Desalinated water production to double with record-breaking plants.
By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
The cabinet approved on Sunday the plan to build two desalination plants on the coast in the Sorek region. At 150 million cubic meters (mcm) of water per year, these would be the biggest reverse osmosis desalination plants in the world.At present the Hadera plant, which began operating this year, is the biggest in the world (127 mcm). Saudia Arabia has bigger desalination plants, but they employ a different and more expensive technology.The two plants, which would double the amount of desalinated water Israel will produce this year, are scheduled to begin operation in 2013. The push for desalinated water follows a government decision from 2008 which calls for 750 mcm annually by 2020.When all of the current and planned desalination plants become fully operational, Israel will produce about 700 mcm per year.There are three desalination plants currently in operation: Palmahim (45 mcm), Ashkelon (110 mcm) and Hadera (127 mcm). The two in the Sorek region would add 300 mcm, and one more to be built in Ashdod would add another roughly 100 mcm.Total current household water consumption is about 750 mcm, so 700 mcm of desalinated water would represent a tremendous influx.The desalination plants emerged to fend off the effects of reduced rainfall brought about by climate change as well as more than five years of below average rainfall. The lack of rain, and previous failed government efforts to complete desalination plants nearly five years ago, have left Israel with a serious water deficit, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu noted at the start of the cabinet meeting.“Over the last several years, the water market in Israel has been plunged into a deep crisis.There is a gap of hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water that we need each year and these plants which we are planning will serve to fill that gap.“The Sorek facility will provide about a fourth of the water that Israel is missing. It will include pumping facilities, a desalination plant on 300 dunams, water reservoirs, pipes for distribution, and a special electrical system. As such it represents an infrastructure project of high national importance,” he said.The cabinet was also briefed about the water situation by National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau and officials from the Water Authority and Mekorot.“We are still in the midst of a severe water crisis,” Landau said. “The amount of rainfall is disappointing, we are entering another summer with natural reservoirs which have too little water in them, and the aquifers are dwindling.“The ministry, along with the Water Authority, is investing vast efforts in advancing desalination, water treatment plants and distribution systems in order to stabilize the situation.“The plan in our hands enables us to leave behind the water crisis within three years.“I expect all of the ministers of the government to support the development plan for the water economy and the required funding, to prevent the mistakes of the past. The public, which is doing its part, especially since the rise of water prices, expects the government to solve the problem of the lack of water and prevent the need in future for levies,” Landau said at the beginning of the discussion.Connecting the desalination plants to the National Water Carrier is the national water company Mekorot’s biggest project since the Carrier itself was built in the 1960s. An influx of some 700 mcm from the coast will necessitate changing the flow of the Carrier itself from north-south to one that flows from the coast up and down the country. It will also require the construction of reservoirs to store the desalinated water until it is released into the Carrier and the construction of power plants to run the desalination plants. Water prices are expected to rise by as much as 40% by year’s end, to finance Mekorot’s construction.The desalination plants themselves are BOT (Build- Operate-Transfer) and as such are constructed by private companies.The SDL consortium – comprised of the Israeli company IDE and Hutchison Water – secured the tender to supply the government with desalinated water at a rate of NIS 2.01 per cubic meter.
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