The country has long-term plans to increase its desalination capacity more than five times over in the coming decades by building new plants. Environmental campaigners will be the key opposition to the expansion scheme.
Israel’s National Planning Council has approved the construction of five more desalination plants as part of a long term master plan. The building of the plants will eventually enable the country to produce 1.75 billion cubic metres of desalinated water a year. The master plan covers the years 2040-2050 and takes into account the needs of Israel as well as the West Bank.
“This is the first stage in the process and enables us to proceed with site selection,” said Avraham Tenne, director of desalination at Israel’s Water Authority, in an interview with GWI. He added the Water Authority will present the National Planning Council later this year with proposed sites for the desalination plants that the body said will eventually range in size from 150 to 200 million cubic metres a year (about 400,000-550,000m3/d).
The first desalination plant is expected to be located in the Western Galilee in northern Israel. “The initial tender for the project is likely to be for 50mcm with an expansion in the future,” said Tenne. He added the proposed plant would likely begin production in 2017.
The cost of the plants, and related infrastructure, is put at $15 billion. The Water Authority expects 80% of the financing will come from water tariffs and the remaining 20% from the state budget. The authority said that because of a growing number of users in the next few decades there may not be a need to increase water tariffs, as has been the case in recent years.
Israel currently produces 292mcm/y of desalinated water at three plants along its Mediterranean coast at Ashkelon, Palmachim and Hadera. The Water Authority expects production to more than double to 600-700mcm annually after 2014.
The need for greater dependence on desalinated water has been underscored by the substantial drop in rainfall in recent years. Israel is now experiencing a seventh straight year of drought. Rainfall levels in northern Israel were in line this year with the multi year average. However, along the coastal plain and in southern Israel precipitation was only 50-70% of normal levels.
The long-term master plan takes into account the population growth in Israel as well as in the West Bank. Israel is committed to increasing water supplies to the Palestinian Authority. A desalination plant to serve the Palestinians has been tentatively earmarked for an inland site near Hadera. According to the preliminary plan the plant will be located five kilometres inland on an 18-hectare site. The plant would produce 150mcm a year for use in the West Bank.
The environmental group Friends of the Earth Middle East has sharply criticised the National Planning Council, alleging that the decision will encourage water consumption, instead of leading to greater conservation. In addition the environmental group said that it would also turn over control of water resources to private corporations. However the council noted that predictions of future water demand were uncertain and therefore it is unclear whether all of the proposed desalination plants will eventually be built.