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Connecting Deserts

A Milestone in Connecting the Arava to the National Water System

​The State of Israel is located on the edge of the desert. It's natural sources of water are limited and its yearly rainfall is inadequate. Together, these facts, combined with population growth, were responsible for the gradual depletion of Israel's natural water reservoirs and made finding and developing creative solutions to the problems of Israel's chronic water shortage essential.

 

Israel's largest infrastructure project in the 20th century was the National Water Carrier which was constructed to bring water from the north of the country to the center and the south. At Rosh HaEyin, at Mekorot's Yarkon Springs pumping station, the National Water Carrier was connected to the two Yarkon-Negev pipelines. The southernmost settlement connected to this system is Mitzpeh Ramon. Thus, the Arava region was not connected to the national water system. When settlement in the Arava region began, residents were supplied with water from one source – local wells with a high saline content. Until 1990 this water was used for all residential and agricultural needs, apart from drinking and cooking. In order to provide water that was fit for drinking, Mekorot constructed, in each city, town and settlement, five cubic meters per hour capacity desalination plants. The desalinated water was used solely to provide desalinated drinking water and was available from just one faucet in each home.

Until recently, the water supply system for the central Arava was totally independent, cut off from adjacent water systems including the national water system. The system was based on more than 50 wells drilled into various aquifers. The supply of water with a high saline content for agriculture severely restricted the quality

The first desalination plant to provide drinking quality, desalinated water for all residential needs was opened by Mekorot in 2005 and supplied the community of Tsukim. In 2010, Mekorot opened the 25-cubic meter per hour Faran desalination plant which supplies desalinated water to Moshav Faran and the Ramon Inn (Pundak Ramon) Until then, the moshav and the inn relied on four saline wells for all their water needs, apart from drinking. A smaller desalination plant supplied residents with drinking water.

 

Over the past few years Mekorot has implemented a project to increase water supply to the periphery. As part of the project, the company set up modern desalination plants to treat saline water and supply it to settlements in the area (including Tsofar, Sapir, Ein Yahav, Hatzeva and Neot Kikar-Ein Tamar). The desalination systems include desalinated water storage facilities, supply lines and the transfer of water concentrate from the desalination units for use in agriculture. The units, some of the most advanced of their kind, operate automatically without the need for human intervention. They are connected to the company's command center in Eilat. Each facility produces 360 cubic meters of desalinated water per day for drinking and household use. 

Due to the increase in cultivated land and population growth in the area, there was a need to improve the quality of water supplied to consumers and to develop a better understanding of water needs for the coming years.  A master plan, which was approved by the Water Authority in 2012, was prepared for supplying water to the area. Since then, Mekorot has been developing the complex engineering project to connect the northern and the central Arava areas to the national water system. The aim is to ensure that the Arava areas no longer need rely just on local well water but would also benefit, like most areas of Israel, from an increased, reliable and quality water supply from the national system.

 

Connecting the northern and central Ararva areas to the national water system is part of Mekorot's 5-year plan to develop the water economy. This project is being executed through a series of mega projects that will provide a solution for the water needs of the present and future generations. One of these projects is the New National Water Carrier, a massive project that made it possible for Israel to enter the era of desalination. The New National Water Carrier receives desalinated water from the desalination plants situated along Israel's coastline and delivers them, via new infrastructure laid by Mekorot, to the national water system.

 

The master plan for the northern and central Arava and the Kikar Sdom areas includes the construction of the Tsafit-Sdom pipeline with a branch to Neot Kikar. This will connect the Ein Nokek area and the Arava to the national water system. The combined length of the pipelines is some 64 Km. This is a unique engineering project characterized by the exceptionally thick walls of the pipes.

Another important project being undertaken by Mekorot is the laying of a 30" pipeline from Eilat northwards to supply water for agricultural needs to settlements in the southern Arava region. This is also part of the regional master plan which includes the construction of pumping stations and reservoirs.

Due to the amount of time it will take to complete the master plan as well as increasing water shortages in the Arava region, Mekorot has prepared a plan for the immediate supply of water to the central Arava and Kikar Sdom regions. The plan proposes engineering solutions to supply the Arava's water needs until 2020. The project proposes to drill new wells, to lay water pipelines and to construct pumping stations and reservoirs. Additionally, the possibility of bringing saline water from the southern Arava via the Arava connection is being considered.

 

In order to find the most efficient solution, Mekorot has closely examined water usage habits in the Arava. It was found that in the southern Arava, consumption is concentrated primarily during the day with some of the wells being dormant at night. In the central Arava, on the other hand, there is a constant demand for water throughout the day and night. In the central Arava there are two water reservoirs: the Sheyzaf next to Moshav Ein Yahav and the Faran reservoir. Depending on water balances, some 3 million cubic meters of saline water a year can be sent to the central Arava. In light of  these figures, it has been decided to lay a pipeline connecting the southern and the central Arava regions - the Arava Connecting Pipeline. Due to the complex route that the pipeline traverses, and based on future planning needs, it was decided to lay the pipeline with 28" diameter pipes, which was originally specified in the central Arava master plan , rather than according to engineering criteria relating to the amount of water to be transferred (a relatively small amount).

The pipeline was connected to the Faran-Eilat pipeline which transfers saline water from the Faran Bottleneckwells (located where Highway 40 crosses the Faran river bed) to the southern Arava. Since the Faran-Eilat pipeline goes through the southern Arava and the raw water is also used for the Shezaf desalination plant, a hydraulic remote command & control unit was installed where the lines connect, so that in the event of a fault it will be possible to stop water flow remotely and to set the water flow according to water levels in the operational pools.

 

Due to the complexity of the project, the pipeline was divided into three, 10 – 15 Km. sections. Approval for the plan required close coordination with environmental agencies as the pipe runs through protected areas, with the IDF and the Ministry of Defense (the pipeline runs along the border fence between Israel and Jordan), as well as with the Arava Drainage Authority as the route crosses many river beds. The project took a year and a half to complete and was managed by Mekorot's Southern Region and executed by the company's subsidiary, EMS Mekorot Projects.  

 

Operation of the line since July 2016 is the first step and a milestone in the implementation of the central Arava master plan and provides back-up for the supply of water to the central Arava region. This project also has great national significance as the connection will speed up the development of the Arava, increase settlements, bolster agriculture and encourage tourism.