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Water in Israel: Water Desalination

Visual provided by, Andrea Rodriguez

Today, Israel is widely considered a pioneer in the area of water desalination. In 2013, more than a third of Israel's tap water came from the Mediterranean Sea and briny wells. "If we had to rely on sources of fresh water, we wouldn't be here," says Oded Distel, director of Israel New Tech, a government agency that gives grants to high-tech water startups. "In Israel, we use every drop twice."

This was not always the case, however.

For decades after its founding, and even during the pre-State days, Israel dealt with major challenges in water shortages and desertification. With its water supply entirely dependent on rainfall, which can fluctuate dramatically year to year, the country would routinely find itself in a perilous position regarding water usage nationwide.

In March 1999, the National Infrastructures Ministry initated an emergency plan to deal with the continued water crisis.

Taking into consideration the need to share their limited water resources with neighboring countries - Israel supplies water to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, Cabinet Minister Benyamin Ben-Eliezer announced the Regional Seawater Desalination project.

Ashkelon Desalination Plant

According to the framework of the Ben-Eliezer's plan, the objective was to provide 1 billion cubic meters of desalinated seawater to Israel and thus provide a solution to the water crises as well as meet the area's future needs.

In the initial phase of the project included the construction of a 50 million/cm desalination plant in Ashkelon for drinking water and domestic consumption.

Desalination describes the separation of water from substances dissolved in it and the main purpose of desalination is to reduce the quantity of salts in the water. There are two main processes for desalination:

  • Evaporation: Water is gradually evaporated while passing through several chambers, where pressure and temperature decline gradually. In each chamber certain amount of water evaporates while the salts remain in the remaining water. The water with the salts is returned to the sea as brine. The water vapor undergoes condensation process at the end of which we get desalinated water.
  • Reverse Osmosis: In this process salt water is pressed against membranes which allow only water to pass through while preventing passage of salts. Water passing through such membranes is desalinated water. Water remaining in the solution is brine removed to the sea or to authorized disposal sites.

In February 2005, Minister Ben-Eliezer and Water Commissioner Shimon Tal signed a agreement to commence the establishment of a second seawater desalination plant in Palmachim. The new plant, built by private company Derech Hayam, was scheduled to produce 30 million cubic meters of purified water a year when completed (2007).

In January 2011, the Cabinet approved an emergency plan to increase production of desalinated water by operating its desalination facilities full time in order to deal with the crisis in the water economy and ensure the orderly supply of water to residents of Israel.

Ashkelon Desalination Plant

The Ashkelon facility, regarded as the most advanced desalination facility of its kind in the world, has been operational since 2005 and supplies more than 108 million of cubic meters of water - approximately 15% of domestic water consumption. The facility, which operates by means of reverse osmosis, includes several technological innovations and it supplies water of the highest quality.

In December 2006, the Ashkelon plant won a special prize for "exceptional achievements" in recognition of its huge technological contribution to the technological and economic promotion of the international desalination industry during the annual convention of the Israeli Desalination Association. This prize joins the "Desalination Plant of the Year" prize the facility won during the prestigious ceremony of Global Water.

Palmachim Desalination Plant

The Palmachim facility, operational since May 2007, supplies some 30 million of cubic meters of water through a connection to the West Yarkon pipeline which is connected to the national water system. The facility operates by means of the reverse osmosis technology similar to the desalination plant in Ashkelon.

The desalination plant was constructed in such a way that it can be expanded in the future and the potential of the facility, land and main systems wise, is up to 60 – 70 million of cubic meters per year.

Hadera Desalination Facility

The Hadera facility, located on the premises of the "Rabin Lights" power plant and operational since May 2010, is the largest desalination plant of its kind in the world. Operating by means of reverse osmosis, the facility supplies approximately 127 million cubic meters of high quality water each year.

New Plants Needed

“The shortage of natural water is the worst that has been measured in about 100 years and is bringing water sources in the north to an unprecedented low point,” Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said on April 9, 2018. Consequently, the water ministry announced a plan to build two more desalination plants to reinforce the five built along the Mediterranean coast over the past 13 years. It did not include their price, but similar facilities in Israel have cost about $400 million.

Sources: Schwab, Jennifer. “Israel Is the Unsung Hero in Water Management,” Huffington Post (February 12, 2016);
Prime Minister's Office;
Israeli Foreign Ministry;
Ministry of National Infrastructures;
Water Technology.Net;
“Israel will boost desalination to fight a five-year drought,” Reuters, (April 9, 2018).