By Amiram Cohen

The Mekorot water company will invest half a billion shekels to bring large quantities of treated wastewater to Negev farmers. In order to do that, Mekorot will put back into service a pipeline to the eastern Negev that has not been used since the 1970s. The old pipeline was used to carry freshwater to Negev communities before the National Water Carrier reached the area.

The upgraded pipes will transmit 100 million cubic meters of treated sewage, which will irrigate some 250,000 dunams (about 62,500 acres ) of crops in the central and western Negev. That’s 40% of the amount of water Mekorot provides the farmers today. Currently, most of the crops in the Negev are irrigated with wastewater from cities in the Tel Aviv region that is purified at the Shafdan treatment plant, but there is no longer enough of that water to go around.

Work on the project will start next year. It will be paid for from a fund for developing water infrastructure, from a special levy in all water bills, not just agriculture.

The sewage for the project will come from towns in the south and center. Most of this sewage now flows into the Mediterranean Sea, though some enters the underground water table and can pollute groundwater, and some is used locally by farmers for irrigation. Mekorot says the local farmers will not be hurt, as they will also be provided with wastewater, once the sewage treatment plants increase their capacities.

The plants will clean the water to the highest possible level, called tertiary treatment, and will be appropriate for all crops, including citrus groves, field crops and vegetables. The huge expenditure is not one of the largest in recent years for water infrastructure, but is expected to pay off for Israel. The project will free up 50 million cubic meters of freshwater now used for irrigation for household use. This will make it unnecessary to build a new desalination plant.