Desal Plants to Slake One-third of Country's Thirst by 2013

Israel's economy will become much less dependent on water from Lake Kinneret over the next five years, due to a massive increase in desalination, National Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer told a conference on renewable energy yesterday.

"In 2013, Israel's desalination capabilities will reach some 600 million cubic meters," he told the conference, which took place in Kibbutz Shefayim. That number will constitute about one-third of Israel's total water usage and is about 4.5 times the volume of water the country currently desalinates.

Ben-Eliezer blamed the Finance Ministry for the current water crisis, saying it prevented the needed desalination plants from being built sooner.

Between the plants themselves and pipelines to transport the desalinated water to the rest of the country, the total investment over the next five years will exceed NIS 10 billion. Much of the funding is already anchored in cabinet decisions.

Meanwhile, a state commission of inquiry on water resources yesterday gave the Water Authority 10 days to present it with a detailed report on how it plans to cope with the current shortage. The commission, whose mandate is to produce long-term recommendations rather than dealing with the immediate crisis, said it nevertheless took this step because it was appalled by the data it has received about the low level of Israel's water reserves, which is liable to lead to severe disruptions in the water supply over the coming year.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel charged yesterday that had a water saving plan prepared by the Water Authority three years ago not been shelved, some 400 million cubic meters of water would have been saved. Had the NIS 147 million plan gone forward, the Kinneret's level would now be 2.4 meters higher, the group claimed.