Construction of a power station in the Rotem Plain last year.
Construction of a power station in the Rotem Plain last year. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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The Rotem Plain in the south could be Israel's major reservoir for construction sand in the coming decades. Using sand from Rotem would avoid sand mining in areas earmarked for nature and landscape preservation, an Interior Ministry study revealed.

Construction in Israel over the next three decades will require an estimated 290 million tons of sand, an essential construction component, according to a survey conducted for the Interior Ministry.

But sand mining in the Costal Plain and southern Arava over the past two decades has caused severe environmental damage, such as the destruction of important flora and fauna habitats. In recent years the government has prohibited sand mining in the Coastal Plain and issued sand mining permits in the Rotem Plain.

The Interior Ministry contracted A. Lerman Architects and Aviv Management Engineering and Information Systems to survey the Rotem sand reserves in view of the country's construction needs. The survey was part of the preparations for a mining and quarrying master plan.

The survey says some of the 290 million tons of sand required for construction could be supplied from sites the authorities have already approved for mining, such as areas in the Rotem Plain. Some may be obtained from various quarries, as some of the quarried materials can be crushed into construction sand.

About 104 million tons of sand in Rotem are located in a phosphate mining area. Rotem Amfert Negev, the company that holds the mining franchise, is not permitted to mine the sand above the phosphate, so the sand is mixed with other kinds of soil in the mining process and loses its value.

An Interior Ministry team recommends permitting selective sand mining in the franchise area for the purpose of construction, road-building and industry. This would reduce sand mining in environmentally sensitive areas with nature reserves, including the Rotem region.

The survey also located another sand source in Rotem, but mining in that area would foil plans to develop industrial plants in the area. Another potential sand source is located near Rotem, but the site is populated by a Bedouin community, so is inaccessible for mining.

A large sand reserve lies in the inner Coastal Plain near the communities of Ruhama, Kedma, Bror Hayil and Yad Binyamin. However, it was decided not to mine it as the sand stratum is important to the rainwater's permeation into the region's groundwater.