Israel to construct first major desalination plant

Israel has decided that the best way that the country can meet current water demands is to invest in large-scale desalination plants, according to an international marketing consulting company.

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Economic Affairs has approved recommendations for the construction of the country’s first major seawater desalination plant, reports Frost & Sullivan.

It is hoped that as prices fall and technology improves, desalination plants could prove vital to preserving both peace and life in the Middle East.

Initial estimates and plans for the first plant are that it will provide around 140,000m3 per day of potable water, and construction will cost around $150 million. The plant is to be built by a private contractor under a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) contract.

The Israeli Government will agree to purchase a quantity of the water produced at an established price over a predetermined period. A tender for the project is expected to be issued in late 2000 and full commissioning is hoped to occur around 2004. The plant will be located on the southern shores of Ashkelon and bids are expected to be around $0.70 per cubic metre including investment recovery.

Israel’s move towards self-sufficiency regarding water resources was backed up in mid-May as the Israeli Ministerial Economics Committee announced plans to allocate around $700 million for the purification and desalination of water. This money will be invested in water purification and desalination, wastewater purification for agricultural practices and the cleaning of wells that have become salinated or polluted.

Israel is suffering from over-use of water and a lack of water replenishment. Mekerot, Israel’s national water company, recently announced that by winter 2001, Israel would have no water reserves. These reserves are being replenished at a slower rate than they are being abstracted and according to figures released by the company, fixed water consumption in 1999 was 800 million m3, as opposed to a replenishment of 700 million m3.

The decision to introduce large-scale desalination was taken after plans to transport water from Turkey were criticised as being merely a stopgap solution.

The Israeli water commissioner, Meir Ben-Meir, has long been an advocate of the installation of desalination plants in the region and the long term benefits that this type of plant will provide.

Ben-Meir has said that future plants will be contracted out on a BOT basis. However, he is adamant that when the tender for the first plant is made this summer the majority of bids should come from private companies rather than from government entities such as state-owned water company Mekorot or electricity monopoly Israel Electric Corporation.

With water scarcity seen as a possible future cause of war in the region (see related story)

, Israel’s decision to ensure that it produces enough water to support its own population means it may no longer be accused of stealing water from its neighbours.

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