The Mekorot water utility yesterday cut the ribbon on its saline-water desalination plant, which can treat 20,200 cubic meters of water a day.
At present its capacity will augment Israel's supply of potable water by 7.4 million cubic meters a year. Mekorot plans to double its capacity next year, and to build another plant next door to this one. Its aim is to produce 17 million cubic meters of water a year from the two.
The total cost of building the two plants to their final capacity is estimated at half a billion shekels.
Another reason to build the plants is to prevent further salination of the southern coastal aquifer. During the recent years of drought, heavy reliance on the aquifer caused the salinity levels in its water to increase.
The coastal aquifer is Israel's main source of natural water. It supplies 702 million cubic meters of water each year on average, half the amount pumped from underground sources in the whole country. But over the years its water quality has deteriorated, as characterized by rising salinity.
National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau commented at the ceremony that the water crisis in Israel continues, and warned that by the end of the summer, the water level of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee ) - the biggest freshwater lake in Israel - will be at the "black line," below which it must not fall. The winter of 2010-2011 brought 90% of the average rainfall after six years of drought, Landau said. But the crisis has not been resolved and the answer lies in desalination, he said.
In the next three years Israel will gain 300 million cubic meters of desalinated water each year, Landau said.