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Wednesday, May 25, 2011     GET REAL

Water crisis pushes Israel to approve world's
2nd-largest desalination plant

TEL AVIV — Israel, facing what could be the worst water crisis in its 63-year history, has launched a massive desalination project.


The Finance Ministry has approved the construction and operation of a desalination plant in Soreq in southern Israel. Officials said the facility would contain a capacity to produce 150 million cubic meters of drinking water per year, or the second largest desalination plant in the world.

"On completion of the plant, which is one of the world's biggest desalination plants, the desalinated water will constitute over 65 percent of the economy's domestic water consumption," Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said. "This step will make a significant contribution to solving Israel's water crisis."

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On May 23, the ministry signed an agreement for the $400 million project with an Israeli-led joint venture, SDL, Middle East Newsline reported. SDL was owned by Israel's IDE Technologies and the Hong Kong-based Hutchison Water International Holdings, winners of a desalination tender.

Officials said the desalination pant would be completed in 2013. They said the 100-dunam facility, designed to operate on reverse osmosis technology, would be based on the so-called build-own-transfer model, designed to avoid government ownership. Investment in the project has included the European Union's European Investment Bank.

Under the project, the price of desalinated water would be 2.01 shekel [$0.57] per cubic meter. The project was launched amid Israel's six-year drought and would supply 20 percent of the nation's drinking and 10 percent of potable water consumption. Neighboring Jordan and Syria, with major distribution problems, have long been forced to rely on water tankers for residential consumption.

Israel already operates three desalination plants, located in Ashkelon, Hadera and Palmachim, which supply a total of 300 million cubic meters of water. With the latest facility, officials said, Israel would produce another 300 million cubic meters of water over the next three years.

"But we must not forget that Israel is still in the midst of a crisis and an intensive desalination process is essential," National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau said. "Only a good winter next year and the continued rapid and massive construction of desalination plants and expansion of the existing plants can lead to the recovery of the water sector and take us out of the crisis."

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