the aquifer system extends far outside the study area, remote
boundaries have been defined at such large distances from the main abstraction areas that
the latter can be assumed not to induce a perceptible impact.
• Definition of a simplified, but representative, hydrogeological sequence. The objective was
to reduce the 26 layers derived from the geological model to a stack of 7 to 15 layers with
contrasted hydraulic properties. This was achieved through:
- Identification of the formations that play main roles in the groundwater flow scheme
because they are either major aquifers or major aquitards:
- Grouping of the successive horizons that have similar hydraulic properties (pervious or
impervious), in order to create an alternating sequence of aquifers and aquitards.
As a result of such thorough geological and hydrogeological analyses:
• Additional northwest and southeast extensions are included in the groundwater model;
• Thirteen formations (seven aquifers separated by six aquitards) have been selected for their
hydraulic contribution to groundwater flow (Plate 3). Tests run with 11- and 9-layer models
showed that these could not satisfactorily simulate major groundwater features because the
geological complexity was not well represented.

2.8.3 Groundwater model design and calibration


The spatial discretization in the horizontal plane was made with a regular grid of 2 x 2 km cells.
The grid contains 458 rows (= 956 km), 507 columns (= 1,014 km) and 13 layers, in accordance
with the conceptual groundwater model. This spatial discretization leads to 232,206 cells per
layer. The total number of cells is 3,018,678, of which 1,468,922 are active. Figure 26
illustrates a 3D view of the modelling grid from which the southwestern corner has been
removed to show the internal structure of the 13 layers.
Two computer codes, both running with finite-difference algorithms, were used:
- MODFLOW 2000™ (USGS) with the GMS 6.0 pre- and post-processor, a groundwater
modelling computer code already used at the MoWE for other models.
- MARTHE 6.7™, a BRGM computer code for groundwater modelling, used for its powerful
calculation capacity and its very effective pre- and post-processing functions.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Figure 26. 3D grid of the groundwater mathematical model

The numerical model was calibrated under both steady-state and transient flow conditions:
• For the most part, steady-state conditions existed until 1960-1970, before significant
agricultural and urban development took place. The groundwater situation described by
Parsons Basil in 1968 can be assumed to have been close to the initial natural situation. It
was mainly characterized by the existence of numerous artesian wells and large artesian
areas.
• A first transient period used for calibration, from 1960 to 1985, corresponds to the initial
development of modern farms with irrigation pivots. The evolution of the groundwater table
was not monitored during this period because there was no efficient piezometric network.
However, an extensive well inventory carried out in 1982-84 showed that, even though many
artesian wells still existed, major drawdown was already reported below the main irrigated
areas.
• A second transient period, from 1985 to 2005, is marked by the intensive development of
modern irrigated areas. As the water used for irrigation is mainly tapped from aquifers, very
large drawdowns have resulted from such pumping. Hydrographs from the MOWE
monitoring network show that water-table decline now commonly exceeds 100 m and is as
much as 150 m in the main irrigated areas: this provides very effective constraints for the
model calibration.

2.8.4 Main results of the model calibration


The various adjustments and sensitivity analyses performed on horizontal and vertical hydraulic
conductivity, recharge, specific yield and specific storage progressively led to the following
results:

- The horizontal and vertical hydraulic-conductivity values that can be assigned to the model
layers are significantly constrained by the geometry of the aquifer system, i.e. by the
hydrogeological structure (aquifer/aquitard sequence) and the ground elevation distribution.
- The southwestern faults limiting the Wadi Sirhan graben probably act as vertical conductive
planes that allow deep groundwater to seep to the surface (Figure 27).

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

- It is most unlikely that any significant deep groundwater flow reaches the Dead Sea despite
its low elevation of 420 m below sea level. The great rise of the basement, acting as a
threshold along the eastern ridge of the Jordan Valley (Figure 27), most probably prevents
any significant westward groundwater flow.

Wadi STQ Complex (major aquifer)


W Sirhan E Sudair (major aquitard)
graben Khuff (aquifer)
Ash Shiqqah-Unayzah-Berwath (aquitard)
Jubah (aquifer)
Jauf (minor aquitard)
Dead sea Tawil-Sharawra (aquifer)
Qusaïba (major aquitard)
Quwarah-Sarah (aquifer)
Ra’an (aquitard)
Khafah (aquifer)
Hanadir (major aquitard)
Saq (major aquifer)
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°
32°

Al Qurayyat

30° Sakakah

Dawmat-al-Jandal

Tabuk
28° Jubbah
Baq'a

Tayma Qibah
Ha'il

Al Ula
Buraydah
Unayzah
26°

Sajir
N

0 50 100 200 Ad Dawadimi


kilometre
24°

34° 36° 44°


38° 40° 42°

Figure 27. East-west cross section at the latitude of the Dead Sea

- The groundwater-head contour map of Figure 28, which corresponds to steady-state


hydraulic conditions simulated in the Saq aquifer in the initial natural state (i.e. in the
absence of any pumping) shows that most of the northwestern streamlines converge on the
southwest faults of the Wadi Sirhan graben. It is, therefore reasonable to assume that, in the
natural state, groundwater flowing out of Saudi Arabia north of Tabuk flowed back to it
through the graben system.

48°
34° 44° 46°
36° 38° 40° 42°
32°
32° Simulated groundwater head distribution
600

in the Saq aquifer for 1960 (m a.s.l.)

Al Qurayyat
Al Qurayyat 1 200 - 1 600
900 - 1 200
N
850 - 900
800 - 850
60
0 750 - 800
600 700 - 750
650 - 700 30°
30° 650 600 - 650
0

650 Sakakah
Sakakah 550 - 600
65

Daw
Dawmat
mat al
al Jandal
Jandal 500 - 550
70 450 - 500
0
650

700
700 -420 - 450
750
800

750
Tabuk
Tabuk 750
900

Jubbah
Jubbah 28°
75

28°
0

850
800

Baq'a
Baq'a
800
Tayma
Tayma Qibah
Qibah
8590

65
00

Ha'il
Ha'il
0

0
800

85
900
Main cities Buraydah
Buraydah
AL Ula
AL Ula 26°
26° Unayzah
Unayzah

Main irrigated
areas 750
Sajir
Sajir
Contour line 0 50 100 200 700
Boundary of
the Saq Project kilometre

Model extent Streamline Ad Daw


Ad Dawadimi
adimi 24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 28. Natural groundwater-head distribution and streamlines simulated in the Saq aquifer

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 52


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

- As is usually reported for such arid climate conditions, the actual recharge is very low, from 0
to 5 mm/a, except in the Qassim area where the calibration shows that higher recharge
values must be assigned, mainly in the wadi beds.
- Under natural conditions, there was probably much evaporation in the Wadi Sirhan graben
as well as in the other topographic depressions (Dawmat-al-Jandal, Sakakah, Wadi ar
Rimah, etc.). This probably explains the existence of human settlements for thousands of
years in these low areas.
- As there is very little aquifer recharge, any significant abstraction is clearly groundwater
mining, mainly by dewatering of water-saturated rock.
- The groundwater-head contour maps simulated by the model in 1983 and 2005 are in total
agreement with the maps made from field measurements done at these times. In particular,
the model very accurately reproduces the large cones of depression measured in the
irrigated perimeters of Tabuk, Qassim and Buraydah.
- The groundwater-head time series simulated by the model fit very well with the observed
time series in most of the observation wells.
- The calibrated aquifer and aquitard properties are in good agreement with the values derived
from field measurements and pumping tests, as well as with the standard values usually
reported for similar formations.
- The horizontal and vertical hydraulic-conductivity values assigned to the layers are
significantly constrained by the geometry of the aquifer system, i.e. by the hydrogeological
structure of aquifers and aquitards derived from the 3D geological model and by the ground-
elevation distribution. In particular the large thickness variations of the aquitards modulate
the spatial distribution of exchanges between the aquifers and topographic depressions and
rule the outflow distribution.
All of these elements indicate that the 2006 groundwater mathematical model is an accurate,
reliable and efficient tool for simulating the behaviour of the Saq and overlying aquifers during
the last 50 years. It is therefore suitable for use as a predictive tool for supporting new
development plans.

Figure 29 illustrates the groundwater-head contour map simulated in the Saq aquifer for the
year 2005. This map is in total agreement with the map drawn from field measurements at that
time. In particular, it very accurately reproduces the large cones of depression that are
observed below the extensive irrigated areas of the Tabuk and Qassim regions.
Comparison of the streamlines simulated for the natural state (Figure 28) and for the year and
2005 (Figure 29) shows that they have been significantly modified by the large cones of
depression already noticed in 1983 and which have gradually deepened since that time. In the
Tabuk region, the streamlines that flowed under natural conditions towards the Wadi Sirhan
graben are now drawn towards the cone of depression formed under the irrigated area; there
are no longer any streamlines flowing north as there were under natural conditions.
In the Wadi ar Rimah valley, the natural springs that create the sabkhas observed in the wadi
bed had probably disappeared by the end of the 1970s due to the fact that the streamlines were
now deviated towards the deep cone of depression under the city of Buraydah. There are no
longer any streamlines flowing towards the northeast boundary of the model as there were
under the initial natural conditions (Figure 28).
The drawdown resulting from the huge volumes of water abstracted from the Saq aquifer
between 1960 and 2005 is mapped on Figure 30. The cones of depression in the Tabuk and
Qassim regions have a considerable extension and depth: 140 m in the Tabuk region, 170 m
around Buraydah and 210 m east of Ad Dawadimi. They have more than doubled since 1983.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

48°
34° 44° 46°
36° 38° 40° 42°
32°
32° Simulated groundwater head distribution
in the Saq aquifer for 2005 (m a.s.l.)

Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat 1 200 - 1 600
900 - 1 200
N
850 - 900
800 - 850
600 750 - 800
700 - 750
650 - 700 30°
30° 600 - 650
650

0
650

65
Sakakah
Sakakah 550 - 600
Dawmat
Daw mat al
al Jandal
Jandal 500 - 550
70 450 - 500
0 -420 - 450

650
700

750
Tabuk
Tabuk
Tabuk
Jubbah
Jubbah 28°
28°
80
0 800 Baq'a
Baq'a
Baq'a

Tayma
Tayma
Tayma Qibah
Qibah
Ha'il
Ha'il

60
850 50 550

0
0

700
900

Main cities Buraydah


Buraydah
AL Ula
AL Ula 26°
26° Unayzah
Unayzah
550
Main irrigated

60
0
areas 750

Contour line Sajir


Sajir
0 50 100 200
Boundary of
the Saq Project kilometre

Model extent Streamline Daw adimi


Ad Daw
Ad adimi 24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 29. Simulated groundwater-head distribution and streamlines in the Saq aquifer for 2005

34° 48°
44° 46°
36° 38° 40° 42°
32°
32°

Simulated groundwater drawdown (m)


in the Saq aquifer from 1960 to 2005
N Al Qurayyat
Al Qurayyat
3- 30
30 - 60
60 - 90
90 - 120
120 - 150
150 - 180 30°
30°
180 - 210
Sakakah
Sakakah
210 - 240
Daw
Dawmat
mat al Jandal
al Jandal

30
60
90
3

Tabuk
Tabuk 28°
28° 3 Jubbah
Jubbah

30 Baq'a
Baq'a
60

3
30

Tayma
Tayma Qibah
Qibah
Ha'il
Ha'il
60
90
3

150

Buraydah
Buraydah
90

Main cities AL
AL Ula
Ula 120 Unayzah
Unayzah 26°
26°

Main irrigated
areas
3
30

Sajir
Sajir
60

Boundary of 0 50 100 200


the Saq Project 150
kilometre

Model extent
Contour line Ad Daw
Ad Dawadimi
adimi 24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 30. Simulated groundwater-head decline in the Saq aquifer from 1960 to 2005

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 54


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

The large cultivated areas that have been developed since the 1990s around Busayta are
largely irrigated by wells tapping the Tawil aquifer. The related high abstraction rate has
created a cone of depression around 100 km in diameter (Figure 31), the low point of which is
some 30-50 m below the initial water level (Figure 32).

34° 44° 46°


36° 38° 40° 42°
32°

Simulated groundwater head distributi

500
Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat in Tawil-Sharawra for 1960 (m a.s.l.)
N 900 to 1 050

550
450 850 to 900
750 to 800
60 60
0 0 700 to 750
500 650 to 700
30° 600 to 650
650

Sakakah
Sakakah 500 to 600
600
Daw
Dawmat
mat al
al Jandal
Jandal 400 to 500
200 to 400
60 450 to 500
70 650 0
650
750 400 to 450
0 700

85
0
Tabuk
Tabuk 0 75
85 0
28° 900
Jubbah
Jubbah Baq'a
Baq'a

Tayma
Tayma Qibah
Qibah
Ha'il
Ha'il

Main cities Buraydah


Buraydah
AL
AL Ula
Ula
26° Unayzah
Unayzah

Main irrigated 75
areas 0
Sajir
Sajir
Contour line 0 50 100 200
Boundary of
the Saq Project kilometre

Model extent Ad
Ad Daw
Dawadimi
adimi
24° Streamline
34° 44° 46°
36° 38° 40° 42°

Figure 31. Simulated groundwater-head distribution and streamlines in the Tawil-Sharawra aquifer for 2005

48°
34° 44° 46°
36° 38° 40° 42°
32°
32°

Simulated groundwater drawdown (m)


N Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat in the Tawil aquifer from 1960 to 2005
3- 20
20 - 30
30 - 40
40 - 50
30°
30°
Sakakah
Sakakah
Daw
Dawmat
mat al
al Jandal
Jandal

Jubbah
Jubbah 28°
28°
Baq'a
Baq'a

Tayma
Tayma Qibah
Qibah
Ha'il
Ha'il

Main cities AL
AL Ula
Ula Buraydah
Buraydah
Unayzah
Unayzah 26°
26°

Main irrigated
areas
Sajir
Sajir
Boundary of 0 50 100 200
the Saq Project
kilometre

Model extent Ad
Ad Daw
Dawadimi
adimi
24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 32. Simulated groundwater-head decline in the Tawil-Sharawra aquifer from 1960 to 2005

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

2.8.5 Impact of groundwater abstraction on leakage between aquifers and aquitards


Figure 33 shows the distribution of vertical leakage between aquifers and aquitards in the
modelled area, at three reference periods: natural conditions, start of the irrigation development
(1983), and the present period. The following remarks can be made:
• Natural conditions: this chart shows all leakage resulting from the Digital Elevation Model
(DEM), the geological model integrated in the groundwater mathematical model, the vertical
and horizontal distribution of hydraulic conductivity and storage coefficient, and the spatial
distribution of recharge. Vertical leakage is distributed according two trends:
- A major trend formed by upward flow from the deeper Saq aquifer to the shallowest STQ
aquifer;
- A second trend including downward flow, mainly from the STQ aquifer toward underlying
layers.
• For the 1983 period, this chart only shows the vertical leakage modified since the natural
condition up to 2005. Red figures indicate the flow values which have been significantly
modified from natural conditions. The leakage directions have not been modified, and as a
consequence the two above-mentioned trends still exist. However, any upward leakage
generally has decreased, especially that from the Saq aquifer in connection with the
development of water abstraction from this aquifer. Jauf and Tawil aquifer exploitation led
also to a reduction of the upward flow. However, this reduction is much less important than
that from the Saq aquifer because of the lower abstraction rate.

• 2005 period: as in the previous chart, vertical leakage variations since 1983 are shown in
red. Red darts show the inversion of the flow direction during the same period. The major
water withdrawal development has led to an inversion of leakage toward the Saq and Tawil
aquifers where pumping increase has been the greatest:
- Leakage from the Kahfah aquifer toward the Saq aquifer through the Hanadir aquitard
has been reversed and reaches more than 500 Mm3/a, it being around 200 Mm3/a
upward under natural conditions;
- The Jauf aquifer now leaks toward the Tawil aquifer,
- The direction of leakage between the STQ aquifer and the Tawil aquifer is also modified.

In connection with the development of groundwater abstraction, the flow pattern within the
aquifer system formed by the Saq and overlying geological formations, has been strongly
modified. The general upward leakage has been modified through a new direction of the
vertical leakage toward the most abstracted aquifers, mainly the Saq and Tawil aquifers.

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Discharge Natural conditions


1 0 STQ

52 106 31 17 67
2 Sudair

19 5 46 24 11
3 0 Khuff

32 6 12 3 53
4 Berwath

3
5 0 Jubah
50
83
6 0 Jauf
5
32
7 0 Tawil

42 163
8 Qusaiba
24
239
9 0 Quwarah
11
287
10 Ra'an
3
277
11 0 Kahfah
2
216
12 Hanadir
11
213
13 0 Saq

Abstraction Vertical leakages in 1983 - Vertical flows unchanged since natural conditions are not shown
1 79 STQ

44 17 68
2 Sudair

11
3 0 Khuff

40
4 Berwath

1 2
5 23 Jubah
51
68
6 87 Jauf

22
7 40 Tawil

37 164
8 Qusaiba
28
237
9 26 Quwarah

273
10 Ra'an

262
11 41 Kahfah

123
12 Hanadir

82
13 1820 Saq

Abstraction increase
since 1983
Vertical leakages in 2005 - Vertical flows unchanged since natural conditions are not shown
1 1245 STQ

34 74
2 Sudair

8
3 151 Khuff

40
4 Berwath

5 -12 Jubah
57
22
6 64 Jauf
23 148

7 796 Tawil

7 109
8 Qusaiba
48
157
9 96 Quwarah

81
10 Ra'an

30
11 243 Kahfah
522 3 2

12 Hanadir 5
602

13 3627 Saq

Figure 33. Time variation of vertical leakage between aquifers and aquitards
(Vertical leakage and abstraction in Mm3/a)

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

2.8.6 Conclusions
Despite real difficulties for its development due to the very large scale of the Saq Project and the
complexity of the geological context, the 2006 groundwater mathematical model appears to be
an effective tool for understanding the groundwater flow pattern in the Saq and overlying
aquifers.

The keys reasons of its accuracy and representativeness can be summed up as follows:
1. The high quality of the geological background imported from a precise 3D geological model
built with a powerful geological modeller.
2. The spatial extension of the modelled area to the actual - or remote - hydrogeological
boundaries in order to avoid arbitrary boundary conditions that could distort results.
3. The definition of a realistic groundwater conceptual model involving a stack of 13 aquifers
and aquitards. The choice of the vertical discretization, i.e. the number of layers to
differentiate in the model, is clearly a strategic decision because an inadequate layering can
definitely alter the representative value of the model.
4. An accurate reconstruction of agricultural abstraction time series in each cell of the
groundwater model by means of a complex procedure involving remote-sensing analyses,
statistics of the Ministry of Agriculture, field enquiries, database and GIS processing.

5. A long but effective calibration process verified by two sets of measured contour maps for the
years 1983 and 2005, and 59 piezometric time series covering the 1983-2005 period.

The 2006 groundwater mathematical model is now accurately calibrated and provides an
efficient and reliable decision support tool to enable the designing of a sound groundwater-
resource management plan.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 58


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 59


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

3 PRESENT STATUS OF WATER RESOURCES

3.1 Balance between abstractions and groundwater recharge


The water resources of the Saq aquifer system are abstracted from eight superimposed aquifers
which are, from bottom to top: Saq, Kahfah, Quwarah-Sarah, Tawil, Jauf, Jubah, Khuff, and STQ
(Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary complex). The Saq aquifer, the deepest one, is the only one to
be present all over the study area. The extension of the overlying aquifers decreases when
moving upward from the Saq to the Khuff aquifer. The STQ combines several aquifers and
discontinuously covers most of the Saq study area. As a result, the aquifers that are
predominantly exploited in a particular area will vary from one region to another. Figure 36
shows which aquifer is tapped by the wells used for irrigation.
Present-day groundwater abstractions in the Saq study area amount to 8,740 Mm3/a out of
which 8,430 Mm3/a are being utilised for irrigation. This estimate is consistent with the known
hydrodynamic characteristics of the aquifers and the observed groundwater-head variations.
Cereals and fodder are the predominant crops, together representing 80% of the agricultural
water abstraction. Of the total volume of groundwater used 5,515 Mm3/a (≈ 63%) are being
abstracted from the Saq Sandstone aquifer alone. At present, 96% of the groundwater
abstraction in the Saq study area is used for irrigation (Figure 34). Domestic and industrial
abstractions amount to about 310 Mm3/a, representing less than 4% of the total abstraction but
this percentage is expected to double or triple within the next 25 years.
Estimates of the renewable water resource in the Saq study area vary between 950 and
1100 Mm3/a over the entire Saq study area (= 2.5 to 3 mm/a × 378,000 km²), out of which no
more than 350 Mm3/a recharge the Saq sandstone aquifer itself.
Groundwater recharge compensates only 12% of the total annual groundwater abstraction all
over the Saq study area (Figure 35). Thus, 88% of the present abstraction is withdrawn from
non renewable groundwater. For the Saq Sandstone aquifer itself, the situation is still worse
since only 6% of the current groundwater abstraction is renewable.

3,4% year 2004/2005 year 2004/2005


0,2% 11,7%

domestic renewable

industrial
non-
agricultural renewable

88,3%
96,4%

Figure 35. Renewable groundwater resource


Figure 34. Groundwater abstractions
in the Saq study area compared
in the Saq study area for different uses
to the groundwater abstraction

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 60


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Table 14 summarizes the groundwater abstraction per province. It can be seen that abstraction
is unevenly distributed over the study area.

Table 14. Present-day groundwater abstraction per Province

Total Domestic Industrial Irrigation


population abstraction demand (*) abstraction Total % of total
Ar Riyadh 291,855 28.2 6.2 1,242.0 1,276.4 14.6%
Al Qassim 889,215 98.1 7.3 2,690.0 2,795.4 32.0%
Al Madinah 46,843 4.5 0.5 95.0 100.0 1.1%
Ha'il 368,294 40.5 0.8 1,500.0 1,541.3 17.6%
Tabuk 511,130 59.3 1.5 990.0 1,050.8 12.0%
Al Jawf 361,676 40.2 0.9 1,907.0 1,948.1 22.3%
Northern Border 196,820 22.8 0.1 9.0 31.9 0.4%
Total 2,665,833 293.6 17.2 8,433.0 8,743.8 100.00%
Percentage 3.4% 0.2% 96.4% 100.0%

(*) In the absence of precise figures on industrial abstraction, the industrial water demand is given

These abstractions, in combination with natural outflow of groundwater and limited groundwater
recharge, lead to a depletion of the water stored in the aquifer system. Under the present
conditions the depleted volume amounts to about 7,700 Mm3/a. Therefore, most of the
abstracted water originates from de-storage of the water volume contained in the aquifer system.
Under such conditions, abstraction results in large areas with depleted groundwater heads,
corresponding to the different main irrigated areas. Figure 37 shows the water-head decrease
between 1960 and 2005 for the Saq aquifer. The largest depleted area is located between
Jubah and Baq’a and the eastern limit of the study area. Northwest from Buraydah, the
drawdown exceeds 150 m and can even reach 220 m south of Sajir. Around Tabuk the
maximum drawdown reaches 120 to 150 m. Near Sakakah, and between Sakakah and Al
Qurayyat, drawdown can be as much as 60 m. Other depleted sectors are located in the vicinity
of Tayma and Al’Ula. Elsewhere, the drawdown is generally less than 3 m.

Given the fact that a large share of the abstracted groundwater originates from de-storage of
water contained in the aquifer system (i.e. groundwater mining) and not from present-day
groundwater recharge the question arises whether the depletion of groundwater levels that
occurred during the past decades is reversible.
The predictive scenarios simulated with the 2006 Mathematical Groundwater Model (see § 5.3)
help to understand the hydrodynamic behaviour of the multi-layer Saq aquifer system. They
strongly increase our global understanding of the dynamics of the system.
Because of its extraordinary size, the Saq aquifer system has enormous spatial and temporal
inertia. As a result, significant changes in groundwater abstraction affect the aquifers for
decades over tens or even hundreds of kilometres. Due to the very low aquifer recharge, the
drawdowns that have already been observed are for the most part irreversible because
withdrawals are mining groundwater reserves. Even an almost total halting of all pumping would
not result in recovery. We would only observe a readjustment (balancing) of hydraulic heads
between zones that are more or less affected by abstraction.
Model simulations (see Volume 2, Scenario 1 for further details) show that if all agricultural
abstraction stopped, the water levels would continue to decline significantly over the next
10 years, at least, in areas where the aquifer is unconfined, whereas they would rise
significantly, though without returning to initial levels, in areas where the aquifer is confined.
These evolutions would be the result of hydraulic exchanges between zones with different
drawdowns, groundwater flowing from less depleted zones to more depleted zones.

Ministry of Water and Electricity – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 61


Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

32°
32°
32°
32°
32°
32°

Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat

Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar

0
00
00
0 10
10
10000 20
20
20000

Ki
Ki
Kilo
lo
lometre
m
metre
etresss

30°
30°
30°
30°
30°
30°
Sakaka
Sakaka
Sakakahhh

TT
TTT
Tab
ab
ab
abuk
ab
abuk
uk
uk
uk
uk

28°
28°
28°
28°
28°
28°
Baq
Baq
Baq'a
Baq
Baq
Baq 'a
'a
'a
'a
'a

TTTaym
aym
aymaaa
Ha'i
Ha'i
Ha'illllll
Ha'i
Ha'i
Ha'i

Al
Al
Al
Al''''''Ul
Al
Al Ul
Ul
Ula
Ul
Ul aa
aa
a
Burayd
Burayd
Burayd
Buraydah
Burayd
Burayd ah
ah
ah
ah
ah
Una
Una
Unayza
Una
Una
Una yza
yza
yzah
yza
yzahh
hh
h
26°
26°
26°
26°
26°
26° LEGEND
formation tapped Other features
Secondary_Tertiary_Quaternary (1068) major tow n
Khuff (38) minor tow n
Unayzah (5) highw ay As
As
AsSaj
As
As
As Saj
Saj
Sajiiiiiirrrrrr
Saj
Saj
Berw ath (3)
main road
Jubah (31)
Jauf (130) secondary road
Taw il (877)
Quw arah_Sarah (39) Saq study area
Ad
Ad Duwa
Ad
Ad
Ad Duwa
Duwadami
Duwa
Duwa dami
damii
dam
dami
Kahfah (134)
Saq (2066)
24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35° 45°
45°
45°
45°
45°
45°
37°
37°
37°
37°
37°
37° 39°
39°
39°
39°
39°
39° 41°
41°
41° 43°
43°
43°
43°
43°
43°
41°
41°
41°

Figure 36. Location of wells used for irrigation with tapped aquifer

62
Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

32°
32°
32°
32°
32°
32°

drawdown (m)
period 1960 - 2005 .

Al
Al Qurayyat
Al
Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat 3- 30
30 - 60
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar 60 - 90
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
90 - 120
000 10
100
10
10
10
10 00
000 20
200
20
20
20
20 00
000 120 - 150
150 - 180
Ki
Kilo
Ki
Ki
Ki
Ki lo
lom
lo
lo
lomm
metre
etressssss
etre
metre
metre
etre 180 - 210
30°
30°
30°
Sakaka
Sakaka
Sakaka
Sakakah
Sakaka
Sakaka hh
hh
h

30
60
90
3
TTT
TTTab
ab
abuk
ab
ab
ab uk
uk
uk
uk
uk

28°
28°
28°
28°
28°
28° 3
Baq
Baq'a
Baq 'a
'a
30

60
3 TTT
TTTaym
aym
ayma
aym
aym
aym aa
aaa

30
Ha'i
Ha'illllll
Ha'i
Ha'i
Ha'i
Ha'i

60
90
3

150
Al
Al
Al''''''Ul
Al
Al
Al Ul
Ul
Ula
Ul
Ul aa
aa
a

90
Burayd
Burayd
Burayd
Burayd
Burayd ah
ah
Buraydah
ah
ah
ah
120
Una
Unayza
Una yza
yzahhh
26°
26°
26°
26°
26°
26° LEGEND
w ater supply w ell
tapping Saq aquifer

3
Other features

30
As
As
As
As
As Saj
Saj
Sajiiiiiirrrrrr
AsSaj
Saj
Saj
major tow n

60
minor tow n

boundary of Saq area Ad


Ad Duwa
Ad
Ad
Ad
Ad Duwadam
Duwa
Duwa
Duwa damiiii
dam
dam
dami

24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35° 37°
37°
37° 45°
45°
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37°
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37° 39°
39°
39°
39°
39°
39° 41°
41°
41°
41°
41°
41° 43°
43°
43°
43°
43°
43°

Figure 37. Simulated groundwater-head depletion in the Saq aquifer and location of water-supply wells (decline in metres from 1960 to 2005)

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3.2 Influence of the water-table decline on water-supply wells


From the order-of-magnitude difference between irrigation-water and water-supply abstractions
for domestic and industrial use (Table 14) it can be deducted that the water-table decline
observed in the Saq study area is mainly due to agricultural development. This section
assesses the impact of the water-table decline on wells and well-fields used for water supply.
Among the 5,060 inventoried wells for which the tapped aquifer could be identified, 447 wells
are in use for domestic water supply. Their locations are shown on Figure 38. Among them,
260 tap the Saq aquifer and the remaining 187 wells tap one of the 10 identified overlying
aquifers: STQ, Khuff, Unayzah, Berwath, Jubah, Jauf, Tawil and Sharawrah, Quwarah-Sarah,
and Kahfah aquifer, depending on the sector within the study area.

Comparison with Figure 36 shows that a minority of these wells is located outside the major
irrigated areas, as is the case for the water-supply wells tapping the STQ aquifer near the
northeastern border of the Saq study area, or those tapping the Saq aquifer south of Tayma.
Most water-supply wells are located within the irrigated areas:
− in the Buraydah area: the Quwarah-Sarah and Kahfah aquifers;
− along the Qassim and Riyadh border: the STQ aquifer where the Saq aquifer is absent;
− in the As Sajir Area: the Khuff aquifer;
− north of Tayma: the Quwarah-Sarah aquifer;
− in the Tabuk area: the Kahfah aquifer;
− in the Sakakah area: the Jubah, Jauf, and Tawil aquifers;
− along Wadi Sirhan: the STQ aquifer.

Consequently, most of the drinking water wells are located in areas where a significant water-
table decline of the Saq aquifer occurred since 1960, in connection with the agricultural
development. A few wells are sited between Tayma, Al’Ula and Ha’il, where the water-table
decline is still less than 3 m.
Figure 39 shows the frequency distribution of the water-table decline that occurred near the
260 water-supply wells tapping the Saq aquifer (blue line). These values reflect the drop of the
static water level in the area around the well but not of the dynamic levels due to pumping in the
well itself. It can be observed that for 50% of these water-supply wells the simulated water-
table decline in the well exceeds 73 m (median decline value). For 10% of these wells, the
decline exceeds even 185 m and the maximum simulated water-table decline reaches 200 m.
In only about 10% of water-supply wells tapping the Saq aquifer, the regional water-level
decline is less than 10 m.
The most influenced wells are located in the Qassim and Ha’il regions where water abstraction
for agriculture historically is the oldest and most important within the study area. The lesser
impact on water-supply wells, noted in the Tabuk and Jawf regions, is linked to a lesser scale of
abstraction that moreover has started more recently.

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32°
32°
32°
32°
32°
32°

Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Al
Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat
Qurayyat

Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar
Ar'Ar

000 10
100
10
10
10
10 00
000 20
200
20
20
20
20 00
000

Ki
Ki
Kilo
Ki
Ki
Ki lo
lo
lometre
lo
lometre
m
metre
m
m etre
etressssss
etre

30°
30°
30°
30°
30°
30°
Sakaka
Sakakah
Sakaka
Sakaka
Sakaka
Sakaka hh
hhh

TT
TTT
Tab
ab
ab
abuk
ab
abuk
uk
uk
uk
uk

28°
28°
28°
28°
28°
28°
Baq
Baq
Baq'a
'a
'a

TTT
TTTaym
aym
ayma
aym
ayma
aym aa
aa
Ha'i
Ha'i
Ha'illl

Al
Al''''''Ul
Al
Al
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Al Ula
Ul
Ul
Ul a
aaa

Burayd
Burayd
Burayd
Burayd
Burayd ah
Buraydah
ah
ah
ah
ah

26°
26°
26°
26°
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26°
LEGEND Una
Una
Unayza
Una
Una
Una yza
yza
yzah
yza
yzahh
hh
h
formation tapped
Other features
Secondary_Tertiary_Quaternary (88) major tow n
Khuff (17)
Unayzah (1) minor tow n
Berw ath (6) highw ay As
AsSaj
As
As
As
As Sajiiiiiirrrrrr
Saj
Saj
Saj
Saj
Jubah (18) main road
Jauf (13)
secondary road
Taw il (15)
Quw arah_Sarah (6)
Saq study area
Kahfah (19) Ad
Ad
Ad Duwa
Duwa
Duwadam
dami
dami i
Saq (260)
Basement (4)
24°
24°
24°
24°
24°
35°
35°
35°
35°
35° 45°
45°
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37°
37°
37°
37°
37°
37° 39°
39°
39° 41°
41°
41° 43°
43°
43°
41°
41°
41°

Figure 38. Location of wells used for domestic water supply with tapped aquifer

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250
STQ
Khuff
Jubah
Jauf
Tawil/Sharawra
200
Quwarah/Sarah
Kahfah
Saq
drawdown in vicinity of well (m)

150

wells tapping
Saq aquifer

100

50
wells tapping
other aquifers

0
0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%
percentage of wells
Figure 39. Simulated groundwater-head decline between 1960 and 2005 in inventoried water-supply wells.
Percentages are given for two groups of wells: those tapping the Saq aquifer and all remaining wells

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3.3 Existing groundwater reserve


The previous two sections underline the existing imbalance between groundwater abstractions
and groundwater recharge and its impact on water supply wells and well-fields. This imbalance
results in a continuing decline of the water levels of the main aquifers in large parts of the study
area. The groundwater mathematical model has been used to evaluate the status of the
groundwater reserves.
The volumes of groundwater stored in the various aquifer formations of the Saq multi-layer
system are enormous. However, the fact that the maximum discharge head of the pumps
equipping most water wells used for irrigation does not exceed 1000 ft (≈ 300 m) significantly
limits the volumes that are actually exploitable. Indeed, it means that most of the exploitable
groundwater is located in the upper layers of the aquifers. Considering the difference between
the dynamic water level in a well during the irrigation season and the average static
groundwater level in the region, the exploitable groundwater reserve is limited to the water
present in the aquifers up to a depth of 250 m bgl (see Volume 2 for further details).
The model simulations (scenario 10) show that 25% of the exploitable reserves in the Saq
aquifer and 4% of those of the Tawil aquifer had already been abstracted in 2005. By 2055,
these percentages will have increased considerably, to 62% of exploitable reserves in the Saq
aquifer and 20% of those in the Tawil. The groundwater-reserve exploitation percentages given
above correspond to average values calculated for the overall Saq and Tawil aquifers. In detail,
however, there is a strong spatial disparity between exploited areas, based on their geographic
location and pumping density. For instance, in the Qassim area, that has been intensively
irrigated for quite a long period, the reserve-exploitation figure for the Saq aquifer in 2005 was
29%, a value that should increase to 71% in 2055.
In the most heavily pumped areas, around Buraydah and Unayzah and between Ad Dawadimi
and Sajir, the reserve-exploitation percentages are even higher, around 30% in 2005 and 85%
in 2055. It should also be kept in mind that the flowrates extracted from the Saq aquifer will
reduce very strongly long before the exploitable reserves are exhausted. Model simulations
show that the volumes tapped from the Saq aquifer will begin significantly to diminish around
2010-2015 and by 2055 will have dropped by 30% to 60% on average. In the Qassim area, the
reduction in flowrates will reach 45% to 70% by 2055 and in the most intensely pumped areas,
especially around Buraydah, Unayzah and east of Ad Dawadimi, such reductions may reach
50% to 80%.

The water-table decline affecting water-supply wells tapping the other aquifers is also shown in
Figure 39. Among these wells, those most affected show an 80-m drop of the static water level.
The aquifers witnessing a drop of more than 50 m are:
− the Kahfah aquifer in the Tabuk and Buraydah areas,

− the Quwarah-Sarah aquifer near Buraydah,


− the Khuff aquifer near Sajir,
− a few wells tapping the Tawil aquifer near Dawmat al Jandal, and
− the STQ aquifer east of Buraydah.
To a lesser extent, the Jauf aquifer near Sakakah and the STQ aquifer in the Busayta area are
also concerned.

All these aquifers are stressed by irrigation pumping or, in the case of the Kahfah aquifer, by
downward leakage induced by pumping from the underlying Saq aquifer.

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In 60% of the wells tapping the aquifers overlying the Saq aquifer, little or no decline in water
levels (less than 10 m) has been observed between 1960 and 2005. These wells are all located
in areas with little or no agricultural activity.
In conclusion, it appears that the aquifers overlying the Saq aquifer are more preserved from
the general water-table decline. However, even in these aquifers the influence of irrigation
abstraction is significant in the Buraydah and Tabuk sectors. The same situation is locally
observed in the Al Jawf region in wells tapping the Tawil and Jauf aquifers.

3.4 Impact of abstraction on groundwater quality


As far as major ions and trace elements are concerned, no significant changes in groundwater
quality have been identified since 1985 despite the strong development of pumping for
agriculture uses. This result has been obtained by considering each species separately, as well
as the total dissolved content.
The same comparison is not possible for radioactive isotopes such as Ra-226, Ra-228 and
Rn-222, as they were not measured during the former 1985 project. Rn-222 is a gas and forms
a qualitative constraint for groundwater use as its degassing occurs when the water is brought
to surface. This is not the case of the radium isotopes. The present distribution of these
isotopes shows a constant link with water-table decline as high contents are linked to major
water-abstraction areas. Hypotheses on their origin have been set forth in connection with the
natural presence of such isotopes in clay lenses or in rocks like the Hanadir shale. The
increase of vertical leakage toward strongly pumped aquifers probably led to leaching of the
radium included in the shale into these aquifers. Presently, the depth over which such a
contamination occurs is not known.

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4 CONSTRAINTS ON GROUNDWATER USE

Based on the analysis of the present groundwater situation in the Saq study area, a number of
constraints can be identified when considering future use of groundwater in the area.

4.1 Aquifer exploitability


Volume 9 of this report presents the lateral and vertical extension of each aquifer of the Saq
aquifer system. With the exception of the Saq aquifer, none of the aquifers is present below the
entire study area. But even where an aquifer is present at depth, this does not mean that it can
be easily pumped. There are physical and economical limits that have to be considered when
planning future groundwater use. These limits are enumerated below.
Depth to top of aquifer. Figure 12 shows the extension of the Saq aquifer and the location of
wells tapping this layer. The figure also indicates the depth to the top of the aquifer. In areas
where the aquifer formation is exposed, the drilling of wells is easy but the resource is also most
vulnerable. Salinity levels in the Saq aquifer are also higher in outcrop areas, especially near
the main wadi channels. Areas where the aquifer is confined provide a better groundwater
protection and, for the Saq, in generally lower salinity levels. In areas where the top of the
aquifer is situated below 1,000 m depth, drilling into the aquifer becomes costly for many private
users but no main technical obstacle exists to tap aquifers at such a depth. Once the aquifer is
situated at a depth below 2,500 m it can be considered as inaccessible to standard water wells.
The depth range from 1,000 to 2,500 m represents in fact an interesting target area for drinking
water wells because few private wells exploit the aquifer at such a depth.
Thickness of aquifer. Depending on the thickness of the aquifer its exploitation becomes
more or less interesting. In case of unconfined aquifers the wetted thickness of the aquifer has
to be considered. Thin aquifers are more vulnerable to the interruption of production due to
overexploitation because, in the absence of any significant groundwater recharge, groundwater
levels will inevitably drop and dynamic levels will reach more rapidly the bottom of the aquifer.
Permeability. The hydraulic permeability, in combination with aquifer thickness, is a measure
for the aquifer productivity and determines the drawdown resulting from future groundwater
abstractions. Therefore, high permeability levels have a positive impact on the lifetime of
projected exploitations.

4.2 Declining groundwater levels


As shown on Figure 23, the groundwater pumping for irrigation has increased tremendously
between 1980 and 2003. Since agricultural abstractions make up 96% of the total groundwater
draft (Table 14), it can be safely said that the overall groundwater abstraction has increased.
Figure 24 shows that the evolution of groundwater pumping has not been the same for all
regions.
Such large-scale pumping has resulted in declining groundwater levels in some aquifers and in
some parts of the study area. Due to the uneven distribution of abstractions among regions and
among aquifers, the evolution of groundwater levels is equally variable. Figure 37 presents the
groundwater-head depletion in the Saq aquifer from 1960 to 2005, showing that the depletion is
not homogeneously distributed. Similar differences can be observed in the overlying aquifers.
Due to different periods of agricultural development, the groundwater-head decline has not
followed the same pattern over time in different regions. Figure 40, Figure 41 and Figure 42
show the evolution of groundwater levels in piezometers in, respectively, the Qassim, Tabuk
and Al Jawf regions (location of wells is shown on Plate 5 and Plate 6).

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Figure 40. Evolution of groundwater head in two observation wells in the Qassim region

Figure 41. Evolution of groundwater head in two observation wells in the Tabuk region

Figure 42. Evolution of groundwater head in two observation wells in the Al Jawf region

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Depending on the aquifer characteristics and the distance of the observation well to the main
irrigated areas, the decline is more or less steep. Also, the decline in the Qassim region has
started in the early 1980s, in the Tabuk region in the mid-1980s and in the Al Jawf region in the
early 1990s.
In the absence of a change in groundwater abstraction patterns, the groundwater-head decline
will continue. Figure 46 shows the projected decline of groundwater levels in the Saq aquifer
from 2005 to 2055 in case the present pumping rates are maintained. It can be observed that in
this case groundwater levels west of Buraydah and Unayzah will drop by an additional 60 to
100 m. Even if groundwater abstraction would be stopped, the levels would continue to drop in
areas around the present-day depressions, due to the large scale of the aquifer system and the
delay in adjustment of groundwater levels to outside stresses.

A major decline in water levels makes exploitation of groundwater resources more difficult, more
costly and sometimes impossible. When assessing the feasibility of constructing a new well-
field, the projected groundwater decline in the region should be considered in addition to the
drawdown caused by the well-field itself. The most dramatic consequences resulting from
groundwater-level decline are the drying up of the aquifer when dynamic levels reach the
bottom of the aquifer layer. Other, less dramatic, consequences can be the need for drilling
new wells when the dynamic level drops below the deepest possible depth for installing a pump,
for example when a reduction in diameter of the well is encountered. But even if the decline
does not reach such extremes, the groundwater exploitation becomes more difficult due to
reduced yield and increased pump and energy costs for lifting the water. For these reasons, the
projected regional groundwater-level decline should be considered as a constraint in planning
future development scenarios.
When considering future groundwater abstraction for domestic water supply, the selection of
sites for new well-fields should consider not only the already observed decline, but also the
projected decline for the period 2005-2055. Although different scenarios can be envisaged and
future measures might be adopted that lower the pressure on the groundwater resources, it
appears to be realistic to consider a baseline scenario that maintains the actual pumping rates.
Based on the simulated groundwater decline, areas can be identified that are the least disturbed
by existing abstraction, with a groundwater decline of less than 10 m, and those areas that are
most affected with a decline of more than 50 m.

4.3 Water quality problems


When considering WHO guidelines, some chemical elements dissolved in groundwater form a
constraint for water supply.
Boron has only been measured during the previous Saq project (1985). Its content exceeds
the WHO guideline of 0.5 mg/l in 46% of the 2,719 samples. In the Alluvium, STQ and Khuff
aquifers, this percentage ranges between 71 and 86%; it is 50% in the Kahfah, Quwarah-Sarah
and Jubah-Jauf aquifers, 42% in the basement, 37% in the Saq and 19% in the Tawil
(Figure 43). High boron levels are mostly encountered in groundwater with high salinity levels,
as in Wadi Sirhan and Wadi ar Rimah, but also in the Khuff and STQ in eastern Qassim.
These percentages found in a significant number of samples can be considered as
representative of the distribution of this species within the groundwater of the study area.
Therefore, boron is to be considered as a major constraint in the use of groundwater for water
supply, in almost all the drilled areas.

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100%

90%

80%
N° of samples exceeding 0.5 mg/l

70%

60%

50%

103
40%
28 333

30%
244 68 235
20% 19
1408

10% 105

0%
Alluvium STQ Khuff Jubah-Jauf Tawil Quwarah- Kahfah Saq Basement
Sarah
Aquifers
(Total number of samples)

Figure 43. Occurrence of samples with a boron content exceeding WHO guidelines

Selenium has been measured during the present project in 58 samples collected from wells.
The results can be considered as indicative: 26% of the collected samples show a content
exceeding the WHO guideline of 10 µg/l. The sampled aquifers were Jubah-Jauf, Tawil-
Sharawra, Kahfah, Saq and alluvium overlying the Shield. Samples exceeding the guideline
were found in the Kahfah aquifer in the Qassim region, in the Saq aquifer in the Qassim region,
and in the basement in the Qassim and Ha’il regions. About half of the 21 samples collected in
the Saq aquifer in the Qassim region have a selenium content exceeding the guideline.
Selenium does not seem to be as common in groundwater as boron, but not all aquifers have
been sampled.
Presently no general link can be identified between nitrate-content distribution in groundwater
and agriculture. The findings of the present project seem to confirm previously published
results: 21% of the 2,736 collected samples have nitrate contents over the maximum of 50 mg/l.
This percentage reaches 59% in the Khuff aquifer, 38% in the alluvium, 27% in the basement,
25% in the Saq aquifer, 14% in the STQ and Quwarah-Sarah aquifers, 12% in the Kahfah, 6%
in the Jubah and Jauf aquifers, and 3% in the Tawil.
The status of aquifers – i.e. confined or unconfined – and the depth of the well are important
factors influencing the nitrate-content distribution. Most of the highest contents are observed in
wells tapping unconfined aquifers at depths less than 150 m.
Besides this general trend, local contamination is characterized by:
- Much higher values than in the wells located in the same area in unconfined aquifers;
- Significant values in confined aquifers.
Such contamination can be attributed to different causes, such as:
- Inappropriate completion of well heads and improper surface cementation, as well as
storage of used agrochemical packaging in the vicinity of the well;
- Absence of check valves preventing the fertilizer to flow back into the well through the
discharge pipe;
- Wells without casing or adequate cementation; when pumping, downward leakage can occur
from an overlying unconfined aquifer down to the main aquifer.
Such wells can be a threat for nearby urban water-supply wells.

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When considering future groundwater abstraction, quality constraints should be considered.


Areas with high TDS, or boron or nitrate levels above the WHO guidelines do not have to be
excluded when installing new water-supply wells, but adequate treatment should be included in
the installation budget. For the selection of sites, favourable areas can be identified where none
of the guideline values are exceeded. Further distinction can be made between areas where
only one guideline value is exceeded and those where several such thresholds are exceeded.

4.4 Presence of radioelements


The most alarming impact of groundwater abstraction on groundwater quality, however, is
related to the presence of radio-nuclides. Figure 18 shows the location of wells with radio-
isotope levels exceeding WHO guidelines. It can be observed that high levels of radioelements
exist in the different parts of the study area. As the presence of radioelements in groundwater
depends on the presence of radioelements in the geological formations, and on hydrogeological
and hydrogeochemical conditions allowing these elements to be mobilized in the water
contained in these formations, the problem of the groundwater radioactive contamination
observed in the Saq study area is complex and probably widespread. It must be studied as
soon as possible because of its potential critical consequences.
Among the different radioactive isotopes analysed, radon (Rn-222) does not form a major
constraint for groundwater use if the water is used after degassing of radon.
The presence of uranium in groundwater can be a problem when exploiting unconfined parts of
some aquifers, because uranium can be mobilized in water under oxidizing conditions. Uranium
levels exceeding the WHO guidance level of 15 µg/l were found in wells tapping unconfined
parts of the Saq aquifer in the Qassim and Tabuk regions, or in alluvium in contact with the
Arabian Shield rocks. Uranium levels below the guidance value were also encountered in
unconfined parts of Kahfah aquifer and in Wadi Sirhan and the Sakakah region.

The most common radioelements are the radium isotopes Ra-226 and Ra-228. Levels
exceeding the guidance value are only encountered in confined parts of some aquifers. High
Ra-226 values are found in the Saq and Kahfah aquifers in parts of the Qassim and Tabuk
regions. High Ra-228 values are even more widespread and occur in the Saq and Kahfah
aquifers in the Qassim, Ha’il, Tayma and Tabuk regions.
Since the presence of radioelements depends on a specific combination of geological and
hydrogeological conditions, the measured concentrations may vary considerably among wells
tapping the same aquifer. Radioelements present in groundwater may originate from the
basement rock, from shale layers like the Hanadir and Ra’an members in the Qasim Formation,
but also from specific horizons rich in radionuclides within the Saq and Kahfah sandstones or
within phosphates bearing formations. The radioelements are present in these layers since the
time of deposition of the sediments that make up these formations, and are retained by the rock
particles of these formations.
Under reducing hydrochemical conditions, radium isotopes can be mobilized from the solid
phase into the pore water enclosed in these horizons and subsequently be drained out of these
formations. Water is thus the essential vector in the mobilization process. The hydraulic
permeability of shale layers is very low and under natural (undisturbed) conditions the flow from
shale layers to aquifer layers is small. However, once the pressure in the aquifer layers drops
as a result of groundwater abstraction, the water trapped in shale layers may be mobilized.
The level of radioactive isotopes present in groundwater may thus vary with time. Even though
the mechanisms of radionuclide mobilization need further study, a steep water-level decline
seems to induce a gradual radionuclide contamination of several aquifers, including the Saq,

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ultimately rendering the groundwater unfit for both human consumption and agricultural use.
The top map of Figure 44 shows the groundwater decline of the Saq aquifer in the Qassim
region from 1960 to 2005 and the total radium level measured in wells. Areas that have
witnessed a steep groundwater decline show the highest radionuclide activities, often exceeding
WHO guidance levels. As such groundwater quality deterioration is mostly irreversible, it is
imperative to drastically reduce abstraction in the main agricultural areas so as to avoid any
steep decline of the groundwater levels.
The bottom graph of Figure 44 shows the total radium content (Ra-226 + Ra-228) of
groundwater samples of the Saq and Kahfah aquifers in the Qassim and Ha’il regions, against
the total drawdown observed in the vicinity of the sampled well. Not surprisingly, high radium
levels are found in wells tapping the confined part of the aquifers and it can be noted that
radium levels increase with increasing drawdown.
According to this analysis radioelement levels in groundwater may increase as long as dynamic
levels will not have been stabilized. After such stabilization, radioelement levels in groundwater
may continue to increase till the stabilization of pressure between aquifer and aquitard. After
this second stabilization, the radioelement levels would possibly begin to decrease.
The potential presence of radioelements is thus a constraint when considering future
groundwater abstraction from aquifers that are delimited by, or include, layers containing
radioelements. Based on present-day knowledge of the study area, the aquifers showing the
highest percentage of wells with radioelement levels exceeding guidance values are the Saq,
Kahfah, and alluvium on top of Shield rocks. A few wells tapping the Quwarah, Tawil, Jauf and
Jubah aquifers show also a presence of Ra-228. In the Saq and Kahfah aquifers in particular,
the level of radioelements may increase with time once groundwater levels drop significantly
due to aquifer exploitation.
Present-day knowledge does not allow to delineate precisely the lateral and vertical extent of
aquifer layers that may become contaminated by radioelements, or to determine which
maximum drawdown value may still be acceptable. It can, however, be safely assumed that
avoiding a steep drawdown in the Saq and Kahfah aquifers in areas where new groundwater
abstraction is envisaged reduces the risk of mobilizing radioelements and contaminating parts
of these aquifers that at present are not yet contaminated.
When planning future groundwater development, different groundwater zones can be identified
with respect to the risk of radioelement contamination:
• Aquifers already showing radioelement levels exceeding the guideline values;
• Aquifers where radioelements are below the guideline values, but which have witnessed
a sharp decline in groundwater levels;
• Aquifers where radioelements are below the guideline values and little or no decline of
groundwater levels has occurred.

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10
confined
9 unconfined
envelope

8
Total radium content (Bq/l)

0
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
Water-table decline (m)

Figure 44. Total radium content of Saq groundwater vs. water-level decline over the
period 1960 – 2005 (Qassim and Ha’il regions)

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of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

5 STRATEGIES IN GROUNDWATER MANAGEMENT

5.1 Possible lines of action


Guidelines for the safety of water supply can be deduced from the constraints discussed above.
Quantitative aspects and qualitative aspects are reviewed below.

5.1.1 Quantitative aspects


In the Saq study area, water tables show a general declining trend in connection with the limited
recharge and the amount of water abstracted mainly for irrigation. Therefore the guidelines for
the siting of new water-supply wells and well-fields should include:
- Minimize interference from irrigation wells, either through avoiding the vicinity of such wells
or through exploiting aquifers where irrigation-water abstraction is moderate.
- Minimize the interference between water-supply wells within a well-field, through observing
an adequate well spacing.

- Take into consideration cross-border interference, which may occur in the northern part of
the study area.

5.1.2 Qualitative aspects


The most common types of contamination observed are linked to the trace elements boron and
selenium, nitrate, and radio-isotopes.

Most of the observed nitrate contents seem to be of natural origin, the highest contents
occurring in unconfined aquifers or sectors of aquifers. However, in the corresponding areas
contents decrease with depth. Such a condition seems to be encountered in all aquifers.

However, the presence in groundwater of nitrate from agrochemicals can also be detected
through the presence of abnormal contents in wells tapping confined aquifers. Such
contamination occurs through the wells themselves as explained above. Such hot spots are
easily identifiable in confined aquifers, which normally contain little or no nitrate. Such
contamination can also exist in unconfined aquifers, but here it will be overshadowed by the
natural nitrate content. This condition should help to avoid locating water-supply wells tapping
such contaminated aquifers between irrigation well or in the vicinity of irrigated perimeters.
Radium is a major constraint for water supply. The exact origin and physical mechanisms
controlling such contamination are not completely understood. However, the present project
results points at a relationship between major drawdown and high radium content. Therefore, a
general guideline to minimize this risk is to avoid drilling water-supply wells in parts of an aquifer
already affected by significant water-table decline, or which will be affected by such a
phenomenon.
As a consequence, water-supply wells for population in agricultural areas should, wherever
possible, tap aquifers located above the aquifer mainly pumped for irrigation. Such a condition
can be fairly easily met, as irrigation wells mostly pump water from highly productive aquifers
because of the required amounts of water. Less favourable hydrodynamic conditions would not
be a major constraint for water-supply abstraction.
Reducing a potential water-table decline caused by a water-supply well-field is also to be
considered. The design of such a well-field should include a well spacing that minimizes the
interference between wells.

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5.2 Short-term versus long-term approach


Based on the constraints described in the previous sections, future groundwater-development
scenarios can be defined and tested with the groundwater mathematical model. These
scenarios include both the implementation of new water-supply projects as well as the
implementation of policies influencing existing groundwater abstraction, either directly or
indirectly.
Some actions can easily be incorporated in water supply projects implemented by the MoWE.
Other actions require participation by other government agencies or authorities, and might even
require policy changes or new laws. These actions require more time to be implemented. For
this reason, possible actions are divided into “short-term” and “long-term”.

5.2.1 Short- to medium-term approach


A number of “short-term” and “medium-term” actions can be envisaged, aiming at extending the
life-time of existing well-fields and water-supply wells:
• Construction of new well-fields in “safe” areas of the Saq aquifer;
• Construction of new well-fields in the Tawil, Jauf and Jubah aquifers;
• Strategic study on the mobilization of radioelements;
• Promotion of waste-water re-use in all cities;
• Definition of protection zones around well-fields, and the reduction and ultimate stopping
of agricultural activity in these areas;
• Definition of protection zones where no groundwater development can take place for
agricultural or industrial use, and reservation of these zones for water-supply projects.
Examples of such an area can be the Nafud desert (Plate 1) or parts of the Saq outcrops
south of Tayma.

5.2.2 Long-term approach


Other actions require policy changes and cannot be implemented on a short-term basis. These
actions may, however, have the most significant impact on the situation of the groundwater
resources of the Saq study area:
• Prevent the development of new agricultural areas outside existing areas;
• Declare the Saq and possibly the Tawil as strategic aquifers with priority for water supply;
• Promote water-reduction measures in agriculture;
• Introduce water meters for all private wells.

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of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

5.3 Modelling Scenarios

5.3.1 Scope of predictive modelling scenarios


Volume 2 of the report presents eleven predictive scenarios simulated with the groundwater
mathematical model in order to evaluate the foreseeable impact over the next 50 years of new
groundwater-abstraction projects.
1. Scenarios 1 and 10 aimed to enhance the understanding and evaluation of the
groundwater potential in the Saq multi-layer system and have been presented in Chapter 3
of this report. The other modelling scenarios, evaluating each the impact of some specific
groundwater management action, are described below.
2. Scenario 2, considered as the baseline scenario, simulates the continuation of agricultural
pumping at the current rate along with a continuous and steady 2.46% annual increase of
domestic and industrial abstraction. The objective is to calculate the groundwater-head
decline that would theoretically occur between now and 2055.
3. Scenario 3 simulates the same evolution as the baseline Scenario 2 for agricultural,
domestic and industrial abstraction until 2055. Against this background, it compares the
effects of different development plans north of Tabuk, with new domestic water-supply and
irrigation well-fields both in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
4. Scenario 4 is similar to Scenario 2, but is more realistic because it takes into account the
maximum discharge head of the pumps commonly used for groundwater abstraction. This
additional operation is made with the “cut-off depth” function, a dynamic optimization of the
pumping rates. These are automatically adjusted so that the water table complies with a
minimum water-level constraint attributed to one, several or all of the grid cells in one,
several or all of the aquifers. Seven different cut-off depths are simulated, one every 25 m
between 150 and 300 mbgl. Furthermore, Scenario 4 takes into account the three
correction factors that separate the drawdown simulated by the groundwater model from the
actual drawdown in the pumping wells.
5. As Scenario 2 shows that the water level declines, which already affect vast areas in the
Saq and Tawil aquifers, will continue to spread and will, over the medium-term, reach all of
the Saq Project area, Scenario 5 identifies the sectors that are the most favourable for the
siting of new well fields to supply drinking water to major urban areas.
6. In order to reduce drawdowns around domestic wells, Scenario 6 simulates the impact of
an immediate 50% reduction in agricultural abstraction in zones of restricted pumping
around domestic wells. Three widths are simulated for these protection zones. In the
model, they occupy the width of one, two, or three grid cells around each domestic well, i.e.
they cover equivalent circles of 2.5, 4.1 and 5.6 km radii.
7. Scenario 7, like Scenario 2, simulates a continuous and steady 2.46% annual increase in
domestic and industrial pumping from 2005 to 2055. Agricultural abstraction, however,
does not remain constant over the entire period. It is assumed to be stable from 2005 to
2011, then to progressively decrease 50% from 2012 to 2022, at a steady -9.3% per year.
Thereafter, it remains steady at the new rate until 2055.
8. Scenario 8 simulates the same basic evolution as Scenario 2 for agricultural, domestic and
industrial abstraction. Against this background, four different cropping patterns are
evaluated, all leading to significant reductions in agricultural abstraction. The first three test
the effects of massive abstraction reduction through: i) replacement of alfalfa crops by
wheat, ii) suppression of alfalfa crops and the laying fallow of the corresponding surfaces;
iii) wheat crops stopped with no substitution by any culture. The fourth pattern, defined by

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

the MOA, corresponds to a progressive change in farming practices, varying according to


provinces and crops.
9. Scenario 9 simulates the impact on the regional groundwater levels of additional
abstraction in view of the future mining of phosphate near the town of Hazm Al-Jalamid in
the northern part of the Saq Project area. Here, further groundwater abstractions of up to
10.4 Mm3/year will be required.
10. Scenario 10 estimates the groundwater reserves in the Saq aquifer system. As already
mentioned, its results have been presented in Chapter 3 and particularly in section 3.3.

11. Scenario 11 aims at defining the conditions of agricultural demand that could reduce the
water-table decline over the next decades with the objective of preserving as sustainable a
groundwater exploitation as possible in terms of both quantity and quality.

5.3.2 Main results of the predictive scenarios


The 11 predictive scenarios simulated with the 2006 Mathematical Groundwater Model are very
complementary since each highlights a particular aspect of the hydrodynamic behaviour of the
multi-layer Saq aquifer system. As a synthesis, the information provided by these various
scenarios can be summarized as follows.
Scenario 2 simulates a continuation of agricultural abstraction at 2003 rates and a steady
annual 2.46% increase in domestic and industrial abstraction. The resulting drawdowns are
between 50 and 150 m in the Saq and Kahfah aquifers over the next 50 years, from 2005 to
2055 (see Figure 45 and Figure 46). These drawdowns will be in addition to those already
observed in the aquifers since 1960, which reached 135 m in the Tabuk area and 215 m in the
Qassim region. The cumulative drawdowns in the Saq and Kahfah aquifers between 1960 and
2055 could therefore exceed 300 m in the Qassim region by 2055.

34° 48°
36° 44° 46°
38° 40° 42°
32°
32°

Simulated groundwater decline (m)


Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat in the Saq aquifer from 2005 to 2055
1 to 25
25 to 50
50 to 75
75 to 100
30°
100 to 125 30°
125 to 150
Sakakah
Sakakah
25
25
25
25
25 150 to 175
Daw
Dawmat
mat al
al Jandal
Jandal 175 to 200
200 to 260
555555000
000

777777555555

Tabuk
Tabuk Jubbah
Jubbah 28°
28°
2555
22
22

Baq'a
Baq'a
555
5 5000
Qibah
Qibah
Tayma
Tayma Ha'il
Ha'il 777777555555
h

75
75
75
775
775
757555
sa
is
iD
ad

11
110
1010
10
0000
00
W

11 0
000
N
Buraydah
Buraydah
11111121121120

AL
AL Ula
Ula
22205505055000000

26°
26° Unayzah
Unayzah
7
77

ah
77
75

1110
222255555
55

00
000
000
55

1 00 000
00
5

00
Rim
55
5 50
55 00
00 0

ar Sajir
Sajir
60 a di 0 50 100 200
W
Contour line kilometre

Ad
Ad Daw
Dawadimi
adimi
24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 45. Simulated decline in the Saq aquifer from 2005 to 2055 (Scenario 2)

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Northern Central Qassim


700

1Q135S-Meas
680

660 (BU9135) - Saq

640 1Q135S-Simul

620
1Q164S-Meas

600
(BU9164) - Saq
Groundwater Head (m)

580
1Q164S-Simul
560
1Q210S-Meas
540

(BU9210) - Saq
520

1Q210S-Simul
500

480 1Q205T-Meas

460 (BU9205) - Kahfah

440 1Q205T-Simul

420
1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040 2045 2050 2055
Year

Figure 46. Piezometric evolutions in the Saq aquifer simulated in Al Qassim area (Scenario 2)
(Location of observation wells is shown on Plate 5 and Plate 6)

In the Tawil aquifer, heavily pumped for irrigating the large agricultural areas around Busayta,
the water level will drop by 20 to 50 m over the coming 25 years and then by a further 20 to
50 m over the following 25 years. The global decline will consequently reach 40 to 100 m over
the next 50 years (Figure 47) in addition to the 10 to 40 m already observed from 1960 to 2005.
Plate 7 to Plate 15 show the water-table depths (below ground level) simulated for the Saq and
Tawil aquifers in 2005, 2030 and 2055 in the areas of Qassim, Tabuk and Busayta.

34° 48°
36° 44° 46°
38° 40° 42°
32°
32°

Simulated groundwater decline (m)


Al
Al Qurayyat
Qurayyat
in the Tawil aquifer from 2005 to 2055
1 to 20
20 to 40
000
6660 0
40 to 60
60 to 80
888
8 80 0
000 80 to 100 30°
222222000

30°
000

Sakakah
Sakakah
Sakakah
60
60
60
60
Daw
Dawmat
Daw mat al
al Jandal
Jandal
4
4440
4400
00
0

20
20
20
20
20
20

111
111

Tabuk
Tabuk Jubbah
Jubbah 28°
28°
Baq'a
Baq'a
Baq'a
20
222
2 0
000

Qibah
Qibah
Tayma
Tayma Ha'il
Ha'il
ah

222222000000
iss
iD
ad
W

N
AL Ula Buraydah
Buraydah
AL
AL Ula
26°
26° Unayzah
Unayzah

ah
Rim
60 ar Sajir
Sajir
di
Wa 0 50 100 200
Contour line kilometre

Ad
Ad Daw
Dawadimi
adimi
24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 47. Simulated decline in the Tawil aquifer from 2005 to 2055 (Scenario 2)

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
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These very high drawdowns are, however, very unlikely to occur because they exceed the
maximum discharge head of the pumps commonly used in boreholes for pumping water. In
practice, as the water levels decline under the effect of abstraction, the pumping rates will
decrease steadily due to the drop in efficiency and/or the dewatering of the pumps.
This phenomenon was simulated in Scenario 4 for cut-off depths every 25 m between 150 and
300 mbgl. A cut-off depth of 250 mbgl is probably the most realistic for taking into account the
technical characteristics of pumps and corrections that must be made to drawdowns simulated
by the model (i.e. head losses in boreholes, scale factor between borehole diameters and
model grid-cell size, variations in the water level induced by seasonal agricultural abstraction).
The results of Scenario 4 (see Figure 48) show that with a cut-off depth of 250 m, the global
current agricultural abstraction rates can be maintained almost constant up until 2025, after
which they will decrease steadily. For the total agricultural abstraction from the various aquifers
of the Saq multi-layer system, the volumes pumped annually will decline by approximately the
following proportions: -10% in 2037, -20% in 2049, -25% in 2055.

9500
Planned abstraction
No cut-off but local dewatering
9000

8500 Cut-off 300 m Irrigation -10%


.

Cut-off 275 m
8000
Cut-off 250 m
Total abstraction (Mm3/a)

Irrigation -20%
7500
Cut-off 225 m
7000
Irrigation -30%
Cut-off 200 m
6500

Cut-off 175 m
Irrigation -40%
6000

5500 Cut-off 150 m


Irrigation -50%

5000
Year
2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040 2045 2050 2055

Figure 48. Optimized abstraction vs cut-off depth in the aquifer system taken as a whole (Scenario 4)

In the Riyadh, Al Qassim and Hai'l provinces where drawdowns are already high in the Saq
aquifer itself, the volumes pumped annually will decrease more rapidly, with reductions of
around -10% every 7 years, beginning in 2015 for the province of Riyadh and in 2025 for the
provinces of Al Qassim (see Figure 49) and Hai’l.
By 2055, these flowrate reduction percentages will have reached 50% in the province of Riyadh,
45% in Al Qassim and 30% in Hai’l. With a 200 mbgl cut-off depth those percentages would
rise to 80%, 70% and 60% respectively and reduction in abstraction rates would begin 10 to
15 years before. On the other hand, the drops in discharge will be less pronounced in the
Tabuk area, where the decrease should not exceed 4% by 2055, or 37% with a 200 mbgl cut-off
depth. These predictions do not take into account any new well field projects. Any pumping
done in new well fields would have to be compensated for by an equivalent reduction in
agricultural abstraction.
Despite the 40 to 100 m simulated decline over the next 50 years, adding to the 10 to 40 m
already observed from 1960 to 2005, the Tawil aquifer should not be affected by a reduction of

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agricultural abstraction before 2055. We must, however, be cautious on this point because the
formations overlying the Tawil aquifer are far from homogeneous and we cannot rule out the
existence of low permeability layers acting as impervious barriers that would lead the
exploitable pumping rates in the Tawil aquifer to decrease faster than simulated by the model.

2800
Planned abstraction
No cut-off but local dewatering
Irrigation -10%

2400 Cut-off 300 m


Irrigation -20%
.

Cut-off 275 m
Total abstraction (Mm3/a)

Irrigation -30%
Cut-off 250 m
2000

Cut-off 225 m Irrigation -40%

Cut-off 200 m
Irrigation -50%
1600 Cut-off 175 m

Irrigation -60%
Cut-off 150 m

1200
2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040 2045 2050 Year 2055

Figure 49. Optimized abstraction vs cut-off depth in the Saq aquifer and Al Qassim province (Scenario 4)

Although agricultural abstraction is concentrated mostly around Qassim, Tabuk, Al Busayta and
Dawmat-al-Jandal, its magnitude is such that the drawdowns extend over tens of kilometres,
already affect a large part of the Saq and Kahfah aquifers, and will eventually spread to the
entire project area. It is therefore urgent to prepare for the future, either by regulating pumping
around domestic water wells or by preserving favourable sectors for the siting of future well
fields for the drinking water supply of urban areas.
In this perspective, Scenario 6 simulates an immediate 50% reduction in agricultural abstraction
in circular protection zones centred on the 548 domestic and industrial wells currently identified.
The three protection radii simulated in this scenario—2.5, 4.1 and 5.6 km—induce, respectively,
3.2%, 6.8% and 11.1% reductions in the total agricultural abstraction from the entire project
area. The simulation results show that these protection zones are only significantly beneficial if
their radius is at least 4 km and if all the neighbouring wells also promptly and simultaneously
participate in such protective measures.

In addition, Scenario 5 enables us to identify the zones that seem to be the most favourable for
the siting of new domestic well fields. Three criteria were used to determine these areas:
1) the depth of the water level simulated for 2055,
2) the depth of the top of the aquifer, and
3) the simulated residual saturated thickness of the aquifer in 2055.
A multi-element analysis done on these three variables led us to define 5 classes of decreasing
suitability for the siting of new well fields: good, acceptable, difficult, very difficult and not
feasible. The corresponding maps (see Figure 50 and Figure 51) show that potentially
favourable sites do exist in the Saq and Tawil aquifers but they are not numerous. They should
consequently be preserved as soon as possible. To validate the suitability of these sites,
however, in-situ investigations are essential.

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of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

34° 48°
36° 44° 46°
38° 40° 42°
32°
32°

N
Al Qurayyat
Al Qurayyat
Bes t location for new DWS wellfields
in the Saq aquifer
3 - Good sector
4 - Acceptable sector
5- '' ''
6 - Difficult sector 30°
30° 7- '' ''
Kh Sakakah
Sakakah 8 - Very dif f icult sector
ar
aw 9- '' ''
i dy
Daw
Daw mat
mat al
al Jandal
Jandal > 10 - Not f easible
ke

Tabuk
Tabuk
Jubbah
Jubbah 28°
28°
Baq'a
Baq'a

Tayma
Tayma Qibah
Qibah
Ha'il
Ha'il

Buraydah
Buraydah
Main cities AL Ula
AL Ula
Unayzah
Unayzah 26°
26°

Main irrigated Most


perimeter Harrats
suitable
areas Sajir
Sajir
0 50 100 200
Boundary of
the Saq Project Sand dunes kilometre
Areas
to be
Model extent protected Ad Daw
Ad Daw adimi
adimi
24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 50. Zoning of the Saq aquifer for the siting of new domestic well fields (Scenario 5)

48°
34° 44° 46°
36° 38° 40° 42°
32°
32°

N
Al Qurayyat
Al Qurayyat
Best location for new DWS wellfields
in the Tawil-Sharawra aquifer
3 - Good sector
4 - Acceptable sector
5- '' ''
6 - Dif ficult sector 30°
30° 7- '' ''
Kh Sakakah
Sakakah 8 - Very dif f icult sector
ar
aw
id Daw
Daw mat
mat al
al Jandal
Jandal 9- '' ''
yk
e > 10 - Not f easible

Tabuk
Tabuk 28°
28° Jubbah
Jubbah
Baq'a
Baq'a

Tayma
Tayma Qibah
Qibah
Ha'il
Ha'il

Buraydah
Buraydah
Main cities AL Ula
AL Ula
Unayzah
Unayzah 26°
26°

Main irrigated Most


Harrats
perimeter suitable
Sajir
Sajir
areas
Boundary of 0 50 100 200
the Saq Project Sand dunes
Areas kilometre
to be
Model extent Ad Daw
Ad Daw adimi
adimi
protected 24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 51. Zoning of the Tawil aquifer for the siting of new domestic well fields (Scenario 5)

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Investigations for Updating the Groundwater Mathematical Model(s) Volume 1
of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Two projects to develop new well fields were evaluated using the Saq multi-layer model. One
concerns increasing the domestic water supply in the Tabuk area (Scenario 3, Figure 52) and
the other exploiting phosphate mines near the town of Hazm Al-Jalamid (Scenario 9).

36° 38°
30° 20

N
Kh
ar
aw
i dy 40
ke

60
Simulated decline (m) 2015-2055 with two new wellfields: Hyp c ture
KSA (15 km from border) and Jordan (12 km from border)

10
s tru

5 to 20 60 to 80 120 to 140
othe

0
20 to 40 80 to 100
40 to 60 100 to 120
tic

80
10
0 20 50
Tabuk
0

kilometre
28° 220

Figure 52. Simulated drawdown in the Saq aquifer from 2005 to 2055 with current pumping rates
and new well-fields in Saudi Arabia and Jordan (Scenario 3 - Simulation 1)

The various simulations done show that the 2006 groundwater mathematical model is a very
good tool for answering questions posed by such projects, both because it offers an extensive
view of the hydrogeological environment all over the Saq Project area and because its fine grid
enables a detailed analysis of project specificities. For example, for the study for a new well
field near Tabuk, the model is able to simulate hydraulic interferences of all of the major wells
within a radius of several tens of kilometres—both in KSA and Jordan—and to precisely test the
hydraulic impact of a possible geological discontinuity NW of Tabuk (similar to the impermeable
barrier created by the Kharawi Dyke in Jordan).
Although the design and sizing of well fields should be finalized with more detailed numerical
models, analytical or grid-based, the multi-layer Saq model supplies most of the answers
concerning hydraulics posed by such projects, notably in terms of spatio-temporal interferences
with other developments, current or future, in the same aquifer or in the surrounding formations.

The synthesis graphs resulting from the sensitivity analysis done on the cut-off depths indicate
the medium-term decreases in discharge that will occur in the various provinces if agricultural
abstraction is not voluntarily and rapidly decreased compared to 2003 rates.
On the other hand, these decreases are good indicators of the reductions in agricultural
abstraction that must be attained in order to limit drawdowns, with resulting diminution in
pumping efficiency and potential putting out of operation of an increasing number of wells. By
comparing these target values with the percentages of reduced abstraction induced by various
modified farming practice programmes, we can rapidly identify the best programmes and
anticipate their hydraulic effectiveness.

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of the Saq and Overlying Aquifers Main Report

Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the progressive 50% reduction in agricultural abstraction
between 2012 and 2022 simulated in Scenario 7 leads to a significant decrease in predicted
drawdowns in the Saq and Tawil aquifers.
Likewise, of the four cropping patterns simulated in Scenario 8, schemes 8-2 to 8-4 (8-2: alfalfa
crops stopped and corresponding surfaces lay fallow; 8-3: wheat crops stopped and not
replaced; 8-4: cropping pattern defined by the MOA) are shown to be more effective than
scheme 8-1 (alfalfa crops replaced by wheat crops) for reducing predicted 2005-2055
drawdowns. This clear difference stems directly from the reductions in pumping induced by
each of the schemes 8-1 to 8-4: 18%, 29%, 48% and 41%, respectively. Figure 53 and
Figure 54 show reduction in agricultural abstractions and resulting improvement of groundwater
decline for Scenario 8-4. Results of other scenarios are described in Volume 2 of the report.

10 000

9 000

Orchards
8 000
Palm trees
Irrigation water withdrawl in 10 +6m3

7 000 Vegetables

6 000 Fodder

5 000

4 000 Maize

3 000

2 000
Cereals

1 000

0
1971

1973

1975

1977

1979

1981

1983

1985

1987

1989

1991

1993

1995

1997

1999

2001

2003

2005

2007

2009

2011

2013

2015

2017

2019
Cereals Maize Fodder Vegetables Palm trees Orchards

Figure 53. Global abstraction per crop from 1971 to 2005 and projection up to 2020 (Scenario 8-4)

34° 48°
36° 38° 44° 46°
40° 42°
32° 32°
Reduction of the Saq simulated drawdown (m) in 2055
resulting from the decrease of crops areas

N Al Qurayyat
Al Qurayyat 1- 10
10 - 20
20 - 30
30 - 40
40 - 50
50 - 60
60 - 70
70 - 80 30°
30°
80 - 90
Kh Sakakah
Sakakah
ar
aw
i dy Dawmat
Daw mat al
al Jandal
Jandal
ke
1100

2200
Hyp ur e
stru
o the

444444000000
ct

3300
tic

Tabuk
Tabuk 10
10
Jubbah
Jubbah 28°
28°
Baq'a
Baq'a 2200
4400
3300 4444400

Tayma
Tayma Qibah
Qibah
Ha'il
Ha'il
Ha'il
7700

000
6600
5555500000

Buraydah
Buraydah
4400
Main cities AL
AL Ula
Ula
Unayzah
Unayzah 26°
26°
3300

Main irrigated
perimeter
Sajir
Sajir
60
Boundary of 0 50 100 200
the Saq Project Contour line
kilometre

Model extent Ad Daw adimi


Ad Daw adimi
24°
24°

46° 48°
34° 36° 44°
38° 40° 42°

Figure 54. Reduction of the 2055 Saq simulated drawdown with Scenario 8-4 (MOA plan)

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In conclusion, to be effective, modifications in farming practices must be implemented as rapidly


as possible and result in at least a 30% reduction in agricultural abstraction.

5.3.3 Simulation of “reasonable” groundwater exploitation conditions


Scenario 11 aims at determining the conditions of “reasonable exploitation” in each aquifer and
each abstracted area. The simulations consist in a dynamic optimization of the discharge rate
in each tapped borehole so as to avoid the dynamic drawdown or dynamic water-table depth
exceeding 200 m, 250 m or 300 m in wells. The first limitation factor, based on a “cut-off
drawdown” below the 1960 natural water-table, aims at limiting the water-quality degradation
resulting from an excessive water-table decline. The second limitation factor, based on “cut-off
depth” below ground level, aims at avoiding a progressive diminution in pumping efficiency
leading to a final closure of operation of an increasing number of wells where the maximum
pumping head would be exceeded.
Together with the additional constraint that a “reasonable exploitation” should ensure
compliance over the next 50 years between the total groundwater demand and the aquifer
production, the results of the different simulations lead to recommend preventive reductions in
agricultural abstraction for the 15 most irrigated areas delineated on Figure 55.

34° 44° 46°


36° 38° 40° 42°
32° 32°

N Al Qurayyat
area
Al
Al Quray
Al
Al
Al
Al Qurayy
Quray
Quray
Quray at
yy at
at
at
at

Tubarjal
area Dawmat
al-Jandal Sakakah
30° area area 30°

Busayta Sakakah
Sakakah
area Busayta Dawmat-al-Jandal
Dawmat-al-Jandal
Dawmat-al-Jandal
eastern area
Tabuk
northern area

Tabuk
Tabuk
Tabuk
Tabuk southern area Hai'l area
28° Jubbah
Jubbah 28°
Baq'a
Baq'a
Baq'a Hai'l
southern area
Tay
Tayma
Tay
Tay
Tay
Tay ma
ma
ma Qibah
Qibah
Qibah
Ha'il
Ha'il
Ha'il

Al ula
Qassim
area
northern area
Buray
Buray
Buray dah
dah
Buray dah
dah
dah
dah
Main cities AL
AL
AL
AL
AL Ula
Ula
AL Ula
Ula
Ula
Ula
26° Qassim Unay
Unayzah
Unay
Unay
Unay zah
zah
zah
zah 26°
central area
Irrigated
Irrigated
Irrigated
Irrigated
Irrigated areas
areas
Irrigated areas
areas
areas
areas
inv
inventoried
inv
inv
inv
inv entoried in
entoried
entoried inin 2005
in
in 2005
2005
2005
2005 Qassim Sajir
Sajir
Sajir
southern area
0 50 100 200
Boundary of the
Saq study area kilometre Riyadh area
Limits of most
M odel e xte nt affected areas Ad
Ad Dawadimi
Ad
Ad
Ad
Ad Dawadimi
Dawadimi
Dawadimi
Dawadimi
24° 24°

34° 36° 44° 46°


38° 40° 42°

Figure 55. Irrigated areas within the Saq study area and limits of the most affected areas

Figure 56 compares the main simulated results obtained for the Qassim central area with a 50%
reduction in agricultural demand and those obtained with no reduction (Baseline scenario).
Both simulations respect a 250 m dynamic drawdown cut-off in the wells. The black dotted line
represents the steadily increasing domestic water demand (DWS) and the horizontal dashed
line corresponds to constant agricultural demand at the 2005 rate. The thick black line

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represents total demand with the baseline scenario, which is the sum of the two previous
components. The dashed line parallel to it shows total demand with a 50% reduction in
agricultural demand from 2010 onwards.

Qassim central area - Aquifer production vs. demand for a max. 250 m drawdown in wells
2500

Reduction
Demand and aquifer production rates (Mm3/a)

2000
in agricultural
Total dem and w ith 50% Total dem and for
demand reduction in agricultural dem and the baseline scenario
from 2010 onwards
1500

0%
2005 Agricultural dem and
1000

- 50 %

500
- 50 %

DWS dem and


Baseline
scenario
0
2005 2015 2025 2035 2045 2055 2065 2075 2085 2095 2105

Figure 56. Qassim central area – Baseline scenario and agricultural abstraction reduced by 50%

The blue and red lines show the temporal evolution of the yield released by the Saq aquifer to
comply with a 250 m maximum dynamic drawdown below the natural water-table in the wells,
with and without reduction in agricultural demand.
The left black circle shows that the Saq aquifer production (red line) closely matches total
demand (black line) in 2005 and up to 2015 for the Baseline scenario. This reflects the fact that
the 2005 dynamic drawdown was less than 250 m in the wells of the Qassim central area.
However, the black and red curves progressively draw apart because total demand will steadily
increase whilst the Saq aquifer production will decrease in order to respect the dynamic
drawdown cut-off condition fixed at 250 m. The other black circle shows that with a 50%
reduction in agricultural demand the yield released by the Saq aquifer matches total demand up
to 2031.
The yellow area corresponds to the volume of groundwater that will not be immediately
abstracted from the Saq aquifer with a 50% reduction in agricultural demand occurring in 2010.
This saved volume will nevertheless be released later on by the Saq aquifer –this is indicated by
the blue area, whose size is equal to that of the yellow area and which shows that the release
will occur gradually from 2037 to later than 2105.
The blue circles mark the intersections of the DWS demand with the yield provided by the Saq
aquifer:
• With the Baseline scenario and a maximum dynamic drawdown of 250 m in the wells, the
Saq aquifer production will equal the DWS demand by the year 2065. After this date, due to
the very important depletion caused by excessive agricultural abstraction over several
decades, the Saq aquifer will not be able to produce the groundwater yield required by the
DWS demand and simultaneously comply with a maximum 250 m dynamic drawdown in the
wells. In concrete terms, even a progressive reduction in agricultural abstraction starting in

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2015 and leading to a total stoppage by 2065 will not avoid the dynamic level in the wells
falling beyond 250 m below the natural water-table after 2065.
• With 50% and 75% reductions in agricultural demand, the critical date is postponed to 2073
and 2081 respectively (Figure 57). This confirms the point that groundwater sustainability in
the Qassim central area cannot significantly be prolonged without a drastic reduction in
agricultural demand.
• Postponing the date when the Saq aquifer production equals the DWS demand implies that
part of the groundwater reserves saved by a reduction in agricultural abstraction will be used
for DWS abstraction rather than for irrigation. In other words, in the conflict of interests
between irrigation and DWS, the latter will be advantaged by a reduction of agricultural
abstraction.
Figure 57 synthesizes the results obtained in the Qassim central area with 0%, 25%, 50%, 75%
and 100% reductions in agricultural abstraction.

Qassim central area - Aquifer production vs. demand for a max. 250 m drawdown in wells
2500

Reduction
Demand and aquifer production rates (Mm3/a)

2000
in agricultural
Total dem and for
demand the baseline scenario
from 2010 onwards
1500

0% 2005 Agricultural dem and


1000
- 25 %
DWS dem and

- 50 %

500
- 75 %

- 100 %
0
2005 2015 2025 2035 2045 2055 2065 2075 2085 2095 2105

Figure 57. Qassim central area – Baseline scenario and reduced agricultural abstraction scenarios

Groundwater abstraction sustainability can be defined as the length of time during which total
demand does not exceed aquifer production. On Figure 57 this equality is reflected by the
parallel curves of total-demand curve (full black line) and simulated aquifer-production for the
five agricultural-demand scenarios (coloured lines).
As the risk of radionuclides contamination seems to correlate with the water-table drawdown,
we strongly advise that dynamic drawdown does not exceed 250 m below the initial natural
condition. In fact, until the reasons for radioactive groundwater contamination are clarified, it
would even be preferable not to exceed a 200 m dynamic drawdown cut-off in the wells.
Furthermore, we suggest considering a 50-year duration as a minimum for groundwater
abstraction sustainability. To respect these recommendations requires a reduction in
agricultural abstraction that can ensure compliance up to 2055 in terms of total demand and
aquifer production for a maximum 250 m, and preferably 200 m, dynamic drawdown in the
wells.

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A practical guideline for defining a suitable percentage reduction in agricultural demand consists
in using graphs like Figure 57 for identifying the minimum reduction ratio for which the coloured
line remains parallel to the full black line up to at least 2055. For the Qassim central area, this
ratio is 75%.
A similar analysis for the different irrigated areas delimited on Figure 55 leads to the
requirements listed in Table 15 where:
• The two left-hand columns of figures indicate the percentages of immediate reduction in
agricultural demand that are required to avoid the maximum dynamic drawdown in wells
exceeding 200 m (left column) or 250 m (left central column) below the initial natural water-
table.
• The third column of figures gives the reduction ratios for a maximum 300 m cut-off depth
below ground level.
• The right-hand column indicates the recommended percentage reduction in agricultural
abstraction, deriving from the three previous columns.

Table 15. Immediate reduction required in agricultural groundwater demand


to ensure a reasonable use of groundwater resources

Immediate reduction required in agricultural abstraction


vs. various cut-off criteria on dynamic water-table in pumping wells
Irrigated area
(see location on Maximum dynamic drawdown Maximum Recommended
below the natural water-table dynamic water percentage
Figure 55) reduction in
table depth below
the ground level agricultural
= 200 m = 250 m
= 300 m abstraction

Riyadh area 60% 25% 65% 50%

Qassim southern area 65% 25% 15% 50%

Qassim central area 100% 75% 50% 75%

Qassim northern area 85% 60% 45% 75%

Hai’l southern area 50% 25% 35% 50%

Hai’l area 15% 0% 0% 25%

Al Ula 50% 25% 0% 50%

Tabuk southern area 50% 10% 0% 50%

Tabuk northern area 40% 10% 0% 50%

Busayta area 0% 0% 0% 25%

Busayta eastern area 0% 0% 0% 25%

Tubarjal area 0% 0% 0% 25%

Al Qurayyat area 0% 0% 0% 25%

Dawmat-al-Jandal area 0% 0% 0% 25%

Sakakah area 0% 0% 0% 25%

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6 CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

6.1 Conclusions

6.1.1 On the water use


The present-day groundwater abstractions in the Saq study area are evaluated at about
8740 Mm3/a. By far the largest share of these abstractions is used for irrigation. The
abstractions for domestic water supply and industrial use represent together less than 4% of the
total groundwater use.
Starting from 1980 the irrigated area increased rapidly to reach a peak with 776,000 ha in 1992,
80% of this area being grown with cereals and 10% with fodder. From 1992 to 1997 the total
irrigated area was reduced significantly due to a 50% reduction in area grown by cereals, even
though the irrigated area of other crops continued to expand. Since 1997 the area grown with
cereals expands again, like for the other crops, to reach a total area under irrigation of
736,000 ha in 2003, the shares of cereals and fodder being respectively 66% and 18%.
The total agricultural water consumption followed a slightly different pattern. Even though the
total irrigated area in 2003 is 5% lower than in 1992 the overall water consumption has
increased by 7% to reach 8430 Mm3/a. This increase is due to the fact that the irrigation water
requirement per hectare for cereals (about 8,000 m3/ha/a) is much less than for fodder (about
21,500 m3/ha/a). At present cereals and fodder represent respectively 47% and 33% of the
agricultural water consumption in Saq study area.
The groundwater abstraction is unevenly distributed. Qassim province accounts for 32.0% of
the total abstractions in the Saq study area, Al Jawf province for 22.3%, followed by Ha’il,
Riyadh and Tabuk provinces with respectively 17.6%, 14.6% and 12.0%. Parts of Madinah and
Northern Border provinces located within Saq study area represent together only 1.5% of the
total water abstraction.

In general the irrigation practices are fairly efficient, with most small-scale farms watering the
crops at rates below the optimum irrigation water requirements.

6.1.2 On the aquifers


The water resources of the Saq aquifer system are abstracted from eight superimposed
aquifers which are, from bottom to top: Saq, Kahfah, Quwarah-Sarah, Tawil, Jauf, Jubah, Khuff,
and STQ (Secondary-Tertiary-Quaternary) aquifers. The STQ combines several aquifers that
are important groundwater reservoirs outside the Saq study area but that are only
discontinuously present within the Saq study area.
The Saq aquifer, the deepest one, is the only one to be present all over the study area. The
extension of the overlying aquifers decreases when moving upward from the Saq to the Khuff
aquifer. As a result, the aquifers that are predominantly exploited in a particular area will vary
from one region to another.
The two main aquifers exploited are Saq and Tawil, representing respectively 65% and 10% of
the groundwater abstractions in the Saq study area. Saq aquifer is the main exploited aquifer in
the southern and western parts of the study area whereas Tawil aquifer is the main exploited
aquifer in the North.
The deep aquifers of Saq study area were mainly replenished during periods with a more humid
climate, thousands of years ago. Under the present climate natural groundwater recharge is

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limited. Estimates of the renewable water resource in Saq study area vary between 950 and
1100 Mm3/a. This volume equals an average rainfall infiltration of about 3 mm/a over the entire
Saq study area. According to these values the groundwater recharge compensates only about
12% of the total annual groundwater abstractions. Thus, 88% of the present abstractions
represent groundwater mining.

6.1.3 On the water levels


Groundwater levels of all aquifers in the Saq study area are declining where they are exploited,
but not everywhere to the same degree.
The steepest decline of water levels is observed in the Saq aquifer. Since the start of large-
scale groundwater abstractions some 30 years ago, water levels in Qassim region have
dropped more than 100 m in a broad zone, 350 km long and up to 100 km wide, stretching from
Sajir in the South till Baq’a in the North. In a 1000 km² area N and E of Burayda and in a small
pocket E of Ad Dawadimi the waterlevel decline exceeds 175 m with a maximum value of
215 m. In Tabuk area the observed waterlevel decline in an area 75 km long and 25 km wide is
between 100 and 135 m. These two very large cones of depression continue to expand.
In Tawil aquifer the steepest decline is observed in Busayta and Dawmat al Jandal areas.
Since large-scale groundwater abstractions started only at the end of the eighties the decline is
still less than 40 m in most of these areas except for some small pockets.
In the lesser exploited aquifers steep declines can also be observed. In Kahfah aquifer
groundwater levels have dropped more than 90 m near Tabuk and more than 120 m in central
Qassim area. These drops in water level result partly from the adjustment to falling pressures in
the underlying Saq aquifer. In Jauf and Jubah aquifers a water level decline between 30 and
45 m has occurred in comparatively small areas in Busayta and Sakaka areas for the former
and only in Sakaka area for the latter. Khuff aquifer shows moderately declining levels in a
large area in eastern Qassim. Steep decline of water levels of more than 100 m has been
observed in pockets N and S of Sajir. In the overlying aquifers of Secondary, Tertiary and
Quaternary age (STQ complex) important declines occur locally.
The existing water supply wells are affected by the declining water levels. In 50% of the water
supply wells tapping Saq aquifer the water-table decline over the past 30 years exceeds 73 m.
For 10% of these wells, the decline exceeds even 185 m and the maximum simulated water-
table decline reaches 200 m. In only about 10% of water-supply wells tapping the Saq aquifer,
the regional water-level decline is less than 10 m. The most influenced wells are located in the
Qassim and Ha’il regions where water abstraction for agriculture historically is the oldest and
most important within the study area.

6.1.4 On the groundwater quality


The most important aquifers from a quantitative point of view, Saq and Tawil, are also the
aquifers which show in most areas the lowest salinity levels.
In the unconfined part of the Saq aquifer in Qassim region TDS generally ranges from 1,200 to
5,000 mg/l. However, the TDS decreases towards the confined part of the aquifer located to the
northeast, where it ranges from 500 to 1,200 mg/l. TDS values can even reach values below
500 mg/l, such as in the Sarir and Baq’a sectors.

Considering groundwater flow direction and average velocity it can be concluded that this
deeper groundwater in the confined part of the aquifer, showing lower TDS values, has

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infiltrated under climatic conditions different from those presently prevailing. These climatic
conditions were characterized by higher rainfall and lower evaporation losses of runoff water
leading to lower salinity of recharge waters.
In the Tabuk region most of the sampled wells tapping Saq aquifer show TDS less than
1,200 mg/l or even less than 500 mg/l. In the Tayma sector, the majority of the wells tapping
the Saq aquifer show a TDS below 500 mg/l.
The TDS values of aquifers overlying the Saq mainly range from 1,200 to 5,000 mg/l. In Tabuk
region, wells drilled down to the Kahfah formation show a TDS ranging from 500 to 5,000 mg/l.
In the northern part of the study area, in the Jubah, Jauf and STQ aquifers, the TDS values
range from 500 to 1200 mg/l. Wells tapping the Tawil aquifer generally show a TDS less than
500 mg/l. Neogene deposits in Wadi Sirhan show TDS values between 1,200 and 5,000 mg/l.
As far as major ions and trace elements are concerned, no significant changes in groundwater
quality have been identified since 1985 despite the strong rise in groundwater abstractions. In
parts of Qassim area witnessing a steep groundwater decline, about 20% of the wells show
evidence of mixing of good quality water of Saq aquifer with poor quality water of the overlying
Kahfah aquifer. This phenomenon most likely reflects the mixing of water in wells tapping both
aquifers rather than transfer of water between the two aquifers.
High levels of radioelements are limited to the western and central part of the study area.
Among the different radioactive isotopes analysed, radon (Rn-222) does not form a major
constraint for groundwater use if the water is used after degassing of radon.
Uranium levels exceeding the WHO guidance level of 15 µg/l were found in wells tapping
unconfined parts of the Saq aquifer in the Qassim and Tabuk regions, and in alluvium in contact
with the Arabian Shield rocks. Uranium levels below the guidance value were also encountered
in unconfined parts of Kahfah aquifer and in Wadi Sirhan and the Sakakah region.
The most common radioelements are the radium isotopes Ra-226 and Ra-228. Levels
exceeding the guidance value are only encountered in confined parts of some aquifers. High
Ra-226 values are found in the Saq and Kahfah aquifers in parts of the Qassim and Tabuk
regions. High Ra-228 values are even more widespread and occur in the Saq and Kahfah
aquifers in the Qassim, Ha’il, Tayma and Tabuk regions. A few wells tapping the Quwarah,
Tawil, Jauf and Jubah aquifers also show a presence of Ra-228.
Since the presence of radioelements in groundwater depends on a specific combination of
geological, hydrogeological conditions as well as the well-design, the measured concentrations
may vary considerably among wells tapping the same aquifer in the same area. Radioelements
present in groundwater may originate from the basement rock, from shale layers like the
Hanadir and Ra’an members in the Qasim Formation, but also from specific horizons rich in
radionuclides within the Saq and Kahfah sandstones or within phosphates bearing formations.
Even though the mechanisms of radionuclide mobilization need further study, a steep water-
level decline seems to induce a gradual radionuclide contamination of several aquifers,
including the Saq, ultimately rendering the groundwater unfit for both human consumption and
agricultural use. It can be noted that the strongest total radium contents are found in highly
depleted areas where groundwater abstraction started long ago, supporting the hypothesis that
radioelements contents encountered in groundwater most probably increase when drawdowns
increase. As such groundwater quality deterioration is mostly irreversible, it is imperative to
drastically reduce abstraction in the main agricultural areas so as to avoid any steep decline of
the groundwater levels resulting in critical groundwater quality deterioration.

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6.1.5 On the exploitable reserves


Considering the existing imbalance between abstractions and recharge it is only a matter of
time before the exploitable groundwater resources in Saq will be exhausted.
Even though the volume of water stored in the underground of the Saq study area is
tremendous, for technical and economic reasons, only a small part of the water stored in an
underground reservoir can be abstracted by drilling and pumping. Water wells are rarely more
than 2000 m deep and the lift capacity of pumps generally does not allow to abstract water
below a dynamic water level of about 300 mbgl. As a result, the major share of the abstractable
reserves is limited to the top of the aquifers, in the outcrops and the adjacent confined areas.
Model calculations show that at present 25% of the total volume of groundwater reserves of Saq
aquifer, exploitable under acceptable economic conditions, has already been utilised. For Tawil
aquifer this percentage is 4%. In case of continued pumping the groundwater reserve of Saq
aquifer will have been exploited for 62% within 50 years from now.
However, the actual situation is more critical because existing groundwater abstractions are
unevenly distributed over the Saq study area. When considering the exploitable reserves in
those areas where groundwater is presently being abstracted the reserves will have been
utilised for about 71% in 2055. Model simulations show that under such conditions the required
discharges can no longer be met, resulting in a severe water crisis disrupting irrigation and
urban water supply.

6.1.6 On future trends


Because of its extraordinary size, the Saq aquifer system has enormous spatial and temporal
inertia. As a result, significant changes in groundwater abstraction affect the aquifers for
decades over tens or even hundreds of kilometres.
If all agricultural abstraction would be stopped, the water levels would continue to decline
significantly over the next 10 years in large parts of the area where the aquifer is unconfined,
whereas they would rise significantly, though without returning to initial levels, in areas where
the aquifer is confined. These evolutions would be the result of hydraulic exchanges between
zones with different drawdowns, groundwater flowing horizontally from less depleted zones to
more depleted zones and vertically from less depleted aquifer to more depleted aquifer.
In case of a continuation of agricultural abstraction at present-day rates and a steady annual
2.46% increase in domestic and industrial abstraction the resulting drawdowns are between 50
and 150 m in the Saq and Kahfah aquifers over the next 50 years. These drawdowns will be in
addition to those already observed in the aquifers since 1960, which were 135 m in the Tabuk
area and up to 215 m in the Qassim region.
The cumulative drawdowns in the Saq and Kahfah aquifers between 1960 and 2055 could
therefore exceed 300 m in the Qassim region. Of the present water supply wells tapping Saq
aquifer 52% will be out of operation because static water level will have dropped beyond the
standard operating conditions of pumps.
These very high drawdowns are, however, very unlikely to occur because many agricultural
pumps will cease to function before these high drawdowns are reached. Assuming a cut-off
depth of 250 m, the current agricultural abstraction rates can be maintained almost constant
until 2025, but after this date they will decrease steadily.
For the total agricultural abstraction from the entire Saq aquifer system, the volumes pumped
annually will decline by approximately the following proportions: -10% in 2037, -20% in 2049,
-25% in 2055.

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In the Riyadh, Al Qassim and Hai'l provinces where drawdowns are already high, the volumes
pumped annually will decrease more rapidly, with reductions of around -10% every 7 years,
beginning in 2015 for the province of Riyadh and in 2025 for the provinces of Al Qassim and
d’Hai’l. On the other hand, the drops in discharge will be less pronounced in the Tabuk area,
where the decrease should not exceed 4% by 2055. These predictions do not take into account
any new well field projects.
In the Tawil aquifer, heavily pumped for irrigation of large agricultural perimeters in Busayta, the
water level will also drop between 40 and 100 m, depending on the area, during the next
50 years. This decline will add to the 10 to 40 m already observed from 1960 to 2005 but the
Tawil aquifer should not be affected by a reduction of agricultural abstraction before 2055. We
must, however, be cautious on this point because the formations overlying the Tawil aquifer are
far from homogeneous and we cannot rule out the existence of low permeability layers acting as
impervious barriers that would lead the exploitable pumping rates in the Tawil aquifer to
decrease faster than simulated by the model.
In order to reduce the negative impact of declining groundwater levels on water supply wells the
effectiveness of protection zones around such wells has been evaluated. In case protection
zones are created around water supply wells they need to have a minimum radius of 4 km to
become effective and all the neighbouring wells have to promptly and simultaneously participate
in such protective measures. Assuming a 50% reduction of abstractions within such protection
zones they would induce a 6.8% reduction in the total agricultural abstraction from the entire
project area. In case such protection perimeters would be installed the percentage of existing
water supply wells tapping Saq aquifer that would be put out of production between now and the
year 2055, due to falling water levels, would be limited to 36%, compared to 52% in case no
protection zones would be installed.
Multi-criteria analysis considering required drilling depth, projected depth to water table and
saturated thickness in 2055 was used to identify the most favourable zones for the siting of new
well fields. This approach shows that potentially favourable sites do exist but they are not
numerous. They should consequently be preserved as soon as possible. To validate the
suitability of these sites, however, in-situ investigations are essential.

Optimum areas for siting of new wellfields can be found for the Saq aquifer in small pockets NW
and SE of Tabuk, a large area S and SE of Tayma, S and SW of Jubah, and small pockets near
Baq’a and in the western part of Qassim region. For Tawil aquifer optimum areas are located
SW of Dawmat al Jandal and below the southern and eastern limit of the Nafud desert.
In case of a 50% reduction in agricultural abstraction between 2012 and 2022 the waterlevels in
Saq and Tawil aquifers would still continue to decline, but at a much lesser rate than in case of
continued pumping at the present rate. Likewise, different changes in cropping pattern have
been evaluated on their impact on declining water levels. The positive impact of these
scenarios is directly correlated to the reduction in pumping rates they induce. Implementing the
changes in cropping pattern as planned by the MoA (scenario 8-4) results in a reduction of
irrigation abstractions of 41%. This would reduce the additional drawdown in Saq aquifer in
2055 in Qassim region from 155 to 85 m. The percentage of water supply wells tapping Saq
aquifer that would be put out of production due to falling water tables would be 26%, instead of
52% in case of continuing at present pumping rates.

In case of continued pumping at present rates the theoretical exploitable reserves of Saq and
Tawil aquifers will have been utilised for respectively 41% and 8% by the year 2055. However,
under acceptable economic conditions the volume of exploitable reserves will be much lower. It
is estimated that respectively 82% and 16% of the actual exploitable reserves of Saq and Tawil
aquifer will have been utilised by the year 2055.

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6.2 Recommendations

6.2.1 To enhance the life-time of water supply infrastructures


Based on the conclusions of the Saq project a number of recommendations can be formulated:
Although agricultural abstraction is concentrated mostly around Qassim, Tabuk, Al Busayta and
Dawmat-al-Jandal, its magnitude is such that the drawdowns extend over tens of kilometres,
already affect a large part of the Saq and Kahfah aquifers, and will eventually spread to the
entire project area. It is therefore urgent to prepare for the future:
- by regulating pumping around existing domestic water wells and by installing protection
areas in which the number of private wells would ultimately decrease, and
- by declaring a ban on private wells in protection zones formed by the favourable sectors for
the siting of future well fields for the drinking water supply of urban areas, listed in the
previous section.
In order to increase the life-time of urban water supply projects the design of new wells to be
drilled in areas most affected by declining water levels should enable the installation of pumps
at greater depth and budgets should be adjusted to include high-lift pumps. Deepening of
irrigation wells should be disencouraged as should be the use of high-lift pumps for agricultural
purposes.
In critical areas like Qassim and Riyadh regions water supply from desalination can be
envisaged to reduce the pressure on aquifers in the most affected areas. Desalination may also
be an option for isolated water deficient areas like Turayf, although transfer of groundwater from
adjacent regions can be an alternative. The area of greater Burayda is one of such critical
areas for which supply from desalination plants may be enhanced in absence of reduction of
agricultural water demand. From a quantitative point of view desalination is not required within
a visible time-span for Tabuk and Al Jawf regions.

6.2.2 To achieve reductions in groundwater abstractions


Unless important reductions in groundwater abstractions are realised, the water supply wells
and wellfields will be severely affected by declining water levels. The effects will become visible
within 15 years and 52% of presently existing water supply wells tapping Saq aquifer and 18%
of the wells tapping other aquifers will have been put out of operation in 2055.
Since agricultural abstractions represent 96% of the total abstractions the major share of
required reductions in groundwater abstractions have to come from changing irrigation
practices. To maintain the existing urban water supply wells operational up to a 50 year horizon
modifications in farming practices must be implemented as rapidly as possible and result in at
least a 30% reduction in agricultural abstractions at the scale of Saq study area.

The results of the different simulations undertaken to determine the conditions of “reasonable
exploitation” in each aquifer and each abstracted area lead to recommend the following
preventive reductions in agricultural abstraction for the 15 most irrigated areas (see Figure 55):

• In the two most affected areas, the Qassim central and northern areas, very drastic
reductions in agricultural demand (around 75%) are immediately required to avoid further
steep groundwater decline along with increased water quality degradation.

• In six other areas (i.e. the Riyadh, Qassim southern, Hai’l southern, Al Ula, Tabuk
southern and Tabuk northern areas), the 10 to 25% required reduction in agricultural
demand to match a 250 m dynamic drawdown is probably easily attainable.

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Nevertheless, higher percentages of reduction, up to 50%, would be preferable to reduce


further increase of the groundwater radioactive contamination.
• The situation is not so critical in other agricultural areas and a 10% reduction in
agricultural demand should allow a 250 m dynamic cut-off drawdown to be met.
However, higher percentages of reduction-around 25%-would be preferable to improve
groundwater sustainability and limit water-quality degradation.
The changes in cropping pattern projected by the MoA up to the year 2020 will enable this
reduction at the scale of the Saq study area (41% reduction). However, this plan can not avoid
serious decline in Qassim and Riyadh regions. To illustrate the order of magnitude of required
reductions, stopping the irrigation of all fodder within Saq study area would nearly provide the
minimum required reduction in abstractions (29%). Stopping the irrigation of all wheat in Saq
study area would be more beneficial with a reduction of 48% of the total level of abstractions.
Reduction of agricultural abstractions should concentrate on Saq and Tawil aquifers which are,
because of their potential and of their good water quality, the most strategic aquifers for the
water supply.
Even though the general practice is to water crops at rates below the optimum irrigation water
requirements, reduction in agricultural abstractions can be achieved by improvements in
irrigation practices, equipment and efficiency. To implement plans aiming to achieve reduction
in irrigation abstractions proper monitoring is required. The installation of water meters would
positively contribute to the effectiveness of any water economy measures. However,
improvements in irrigation efficiency alone are not sufficient to ensure the sustainability of the
water supply infrastructure beyond a 50 year horizon. Reduction of the number of irrigation
wells remains a necessity.

Other water conservation measures should be taken as well, even though such measures on
their own will not be sufficient to achieve the required reduction in groundwater abstractions. A
positive measure will be the promotion of waste-water re-use in all cities. A possible application
is the watering of green areas in cities but some types of agriculture are also suited for reuse of
treated waste water.
To reduce the pressure on aquifers artificial groundwater recharge is being implemented in a
number of countries. Unfortunately, given the generally unfavourable topographic (flat), climatic
(low rainfall, high evaporation) and hydrogeological conditions (deep groundwater table) for
artificial groundwater recharge of the aquifers within the Saq study area, such measures can not
have a significant impact on the water balance of the aquifer system where tremendous
volumes of groundwater are being exploited.
Nevertheless, artificial recharge can be beneficial in areas with shallow aquifers and limited
water demand. Such conditions are more likely to be encountered in the Arabian Shield.
From a general point of view specific regulations have to be developed to preserve water and
locally ensure a balanced use of the groundwater resources. As an example, Annex 1 provides
an overview of the legal instruments that have been set if France to ensure a sustainable use of
groundwater. Such instruments have mainly led to a shared use of groundwater by allotting
each user (mainly manufacturers, farmers and municipalities in charge of drinking-water supply)
a maximum authorized bulk volume to abstract.

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6.2.3 To improve the quality of available water


The design and then completion of newly and future drilled private wells should be checked to
avoid tapping of multiple aquifers that is a cause for mixing of waters of fresh and brackish
aquifers, and that partially explains the groundwater radioactive contamination.
The installation of no-return valves in irrigation wells can help to avoid pollution of wells by
backflush water rich in fertilizer or pesticides.

To reduce the risk of contamination by radioelements before drilling of water-supply wells the
risk of contamination should be analysed. Different groundwater zones can be identified with
respect to the risk of radioelement contamination:
- Aquifers already showing radioelement levels exceeding the guideline values;
- Aquifers where radioelements are below the guideline values, but which have witnessed a
sharp decline in groundwater levels;
- Aquifers where radioelements are below the guideline values and little or no decline of
groundwater levels has occurred.

Drilling should be avoided, whenever possible, in zones with increased risk. Until the exact
mechanisms for the mobilisation of radioelements in groundwaters are understood the well-
design should make provisions for plain casing and cementation of all shale layers as well as
the major shale beds within aquifers crossed. In addition, the casing should expand several
meters into the aquifers.
A strategic study on the presence and mobilisation of radioelements in groundwaters should be
conducted as soon as possible because of the critical impacts of such a contamination. This
study should classify the area and aquifers according to the risk for radioactive contamination,
contribute to the understanding of the mechanisms of mobilisation of radioelements and provide
drilling and well-design recommendations that reduce the concentration of radioelements in
pumped water.
Measures should also be taken to reduce the local water-table decline caused by a well-field.
The design of the wells and the spacing of the wells should be optimised to minimize the
drawdown.
Adequate water treatment should be included in water supply projects in areas with high level of
radioelements. Safe disposal of the dry waste of the treatment plant should be part of the
project planning.
In areas severely affected by the presence of radioelements desalination and transfer of
seawater can provide an alternative to groundwater supply but cost-effectiveness should be
compared to local treatment of contaminated groundwater.

XW

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References

BRGM, BRL (1985). Water, agriculture and soil studies of Saq and overlying aquifers, Final
report: -Volume 2: Water studies.
Lloyd, J.W. (2003). Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Assessment of the current water resources
management situation. Phase I – Volume 1: main report. Annex A: hydrogeology and
groundwater resources. Water Sector Strategy and Action Plan.
Parsons Basil (1968). Agricultural and water resources. The great Nafud sedimentary basin,
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Ministry of Agriculture and Water.

Sharaf, M.A. & Hussein, M.T. (1996) - Groundwater Quality in the Saq Aquifer, Saudi Arabia -
Hydrological Sciences – Journal des Sciences Hydrologiques, 41 (5) October 1996, pp.683-
696.

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Annex 1

Legal instruments to ensure a sustainable use


of groundwater resources in France

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Groundwater abstractions in France:


Legal instruments to ensure a sustainable use of groundwater resources

Each year, some 34 billion m3 of fresh water are abstracted in France to meet the needs of
human activities (drinking-water supply, industry, agriculture, energy). Excluding the energy
sector that accounts for 19 billion m3 alone, mainly drawn from rivers, the proportion of water
abstracted from aquifers is 44%. This overall figure seems very low in comparison with the
100 billion m3 of recharge into aquifers each year. However, the breakdown of this figure varies
not only by sector but also between regions. For some aquifers, the rate of abstraction is so
high that their water table has declined steadily for many years.

Therefore, legal instruments have been set to preserve groundwater and locally ensure a
balanced use of this vulnerable resource. Such instruments have mainly led to a shared use of
groundwater by allotting each user (mainly manufacturers, farmers and municipalities in charge
of drinking-water supply) a maximum authorized bulk volume to abstract.

The main available legal instruments are the European Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC
(WFD), the 2006 French water law (2006-1772) and law n°64-1245 related to water distribution
and the fight against pollution. The content of these texts and the support they bring to the
quantitative management of groundwater are summarized hereafter.

1. THE 1964 FRENCH LAW

The French system for water management was created in 1964 with the publication of law 64-
1245 on “water schemes and distribution and the fight against pollution”. The four main items of
this law, which have inspired the European WFD, are as follows:
• Establishing taxes for water damage (abstraction and input);
• Grants for cleanup works;
• Creation of six Water Agencies responsible for collecting taxes and sharing grants;
• Creation of six Basin Committees made up of different bodies, among which water users
and local elected representatives. These committees are associated to any decision
about water policy. Each year they receive a presentation of all the actions planned by
the Water Agency (fighting pollution, managing water resources, etc.). Today, this
consultation concept still continues and is even reinforced by the WFD, which requires
Member States to inform and involve the public in any actions taken to monitor and
preserve water resources (including groundwater).

The main originality of this law is its geographic scale. Water management is conducted taking
the river catchment limits into account and not administrative limits.

The recent water law has modified and completed this law. Further details are given below.

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2. THE FRENCH WATER LAW AND ITS LOCAL IMPLEMENTATION

The first water law was published in 1992 to complete the 1964 text. At the end of 2006 this law
was revised, to take, among others, the WFD requirements into account. The new law (n°2006-
1772) has reinforced existing rules for groundwater management and set up new measures for
ensuring a balanced and fair use of waters (including groundwater). The main measures this
law contains are as follows:
• Promoting a collective management of groundwater abstracted for agricultural needs by
delineating limits in which abstraction authorizations are delivered to one single body
representing all users;
• Requiring taxes from the persons or bodies using groundwater. Such taxes exist since
1964, but the recent water law has simplified the procedure and ensures a fairer
distribution. Taxes are calculated taking the following factors into account:
o the use of the groundwater (drinking-water supply, industry, agriculture or power-plant
cooling);
o the state of resource (is the present use of the resource sustainable or not?);
• Fixing priorities in terms of usage (drinking-water supply, industry, agriculture or power-
plant cooling) and defining for each aquifer the authorized bulk to be abstracted for each
use;
• Making the installation of water meters mandatory;
• Creating safeguard perimeters for quality and quantity.

In the field of groundwater abstraction and management, this law reinforces the principle of
declaration/authorization. Whatever the use of the groundwater (drinking-water supply, industry,
agriculture, power-plant cooling) and even if no particular stress has been observed, two types
of common rules are defined:
• Rules for characterizing the abstraction: the conditions, the functioning (place, volume to
be abstracted to ensure a long-term use of the resource, pumping periods) must be
described and are submitted for authorization by the administration;
• Rules for monitoring the abstraction and for how the data must be organized and
delivered: obligation of having a water meter, definition of the terms of maintenance, data
recording, data flow to the authorities.

In 1994, because some water resources were regularly facing important droughts during the
low-water seasons, specific rules were drawn up for some waters presenting “water stress”. A
decree was published to declare a list of surface-water catchments as “Zone de repartition des
eaux” – ZRE (Area of water sharing). In 2003, this decree was updated and extended to
groundwaters, and a list of aquifers suffering a significant water-table decline was defined.
These aquifers are shown on the following map (see Figure 1).

In aquifers classified as “ZRE”, not only the declaration thresholds but also the authorized
abstraction volumes were reduced. Bulk volumes are defined for each user.

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3. ANOTHER TOOL FOR THE SEASONAL MANAGEMENT OF GROUNDWATERS:


DROUGHT ORDERS

The texts quoted above mainly deal with the long-term management of groundwater. But since
the 2003 droughts, the Ministry has taken some measures for ensuring a seasonal
management of water resources.

Local representatives are therefore required to take measures in case a water table declines
below an “alarm threshold”, which was previously defined using existing long-term data and
knowledge about the relationships between groundwaters and surface waters. Depending on
how far this threshold is exceeded, several types of measures are taken and several users are
concerned, from the private use of water for swimming pools or golf watering, to industrial and
commercial activities. Such measures, however, are not applicable for drinking-water supply.

Carboniferous limestone aquifer of the


Lille-Roubaix-Tourcoing area
Confined parts of the
Albian and Neocomian Part of the confined Lower
Triassic sandstones aquifer

Bajocian and Bathonian


limestones aquifer

Lutetian limestones and sandstones South Dijon aquifer


aquifer of Noirmoutiers Island

Unconfined and confined parts of the


Cenomanian aquifer

Deep aquifers of the Eocene,


Oligocene, and Cretaceous

Pliocene aquifer of the Roussillon area

All Reunion
Island
aquifers

Figure 58: French aquifers classified as “ZRE” in 2003, i.e. requiring lower abstraction volumes
and a better management of the different uses (French Ministry for the Ecology and the
Sustainable Development)

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Annex 2

Plates

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Plate 1. Location map of the Saq study area

36° 38° 40° 42° 44°


32° 32°

AL QURAYYAT

§
"
Northern Border

W
" ARAR Enlarged area

ad
iS
i rh
an
SAKAKA
30° Al Jawf " 30°

Legend
" Major town
TABUK # Minor town
"
Tabuk Hail Road
BAQ'A An Nefud (sand dunes)
28° # 28°
TAYMA Province (Min. of Planning)
# HA'IL
"
Limit of Saq study area