Few places in the world face a more dire water situation than Israel, where the vital liquid has been in short supply for millennia. In 1998, a new crisis loomed. Israel, like much of the eastern Mediterranean region, had its worst drought in 900 years.

To overcome such water insecurity, the Israeli government’s Water Desalination Administration (WDA) launched a massive program at the turn of the century to build desalination plants across the country. But simply greenlighting construction wasn’t enough. Plants also had to be cost-effective and environmentally friendly—or risk exacerbating the climate change that had magnified the region’s water shortage in the first place.
The Sorek desalination plant stands as the program’s crown jewel, building on decades of research and innovation. Funded, built and operated by a WDA-chosen consortium led by IDE Technologies, it is the largest-ever facility for reverse osmosis (a process that separates seawater from drinking water through pressure and membrane filtration). No chemicals are used in the filtration process, and it has cut costs by nearly a third since the 1990s.

“The Sorek desalination plant serves as a pinnacle of water security in Israel,” says Michael P. Tramer, vice president, sales and marketing, IDE Technologies. “The plant sets several significant industry benchmarks in desalination technology, capacity and water cost.”

Built on the Mediterranean coast, roughly 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) south of Tel Aviv, Israel, Sorek began operations in 2013, two years after construction launched. The timing couldn’t have been better. In the past 30 years alone, Israel’s natural water supply has declined 20 percent. By 2018, the country’s lakes, riverbeds and aquifers were at 100-year lows. The Sorek plant now can supply drinking water to roughly one-fifth of Israel’s population. The overall program was a sweeping success, too: By 2018, the majority of Israel’s drinking water came from desalinated plants.