By Moti Bassok and Amiram Cohen

The special tenders committee the government established to handle the import of fresh water from Turkey yesterday issued the first tender.

The tender is really a way to examine the economic feasibility of importing water from Turkey, compared to the cost of desalinating sea water. Meanwhile, the government is starting to receive bids for a water desalination project. The bids are lower than expected.

The tender for shipping water from Turkey to Israel calls for the transport of 35 million to 50 million cubic meters of water annually over five to ten years.

Finance Minister Silvan Shalom said yesterday that the tender marks an additional stage in the government's handling of the acute water crisis.

The comparison can only be made after negotiations are completed with Turkey over the cost of the water. A final assessment must also be made of the cost of facilities for receiving the water.

The committee plans a two-stage selection process. Bidders will first be required to show that they meet the tender requirements. A preliminary selection round will then be conducted from among the field of qualifying contestants.

During the second stage, the selected competitors will actually submit their bids.

Deputy accountant general Eldad Farshar, who chairs the interministerial team conducting water negotiations with Turkey, is scheduled to travel to Turkey tomorrow to continue discussions with Turkish officials on the price of water and related contracts.

Low desalination bids

Three bids have been tabled for the water desalination project planned in Ashkelon. The bids set the price of the water at 60 cents to 65 cents per cubic meter, industry sources said yesterday.

This price is "lower than all expectations", the sources noted. It would provide a return on the investment of only 7% to 9%, below the world standard of about 10% to 15% for similar projects.

The tender for the Ashkelon project required participants to submit proposals for a reverse osmosis desalination facility capable of processing 50 million cubic meters of water a year.

The desalination facility will be one of the largest in the world.

The three teams competing for the tender include Delek, the Ofer brothers, Dankner and the French firm Vivandi; Housing & Construction, the Ashtrom group and the American firm Ionics; U. Dori Engineering, Baran and three French water companies. All the Israeli contenders are traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange.

Industry sources told

Ha'aretz

yesterday that the Health Ministry was likely to veto desalination proposals for the Haifa-Acre area due to water pollution problems.