Water Crisis

DROUGHT SPECIAL #6: The Successes of Desalination: The case of Israel (+ Cape Town UPDATE)


Cape Town’s tough water-saving regime has seen Day Zero be pushed back once again, to 9 July from an earlier date of 4 June. This announcement came off the back of a 10 billion litre water donation from the Groenland Farmers Association. Residents of Cape Town have collectively cut consumption by more than half in the last 3 years. Last week water consumption averaged 523ML per day, falling far short of the target of 450ML per day.

Cape Town water crisis snapshot:

  • Cape Town’s cumulative dam levels are sitting at 24.1%, down 0.5% from last week
  • The City’s main water source, Theewaterskloof Dam is at just 10.9% capacity, down 0.7% since last week.
  • The City claims its progress in securing alternative water sources through desalination, recycling and groundwater is at 62%.

Water scarcity affects more than 40% of the global population, underlining the urgent need for large-scale solutions to ensure long-term water security. Cape Town requires around 500ML of water per day to supply its citizens with 100L per person per day. Cape Town has begun down the road of desalination- the process by which salt and other impurities are removed from seawater to produce potable water.

We looked at Israel as an example of where desalination is being utilised in a cost-effective way.


Much like Cape Town, Israel is faced with limited rainfall and a gruelling climate. In order to secure water sources, Israel has increasingly relied on desalination since the 1960s when the world’s first plant was built.

After decades of research and entrepreneurship, Israel has pioneered the desalination space, now offering their expertise globally. The reverse osmosis technique of desalination, that which is most well-suited to Cape Town’s conditions, was pioneered in Israel. It is now home to five of the largest desalination plants in the world, supplying two thirds of the country’s potable water needs.

The Sorek desalination plant in Israel sets industry precedents for technology, capacity and water cost.

The Sorek desalination plant:

  • Opened in 2013 as the largest seawater reverse osmosis desalination plant in the world
  • Construction cost $500 million
  • Water output of 624ML per day, or 26ML per hour
  • Largest seawater reverse osmosis desalination plant in the world

The Sorek plant sells water to the Israeli water authority for the equivalent of ZAR7 per kilolitre. Put into perspective, the City of Cape Town plans to buy water converted potable water for around ZAR30 per kilolitre, where eThekwini municipality that serves the greater Durban area charges customers ZAR16.20 per kilolitre consumption.

Despite criticism, desalination is being used more and more as a solution to water shortage. If the City can secure more cost-effective forms of production, perhaps Cape Town, too, can enjoy water abundance. Representatives from Kouga, Eastern Cape have visited Israel to learn about their desalination programme.

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By: Beryl Visser

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