Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) is the largest urban area in Vietnam – the total metropolitan area is reported to contain around 13m people. With annual GDP growth of 6%, the demand for safe and adequate water from residential and industrial customers continues to grow.

The Saigon Water Company (SAWACO) is tasked with meeting this challenge. SAWACO is a wholly-owned limited company owned and controlled by the HCMC City Committee, which also approves the annual budget, tariffs and capital investment plans. Water supply is split into three; (a) treatment of approx. 2.3million m3/day by a mixture of publicly and privately operated plans, feeding into (b) bulk distribution via 550km of large pipes to (c) 6,500 of secondary and tertiary distribution pipes.

Customer service issues centre on inadequate supply due to low pressure and leakage in the final networks. Many customers receive no water at peak times, whilst pressures at night are too high. This leads to measures such as roof-top storage or use of groundwater.

A 2009 study proposed moving from direct supply of water to the local distribution network/customers to a zonal approach with ring mains providing water to in-system storage reservoirs which then feed the local distribution network. These improvements would provide significant operational benefits; better management of peak demand, longer service hours, higher pressures, facilitate better leakage control, along with improved network and supply resilience. For the customers, higher pressures mean more, better quality, water for longer.

To deliver these benefits, a 2013 study proposed 5 large in-system storage reservoirs across the city, ranging in size from 36,000m3 to 129,000m3. The total estimated cost was US$117.5m (2017 prices). A 2015 study worked up one reservoir in more detail with site plans, conceptual design and environmental assessments. This 5 Reservoirs project was part of SAWACO’s 2016 revised Capital Investment Programme (CIP).

Over the last 20 years the World Bank Group has supported the development of HCMC focusing on urban upgrading, water supply and sanitation/urban drainage improvements, urban mobility and fiscal management. As part of the World Bank Group, in December 2017 IFC signed a MOU with the HCMC municipality to support the development of sustainable infrastructure including options for financing the 5 Reservoirs element of the SAWACO CIP.  This included a review of the design options.

The original purpose of this review was to appraise the detailed technical, engineering, cost and operational aspects of the 5 Service Reservoirs project. For various reasons the review widened to include detailed background to SAWACO’s operational and financing situation.

The review confirmed that there are significant and concrete technical, environmental, social and development benefits from this project. It also outlines the further work required to prepare the project for more detailed analysis, and provides a useful introduction to the wider engineering, regulatory, financial and climate change issues surrounding the future delivery of water supply infrastructure in HCMC.