Water Superpower

Mekorot – A Water Superpower – Both at Home and Internationally

 

As it stands poised between its eighth and ninth decades of operation, Mekorot has, over the past five years, carried out mega-projects valued at more than six billion Shekels. These projects are part of Mekorot's larger plan to develop Israel's water economy. The projects are designed to provide solutions for the water needs of both present and future generations. As well as developing the local water economy, Mekorot is also responsible for many varied and important projects around the world. With Mekorot celebrating its 80th birthday, let's look at some of Mekorot's more important projects.

 

The New National Water Carrier: Completing the water economy revolution in the era of desalination with the Ashdod Desalination Plant.

 

In 2015 Mekorot completed the construction of its huge mega-project, the New National Water Carrier, one of the biggest infrastructure projects carried out in Israel over the past years. The project pulled Israel out from its continuous water shortage and symbolized the entry of the Israeli water economy into the era of water desalination.

Over the past decade, five desalination plants have been built along Israel's coastline. The Ashdod plant is owned by the Mekorot Group. Today, all five desalination plants are operational and provide 600 million cubic meters of potable water every year, which represents 75% of Israel's total residential water needs. This has made it possible to reduce the amount of water pumped from the Sea of Galilee and from Israel's natural water reservoirs which, in turn, is contributing to their rehabilitation. This comes after nine consecutive years of drought, prior to the desalination era, where excessive amounts of water were pumped from the Sea of Galilee and the aquifer to meet water targets.

 

The Ashdod Desalination Plant was the last to be constructed. It was built by Mekorot's subsidiary companyMekorot Development and Enterprise, which was responsible for the plant's design and construction and which will operate the plant for 27 years. Total investment in the project was in the region of 1.6 billion Shekels. The plant will supply 100 cubic meters of desalinated sea water per year to the national water system and is ready to expand production to 125 million cubic meters per year. The Ashdod Desalination Plant uses advanced technologies and even has a sea water desalination research unit specializing in advanced pre-treatment methods.

 

This is where the New National Water Carrier enters the picture. As there is no justification for the construction of desalination facilities without a system for the integration and supply of water to all corners of the country, Mekorot constructed the New National Water Carrier to distribute the huge quantities of desalinated sea water from the five coastal desalination plants. The New National Water Carrier is situated in the center of Israel and consists of a system of 100" pipes and it connects the coastal desalination plants to the national water system. Its construction involved a change in historic perceptions regarding the direction of water flow in Israel. No more just from north to south but now also from east to west and all other directions, all according to the needs of economy in an era of desalination. The most advanced and best technologies are the brains that control the supply of hundreds of millions of cubic meters of desalinated water across the country. This is an enormous project, both in size and importance, involving a huge investment of billions of Shekels.

The Ashdod Desalination Plant and the completion of the New National Water Carrier signify the completion of the revolution in Israel's water economy in the desalination era. With the project's completion, some 75% of Israel's residential water needs are based on desalinated water. This is a revolution as these desalination plants break decades of Israel's dependency on rainfall in an age of global warming. Based on an assumed population increase and increased water consumption in Israel, the amount of desalinated water is expected to suffice until 2025.

 

It is worth noting that the veteran National Water Carrier has also been adapted to the desalination era and provides desalinated water in a reverse flow from the south to the north, reaching the city of Carmiel. Additionally, Mekorot is currently working on the laying of an especially complex, 10 Km long and more than 2.5-meter diameter water pipeline to connect the Sorek and Palmachim desalination plant distribution systems to the Ashdod Desalination Plant. Thanks to this pipeline, the desalinated water can be fed to the south, to the Hefetz Haim Reservoir and to Jerusalem, and also to the north during the winter months. Its construction involved the drilling of a tunnel along the Palmachim and Nachal Sorek highway in close coordination with Israel Natural Gas Lines and other companies.      

 

The Fifth Jerusalem Water System

 

The Fifth System for the Supply of Water to Jerusalem is also part of the New National Water Carrier. This is a huge project which includes the drilling of a 13 Km. long tunnel (already started) and the construction of four large pumping stations which will accommodate huge, unique pumps and motors, designed specifically for the project, with high outputs and outstanding energy efficiency characteristics. In fact, it's safe to say that, since the original National Water Carrier, no pumping stations of a similar size have been built in Israel. The pumps were essential since, unlike most water tunnels in the world through which water flows at low gravitational pressure, the Jerusalem water tunnel will carry large quantities of water from sea level to 860 meters above sea level. Pumping water at high pressure over such a distance (water will flow from Kislon to Ein Kerem) makes the project a globally unique enterprise and presents its planners and builders with many significant challenges. Many specific conditions are required if the tunnel is to withstand the high pressures required to ensure optimum functioning and especially with such large quantities of water. 

 

The new system will solve future water problems for Jerusalem and the city's surrounding environs until 2065. As with many other Mekorot projects, this project is also of great national importance with social, economic, environmental and political implications. The Fifth Jerusalem Water System was approved by the Committee for National Infrastructures as a national infrastructure project. This is because of the system's great importance, not just for Jerusalem but also for the towns and settlements in the city's surrounding area, for industry and for the Palestinian Authority. The project is expected to increase water supply capacity by four times that of the existing systems and provide solutions for decades to come.

 

Connecting the Wilderness to the National Water Supply

 

Until recently, the water supply system for the Arava areas (wilderness – Negev) was totally independent and cut off from adjacent water systems including the national water system. The system was based on more than 50 wells drilled into various aquifers. Over the past years Mekorot has carried out a project to increase water supply to the periphery. As part of the project, the company set up innovative 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.

 

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 particularly thick walls of the pipes. In order to bring the plan to fruition, Mekorot decided to lay a pipeline that connects the southern and the central Arava - the Arava Connection Line. 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, the IDF and the Ministry of Defense as well as with the Arava Drainage Authority. 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. To ensure technological optimization, a hydraulic remote command & control unit was installed where the lines connected 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.

 

 Operation of the line in July 2016 was the first step and a milestone in the implementation of the central Arava master plan and it 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.

 

The Eshkol-Somech Project to Haifa and the Krayot

 

Right now, Mekorot is also working on the final construction stages of the second Haifa – Krayot - Galil water system, the Eshkol-Somech Project. The 17 km., 60" steel pipeline will gradually replace the first system, constructed in the 1950's. The new system will provide a solution for an expanding population and urban development in the area. The line begins where it connects with the National Water Carrier close to the Eshkol site, and it will supply water from the Sea of Galilee and desalinated water from the national system. This large-scale project was developed with a 250 million Shekel investment and involves engineering challenges and complex landscapes. The project includes the construction of one of the country's largest drinking water reservoirs with a capacity of 215 thousand cubic meters. It will also encourage the development and growth of towns and other settlements in the area. Moreover, since this is a two-way system, it will, at a later date, be possible to send desalinated water from a desalination plant to be constructed in the western Galilee, to the national water system.

 

International Cooperation

 

Alongside its extensive operations in Israel, Mekorot also promotes water projects around the world, in countries dealing with water crises. One of the more prominent cooperative projects is between Mekorot and Mexico's water company. Mexico's choice of Mekorot brings Mekorot much honor and pride, and is yet further confirmation of the company's standing as one of the leading providers of solutions for water problems and crises. The Mexican project focuses on technical assistance to protect the aquifer's water quality, the prevention of contamination, actions to rehabilitate underground reservoirs and monitoring the quality of water source restoration activities. The first stage in this cooperative venture involves a survey, the results of which will determine recommendations for purifying the aquifer. In the second stage, a pilot program will be carried out to verify treatment procedures. Finally, the treatment plants themselves will be constructed.

 

A few months ago, the President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, visited Mekorot's Eshkol facility in the north of Israel. The aim of the visit was, amongst other things, to learn more about water management, sanitation and the allocation of Israel's water resources. This as Guatemala suffers from chronic water problems. In Guatemala, unlike Israel, there is a huge supply of replenished water. However, due to incorrect management of water resources, people receive a very small quantity of water in comparison to residents of Israel. Additionally, Guatemala suffers from severe contamination from its wastewater and industrial contamination. Israel, and specifically Mekorot – due to its international expertise not only in water technology but also in overall management of the water economy – was chosen by Guatemala to act as a mentor to teach water agencies how to improve water supplies. 

 

Mekorot has recently opened a sewage treatment plant in Romania, constructed at a cost of over 10 million Euro. The treatment plant's expansion and improvement was carried out by Mekorot's subsidiary, Mekorot Development & Enterprise and included the construction of new sewage treatment facilities and the replacement of all electro-mechanical equipment. The company was also responsible for managing and monitoring local contractors and equipment suppliers from across Europe. All work on upgrading and expanding the sewage treatment plant was carried out without disrupting its regular, day to day operation. From start to completion the project took just 18 months.

 

Due to the water crises in Cyprus, Mekorot has stepped in to aid its neighbor and constructed and expanded two sea water desalination plants. The first plant, in Limassol, is a new plant with a capacity of 14 million cubic meters of desalinated water a year.  The company upgraded the second plant, in Larnaka, to a capacity of 20 million cubic meters a year.

 

It is relevant to also mention Mekorot's cooperation with Jordan. Mekorot transfers water to the neighboring country in line with Israel's obligations under the 1994 peace treaty. According to an agreement signed in 2010 between Israel and Jordan, Israel agreed to transfer an addition 50 million cubic meters of water to the Hashemite Kingdom in addition to a similar amount transferred today from the Sea of Galilee. To facilitate this, Mekorot is preparing to lay a bypass pipeline from the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) to Beit Shean to make the transfer of the additional quantities of water possible.