Sorek alleviates Israel’s water shortage
With a total capacity of 624,000 m³/day (150 million cubic meters per year), Sorek is the largest seawater plant of its kind in the world. Located south of Tel Aviv, it sets significant new benchmarks in both desalination capacity and water cost.
“500 million cubic meters of water per year – about 40 percent of the country’s total potable water needs; this is what desalination provides today in Israel. And that number should hit nearly 600 million by mid-2015 providing up to 80 percent of Israel’s domestic drinking water” stresses Fredi Lokiec, Executive Vice-President for special projects at IDE Technologies Ltd, the company that manages the project together with its’ partner Hutchison Water International Holdings Pte. Ltd.
This might just be a drop in the Mediterranean Sea but a huge step forward to alleviate the country’s lasting problem of drought. Given its growing population, rising standard of living and semi-arid location, Israel could hardly do without desalination. The country had experienced seven straight years of drought beginning in the early 2000’s and Sorek as well as several other desalination plants along Israel’s coast are part of the country’s strategy to provide for the nation’s water needs.
Drinking water for 2 million inhabitantsDomestic consumers living in Tel-Aviv and its neighbourhoods are the main beneficiaries of the plant. Agriculture, for his part, is mostly served by treated domestic wastewater as the country reuses 85 percent of its waste water. Assuming a 250 litres/capita/day consumption rate, Sorek can provide drinking water for about two million people, constituting 20 percent of the municipal water demand in Israel.
Drawn from deep in the Mediterranean Sea, the water flows through pipelines reaching almost 1,400 meters off of Israel’s coast and once in Israeli soil, is buried almost 15 m underground. Then, it rushes down a tube sending it through a series of filters and purifiers. After 90 minutes, it is ready to run through the faucets of Tel Aviv.
The lowest production costDesalinated water costs more than freshwater drawn from conventional sources like rivers, lakes, groundwater wells or springs. First, it takes approximately two volumes of seawater to produce one volume of drinkable water. Second, one needs to add investment costs and operational expenses. Still, the Sorek desalination plant produces high quality drinking water at approximately 0.50 EUR/m3 only. One reason for this relatively moderate cost is that the plant sets new standards in energy efficiency.
Low environmental impactThe environmental footprint of the plant was reduced by a range of measures that started with construction processes, like using tunneling techniques rather than traditional open-cut methods and ended with high energy efficiency technologies and removing suspended solids from the brine before it’s returned to the sea. The EIB supported the project sponsors in their effort to reduce the environmental impact of the plant by employing an environmental expert during the due diligence procedure.
A self-generating energy supply system is also being built on site and will serve as the main source of energy. Fueled by natural gas, it should have minimal environmental constrains as well as lower electricity costs.
FEMIP and the water sectorThe Bank supported the project with a EUR 142 million financing as part of its strategy to improve drinking water supply in the region. In 2007, 2009 and 2011, the EIB also supported the financing of similar projects with the construction and extension of the Hadera desalination plant near Haifa and the Mekorot Ashod plant south of Tel Aviv.
In the Mediterranean region as a whole, the Bank has devoted more than EUR 1.05 billion to the water sector.