Background - Seawater Desalination in Israel


Water in Israel has long been insufficient. The natural sources of water - the Sea of Galilee and the underground aquifers - can’t supply the quantities of water that the various sectors require, even though governmental efforts are disciplining consumption, and therefore there is no alternative to enhancing the supply of water by increased production from additional sources.

The quantity of precipitation is not constant over the years. Sometimes rainfall is below the multi-year average during a period of successive years. At the same time, there is constant growth in the population, the standard of living, across the various sectors bringing a continuous rise in demand for water. To prevent an overuse of the natural water sources that can lead to irreversible changes a decision was made to combine acts aimed at reducing the demand for water while increasing its supply.

On the demand side, education and publicity encouraged the public, by means of campaigns for saving water, to use less water and reduce demand for water. The quantities of water allocated to agriculture and industry were reduced and prices for water used by the public were raised.

On the supply side, the primary key to solving the deficit problem was a massive increase in the volume of water by using additional water sources. In order to increase the water supply for agriculture and to replace sources of sweet water, an extensive network was constructed in recent years for the recycling of waste water, which is purified and returned into use for agriculture and industry. The rate of reclamation in Israel is the world’s highest, mostly for agricultural use. In addition, further steps are being taken to increase the supply of sweet water, by desalination of seawater, desalination of brackish water, preservation of freshwater sources against salinization and pollution, reclamation of wells, and collection of runoff.

Seawater desalination is the most reliable of the sources for enriching the water supply, since seawater is available in unlimited quantities and involves no dependency - neither on climate nor on political factors.

The desalination plan began with the cabinet decision of August 3, 2000, on the construction a seawater desalination plant on the southern coast for 50 million m3 of water a year. The cabinet decision of June 1, 2008 (decision number 3533) stated an increase in the volume of seawater desalination in Israel from 505 million m3 as of 2013 (in keeping with cabinet decision 1882 of July 1, 2007) to 750 million m3 by 2020. In Government Decision 3866 dated June 10, 2018, the desalination targets were updated such that the volume of desalinated water in 2030 will be 1,100 million m3.

In order to comply with the desalination plan set out by the cabinet, in 2000 and 2001 two tenders were published for desalination plants in Ashkelon and Palmachim, and in 2001 and 2002 agreements were signed with the entrepreneurs who won the tenders. In the beginning of 2003, construction of the first desalination plant commenced in Ashkelon’s southern industrial area. Since then, four further plants have been established - in Palmachim, Hadera, Soreq, and Ashdod - in total the production capability today is some 585 million m3. In October 2018, tender documents were published for the construction of another desalination plant in the Sorek area, amounting to 200 million m3.

Meanwhile, a national master plan for some 750 million m3 of seawater desalination has been prepared, and sites have been selected where additional seawater desalination plants may be established. The national master plan, known as Tama 34b 2, was completed in 2003 , and was even broaden by 2014 in the framework of Tama 34b2/2

What is sea water desalination?

The purpose of desalination is to remove salts from the water. The technology separates salts from two kinds of solutions: brackish water, where the concentration of salts is no more than 10 grams per liter of water; and seawater, where the concentration reaches 40 grams per liter. Desalination technology produces high quality drinking water from water previously unfit for drinking.

Why desalinate?

Three principal reasons for desalination:

  1. Creating a new standalone water source - Sweet-water shortages existing presently and expected in the future can be filled by the production of high-quality water, at reasonable cost, from the unlimited water source that is the sea.
  2. Water quality - The quality of water produced by desalination plants stands up to the most rigid quality control demands required of drinking water by the Health Ministry standards. The water is significantly softer, so that it precipitates significantly less scale and reduces the energy spent on water heating by the industrial and private sectors. Another advantage is receiving waste water with much less salinity than currently, making improved agricultural crops possible increasing the possibilities for use of wastewater, no less significantly, improving the groundwater.
  3. Economic benefit - Thanks to technological improvements and marketplace competition, desalination costs are dropping and production is becoming better and more efficient. Although desalinated water is more expensive than natural sweet water, the extra cost is insignificant when compared against the economic damage from dried-out agricultural land and parks.


How does desalination work? 

These are the two chief methods:

  1. Evaporation processes (the older technology) - The water gradually evaporates as it passes through a series of chambers that vary in temperature and pressure. In each chamber a certain quantity of water evaporates, and the salts remain in the water that has not evaporated. The salty water (about half the incoming water) is dumped back into the sea as brine. The water vapor passes through a condensation stage in which the drops of water are collected, and the product is desalinated water.
  2. Membrane processes (the more modern technology) - The best-known and most widespread of these processes is reverse osmosis. In this process, the salt water is squeezed through membranes that permit the passage of water only and prevent salts from passing through. The water that does pass through the membranes is desalinated water, and the water that remains as a solution is a concentrate that is dumped back into the sea.


Because of their high energy consumption, the evaporation processes are suitable only for countries where electricity is very inexpensive, whereas reverse osmosis is much more energy-efficient and therefore is increasingly used.

Israel’s desalination plants are based on use of reverse osmosis, which, as mentioned, is less costly in energy than evaporation technology and therefore is to be preferred for Israel.

Israel’s current scope of desalination

Today some 585 million m3 of water per year are desalinated in the State of Israel. The Soreq plant provides 150 million m3 per year, the Hadera plant 127 million, the Ashkelon plant 118 million, the Palmachim plant 90 million, and the Ashdod plant 100 million.

Advancing the construction of desalination plants in Israel

The Interdepartmental Tender Committee for seawater desalination, headed by a Senior Deputy Accountant-General from the Ministry of Finance, is the professional body that publishes and administers Israel’s desalination tenders. The Tender Committee includes members representing the Governmental Authority for Water and Sewage; the Ministry of Energy; the Ministry of Finance; and the PPP division of the Inbal governmental company.
After a Concession Agreement with the successful bidder is signed , project management on the State’s behalf is by the Water Desalination Administration (WDA), which includes members representing the Governmental Authority for Water and Sewage; the Ministry of Finance; the Ministry of Energy and the PPP division of the Inbal governmental company, which is also acts as the coordinator for both the Tender Committee and the WDA.

Tenders and agreements for seawater desalination in Israel – Chief principles

  • Water Quality
    The concessionaire will be required to supply water at the quality detailed in the tender documents, Which meets the most stringent standards for water quality regulations for the sanitary quality of the drinking water. If the quality of the desalinated water drops below the quality required in the agreemant, the state shall be entitled to refuse receipt of the lower-quality water. Moreover, the desalinator will be fined for failing to comply with the water quality requirement.
  • Environmental protection - The plants shall meet strict standards and conditions in every respect regarding environmental protection.
  • Price of the water - The basic price of the water shall be set in accordance with the concessionaire's bid in the tender, with payment commencing as soon as the plant has been set up. The price of the water is divided into a set price paid every two months (and covering two months) as a function of the plant’s availability as a source of water, and a variable price for each m3 of water that is in fact supplied.
  • Minimum conditions in the tenders - The tenders include a pre-qualification stage in which the applicants must meet certain requirements. In this context, each bidder will be expected to prove appropriate financial robustness and to show prior experience in constructing and operating desalination plants.
  • Criteria for selecting the contractor - The quality of the technical/environmental proposal, the quality of the financial proposal, and the price quotation for the water.
  • Conclusion of the plant’s construction, and start of operation - The state will grant the operator a Permit to Operate only after the concessionaire has fulfilled all its obligations during the construction stage, including success in the completion tests and in water quality inspection.
  • Technological improvements - Throughout the contractual period, the concessionarie will be entitled to suggest significant technological improvements for the plant, provided that such improvements shall in no way detract from the plant’s ability to supply the water at the required quality and in the requested amounts. All significant technological improvements shall be subject to the State’s approval. There may be circumstances in which, consequent to technical improvements at the plant, the price of the eater will be reduced.
  • Transfer of the plant to the state, if the plant is of the BOT type - When the contractual term ends, the desalination plant shall pass in its entirety, without compensation, into the hands of the state. The contract also ensures the State’s right to take the plant over for any reason whatever during the contractual period. The desalination plants in Ashkelon, Hadera, and Soreq are of the BOT type.
  • Detailed planning - The concessionaire shall perform the detailed design of the plant, based on the tender documents, on the bid, on the statutory plans, and on the construction permits. The planning shall be examined and approved by the State in keeping with the procedure that the agreement stipulates.
  • Permits - The concessionaire is required to independently obtain all the permits and licenses required under any law for execution of the project. In addition, the concessionaire must obtain the building permits for constructing the plant itself. The State is responsible for bringing about statutory progress in the course of the tender and afterward.
  • Concomitant agreements - The concessionaire shall enter into all contracts necessary for the project’s completion, including financial contracts, a planning contract, a construction contract, an operation and maintenance contract, and a management contract. All those contracts are subject to State approval in accordance with the mechanisms that the agreement stipulates.
  • Findings on site - Should the site be occupied by any objects (dangerous materials, graves, or relics), the concessionaire must handle them in accordance with all laws. In this case, the concessionaire shall be entitled to compensation in accordance with the agreement’s stipulations.
  • Applicable law - Disputes between the sides shall be arbitrated. The agreements shall be governed by Israeli law.