'40% hike in water prices expected'

Exclusive: Billions needed to link desalination plants, water carrier.

By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
May 10, 2010 05:59
3 minute read.
The Eshkol Reservoir in the Beit Netofa Valley hol

water reservoir 311. (photo credit: Mekorot)

Billions of shekels are needed to connect the desalination plants popping up along the coast to the national water carrier and to integrate them properly into the system, Ido Rosolio, CEO of the Mekorot national water company, has warned.

The extra costs, which include the construction of reservoirs near desalination plants to store water, were not properly estimated and budgeted for when the plans were built, and are a major factor in an expected rise in water prices of about 40 percent by the end of the year, Rosolio said.

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“It’s going to take around NIS 2 billion to connect the desalination plants to the National Water Carrier and change the flow in the carrier itself to accommodate more water coming from the coast than from Lake Kinneret [the Sea of Galilee],” he told The Jerusalem Post in an interview.

'Costs weren't properly estimated by government'

According to Rosolio, raising the price of water was absolutely necessary to cover the vast additional desalination expenses, which were not properly estimated by government planners.

“Getting water from desalination is vastly more expensive than getting it from the Kinneret,” he said, “In 2008, the law was changed so that all costs of the water economy had to come from the price of water. So prices had to rise to meet that cost. It’s as simple as that.”

Connecting the three additional plants that will be built along the coast by 2013 is one of the biggest undertakings of Mekorot since the National Water Carrier was completed in 1964.

Having so much desalinated water coming from the coast means that the water will have to be pumped east and north and south for the first time. Water has until now flowed from north to south, from Lake Kinneret toward the Negev for the most part.

Three desalination plants have been added to the network since 2005 but the three new ones will more than double the amount of desalinated water being produced.

Large reservoirs needed to store water - but none are to be found in central Israel

Rosolio highlighted one poorly planned aspect, among others, of the desalination enterprise.

Today, water doesn’t simply flow from Lake Kinneret into the National Water Carrier. Instead, it goes above ground to the 4.5 million cubic meter Eshkol Reservoir, near Shfaram. From there, it is released into the underground carrier according to estimates of demand. The reservoir enables Mekorot to provide the right amount of water, whether demand is low or high.

Since the desalination plants will be producing water 24 hours a day, large reservoirs are needed near them to store that water until it is required – but there are no such large reservoirs in the center of the country, where the plants have been or will be built, Rosolio said.

There’s a network of smaller reservoirs that will have to be used “to optimal effect,” but finding somewhere to store the desalinated water in the country’s most densely populated region will be difficult.


Desalination plants must run 24/7

The challenge is heightened by the fact that the country can’t just ask the desalination plants to stop producing water for a while each day, Rosolio elaborated. The plants don’t produce water fast enough to meet demand on the fly, i.e., when someone turns on the tap. They have to run 24 hours a day and Mekorot has to find a place to store the desalinated water produced.

Moreover, whatever water the country doesn’t take, it has to pay for anyway. And at NIS 2 per cubic meter, that could get very expensive, very fast.

So far, there are desalination plants in Ashkelon, Palmahim and a new one in Hadera that opened this year. The Palmahim one is a small plant, while the other two are large. Three more large plants are planned – one in Ashdod (by a subsidiary of Mekorot), and two at Sorek.

By 2013 there will be 600 million cubic meters of desalinated water being produced annually in Israel. No other country in the world has such an ambitious desalination program.

The largest consumer of water is the household sector, which uses 750 million cubic meters each year. By 2013, most households will be drinking desalinated water rather than water from Lake Kinneret.  


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