Nine out of 17 sites earmarked for desalination plants are in Haifa Bay, where the coastal waters are polluted with heavy metals such as mercury, lead and copper, according to the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.
The coastal sites were chosen as part of a tender to desalinate some 65 million cubic meters of sea water a year. Each plant should desalinate 15 million to 30 million cubic meters of water.
The environmental group also contends that the tender does not contain sufficient environmental protection provisions: "No conditions were set for the quality of the water to be used for desalination."
The conditions of the tender stipulate that the desalination plants may not be set up in nature reserves, in forested areas or those slated for afforestation, in areas intended to be used for hotels or resorts, or within the 100-meter coastal band along the water's edge where construction is prohibited.
IUED spokeswoman Daphna Katz said that the tender makes no stipulation as to the quality of the water being used for desalination and consequently many of the plants are being approved along polluted areas of Haifa bay.
"The water at those sites will not be able to be desalinated at the price of 53 cents per cubic meter that was set in the first tender in Ashkelon. We are also concerned by the fact that those determining the tender did not consult the Environment Ministry's sea and coastal division before the tender was published."
In response, Yossi Dreizin, head of Mekorot water authorities development division and a member of the committee which prepared the tender, said all of IUED's allegations were baseless. He said there were technological means to detect and eliminate all chemical and biological contaminants in water.
He said that the all the contenders for the tender had been given detailed information on treatment of the water which was prepared in conjunction with the Center for Lake and Marine Research within the National Infrastructure Ministry.
"Moreover, the distilled water will have to meet the toughest water quality standards which have been set by the Health Ministry and set the maximum level allowed of 70 chemical substances that may be found in the water. Every bidder will have to decide whether or not he can meet these stiff standards and at what cost. No one has said that the price of the desalinated water must be 53 cents or the price of water in the first tender in Ashkelon."