Wednesday, May 31, 2006
I am being sent again in a technical advice mission to the High Andes, to the Tungurahua Province in Ecuador. I have been there six months ago and the area was suffering severe water stress as consequence, I think, of the global change in climate. The area receives its water from glaciar melting in summer, but lately the glaciars have started to recede and even disappear. The Tungurahua volcano is also erupting. It may be interesting.
The pics above are from last year´s mission. Upper left we are regulating an A.R.I. pressure regulator valve we installed in the Guaranda water supply system, in order to create pressure sections and improve water supply. A.R.I. is an Israeli supplier. Upper right pictures a lunch in Guaranda´s best hotel. The man with the hat is the major, he is an elementary school teacher of Quechua extraction, a very nice person.
Lower left we can see the typical vegetation of the Paramo, the upper Andes grass formation. It is good only for feeding hardy llamas but lately the agricultural frontier have been advancing upwards and the Paramo is slowly disappearing and cultivated. Down right is a ¨class picture¨ of a meeting we had in an Indian community living at about 6 000 meter over sea level. People interested in progress, but expecting too much from foreign donors and central government iniciative. They are mostly milch farmers, selling milk and cheese to the city. They want irrigation but they have not enough water (they irrigate in open channels, where the water runs 24 hs a day 365 day a year).
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Last summer Shuky put me in contact with Lior, a young entrepreneur who was manufacturing equipment that took in the wastewater from the washing machine and supplied purified water for garden irrigation. He had sold some 20 - 30 of them at 3'000 shekel each. The demand was furious, and he was invited even to an exposition in Cyprus and the sky seemed to be the limit. The only small problem was that the customers were not satisfied, the machine got clogged all the time, and it didnt work.
We went to the house in a Yemenite moshav and I discovered that the filter got clogged by small lint that floated in the warm incoming wash water. I asked for an old nylon sock and put it on the inflow pipe to catch the lint. It worked like a Swiss watch, but a few days later Lior told me that the stock fills up very soon not with lint but grosser solids, and it became useless after a few washes.
We signed a contract that states that I was going to get 2% of all the sales from year 3 on, if I solved the problem. Then I had so many other urgentisimo projects that I forgot it, even if kept learning about greywater reuse problems. The literature said that washing machines and dishwashers were poor graywater sources, because the water is expelled very hot (60 degree Celsius), full of detergents and grease in colloidal suspension, and the flowrate is very strong for a short time.
I told my opinion to Lior that just now I have no spare time and please look for another expert inventor. Winter passed, spring came. A month ago he returned begging me to see him with his new partner. We met, the partner is a young bald mechanic type, Lior wanted to pay me, so I promised to think a scheme. I designed a scheme with two separate tanks, the first as sand and gravel filter and the second as a small pumping station with a submerged pump. They considered very seriously the scheme and gave me valuable feedback. I had such a workload since that I stopped giving thought to their greywater reuse mini plant.
It appears that there is a large unfilled demand for these things, and the problem is that there are no viable designs. The Australians have been working in designs, but they also say it is not working. The economy of water reuse is not a criterion, since people is ready to pay any price for feeling green and for recycling water. As soon as I get a respite (which seems to be never) I shall think about improving this contraception.
Monday, May 22, 2006
The State Comptroller's criticism of the Ministry of National Infrastructure's failure to erect the planned seawater desalination plants, is countered today by the resuscitation of an old idea - the Ceyhan (Turkey) - Haifa (Israel) water pipe. Mr Eli Ronen, the Director General of the Ministry, is in fact saying:
"Mr Comptroller, YOU are wrong. We did not build the desalination plants not because we couldnt, but because we wouldnt, we knew better! We are going to bring water from Turkey!"
The idea was launched eight years ago, when Israeli public was driven into a panic that water was ending. The salvation was water brought in by refurbished oil tankers from the Ceyhan. The Turkish prime minister (Ecevit) thought it was a great opportunity to sell useless water to Israel and buy tanks or whatever his military liked. The tanks or whatever were sold but it was discovered that oil tanks could not be cleaned to transport drinking water. The someone proposed big plastic amoebas, floating effortlessly along the sea. It was discovered that the plastic bags did not resist the violent Eastern Mediterranean seas. So the docks built by the Turks to embark water to Israel were left rotting and Israel indemnized the Turks for not buying water as agreed amd signed.
Then the idea of a submarine oil pipeline was proposed, to bring Russian or Azeri or Kurdish oil to the Haifa refinery. The British had built the old Tap Line, that brought oil to Haifa, where it was refined and used to supply the British battle fleet. The project made Haifa an industrial port, attracting Syrian immigrants. These fallah (the Middle East was a political unit and no passports were needed - Oh Allah the Merciful, Bring Back the British!) later were transformed by the UNRRA into "Palestinian" refugees, and so their children and grandchildren and descendants. Anyway, the idea of a sea pipeline was examined and shelved. Now, it seems to have been given an electrical shock and come back to life, to serve the political-tactical needs of the Ministry's mandarins.
The revitalized project serves to cover another front too. The Ministry is being attacked by British Gas and its allies in Israel, that they did never negotiate seriously with them to buy gas from their Gaza gas fields. That they offered ridiculously low prices, and ...
...they were talked down by Eli Ronen who thinks he is Lord Nelson and British Gas people his deckhands.
Of course I am making that part up!
Imagine! Eli saying...
I dont want Montgomery in my desert! I own a Yellow Submarine!
(Eli is a tall impressive Lybian Jew, a former submarine captain, who looks and acts more English than a Lord of the Admiralty).
Globes writes: The European Investment Bank (EIB) has notified the Ministry of National Infrastructures that it would invest $15 million in a feasibility study for a water pipeline from Cihan in southeast Turkey to Israel. The pipeline would carry 200-300 million cubic meters of water a year to Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, said Ministry of National Infrastructures director general Eli Ronen.
The pipeline is intended to be part of a future infrastructure corridor between Israel and Turkey, which would include three other pipelines: one each for natural gas, electricity and crude oil. Each pipeline would cost $1.5-2 billion to build, and the entire project would cost up to $8 billion. Each pipeline would be built separately, so there would be no link between progress on one pipeline with progress on the others.
Ronen said the EIB was prepared to invest in a feasibility study of the water pipeline, since this was an environmental project that would bring water to all the countries in the region, and because a water pipeline from Turkey to Israel would eliminate the need to build desalination facilities along the coast.
Desalination facilities consume large quantities of energy, which contributes to air pollution. They also occupy large areas of coastal land. Construction of a water pipeline would eliminate the need to build three large desalination facilities on the Mediterranean coast.
Water Commissioner Shimon Tal said that since Israel did not need the full amount of water that the pipeline could deliver, the extra water could go to neighboring countries, and simultaneously replenish some of the water from depleted natural sources, especially the Jordan River and Dead Sea.
As for the oil pipeline, the idea is to build a pipeline from the Black Sea port of Samsun to Cihan, which will carry Russian crude oil. From Cihan, the pipeline will be undersea to the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co. (EAPC) terminal in Ashkelon. The oil will be loaded onto tankers in Eilat for transportation to India. This solution would be cheaper than building an overland pipeline from Russia to India.
As for the natural gas pipeline, the idea is to jointly build it with Gazprom. Feasibility studies are now underway for both the natural gas and electricity pipelines.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Sammy and Aviva Ofer. One of the dozen Hungarian Jews on Forbes billionaires list.
Tower Semiconductors is a struggling chip factory in Migdal Ha Emek, a small immigrant town with a poor reputation in the Galilee. I bought some 5,000 dollars worth of its shares, to start to following it. Having its 2006 first quarter report in, the share price is more or less the same I paid for. The current situation is:
* TSEM increased its sales very substantially.
* Loan payback is a very heavy burden. TSEM is one of the most leveraged company ever.
* Debt is being restructured and transformed into shares.
* Ofer Bro is injecting fresh money into TSEM and receives shares.
A turnaround situation is starting to emerge, but not of a substantial gain in share price, since the restructuration involves 30 - 40% dilution. The banks and Ofer Bro are going to receive shares and also the management is being incentivated by options.
Globes writes: Tower Semiconductor (Nasdaq: TSEM; TASE: TSEM) of Migdal Ha'emek has reported improved financial results. The company narrowed its first quarter loss, and recorded record revenue in the quarter.
Revenue in the first quarter of 2006 totaled $35.9 million, representing an increase of 55% over the $23.2 million reported in the first quarter of 2005, and an increase of 15% over the $31.1 million reported in the fourth quarter of 2005.
The 2006 first quarter loss was $45.1 million, or $0.63 per share, which included depreciation and amortization expenses of $38.1 million, compared with a loss of $55.3 million, or $0.84 per share, in the first quarter of 2005, which included depreciation and amortization expenses of $34.6 million.
Tower said it expected further growth in revenue for the second quarter of 2006 over the first quarter, of 17% to 25%, to give a total of $42 to $45 million.
Tower has also announced that its board of directors has approved a plan to accelerate the ramp up of Fab 2 by approximately 50%. Tower and its lender banks, Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim, have signed an MOU for the refinancing of the company's $527 million long-term debt, while The Israel Corporation has committed to invest $100 million.
Tower said it would need to raise approximately $130 million during 2006, which it said would take the current Fab 2 capacity to approximately 24,000 wafers per month, including a considerable increase in the 0.13 micron capacity.
"We are continuing to execute according to our growth plan and are pleased with both the Q1 revenues, which are the highest in the company's history, and the EBITDA growth", said Tower Semiconductor CEO Russell Ellwanger. "We have increased our Fab 2 customers in production base line by a factor of greater than 2 in the past year and are facing strong demand from both the new and existing customers. The board approved plan to increase Fab 2 capacity by an additional 50%, the partnership with our banks in restructuring Tower's debt, and The Israel Corporation commitment to invest $100 million provide very encouraging outlook for a strong 2006."
Yom Rishon (Sunday - the first workday in Israel): This early morning I received a mail from Ilana Volikovski or something the TSEM spokesperson. I had asked about what kind of shares will the banks receive, and she wrote me a very nice reasoned answer. I replied that I didnt understand her figures, but I see that TSEM has a dedicated, intelligent workforce, so it must be a good company and I am going to buy more stock. Later in the morning TSEM was in free fall, but what the heck, I said to my self, only going against the current and assuming risks may one become rich. I bought on overdraft, and after sleeping my siesta, the stock has earned 10%. A few operations like this and I shall reach my year end goal. I should have had more confidence in my judgment and risk more money. I am starting to be good in this business!
Monday, May 15, 2006
This is the end of the World Bank's campaign to privatize water supply in the Third World. Much money burned and the supply situation is worse than before. The World Bank's strategy failed total and absolutely.
I copied a news item on the Bolivian situation. It is in Spanish, but who, in these days, does not speak Spanish or is learning it?
Evo: El agua no se privatiza
Funda el MINISTERIO DEL AGUA
El presidente electo de Evo Morales ha querido dar una señal al sector más aguerrido del movimiento popular boliviano con la creación del Ministerio de Agua, único en su género y el primero de este tipo en el Poder Ejecutivo. En Bolivia se han producido dos levantamientos populares contra la privatización del agua, el primero en Cochabamba en abril de 2000, enfrentando a la transnacional Bechtel, y el segundo en El Alto, en enero de 2005, contra una subsidiaria de la corporación francesa Suez.
Los movimientos sociales que luchan contra la privatización del agua se han convertido en referentes mundiales y Evo quiere reforzar la tradición institucionalizando un estamento gubernamental que apoye esa lucha. El gobierno de Morales decidió crear el Ministerio de Agua con el objetivo de contar con una estructura estatal especializada en garantizar el acceso de este elemento a toda la población y preservar su carácter público. “El agua no puede ser un negocio privado porque (si se convierte en una mercancía) se estaría violando los derechos humanos. El recurso agua debe ser un servicio público”, enfatiza el Presidente electo.
El gran desafío del futuro gobierno en consolidar el Ministerio del Agua unificando a las diferentes reparticiones públicas que actualmente administran el recurso natural de manera aislada. La lógica privatizadora y mercantilista que imperó en el país en las últimas dos décadas propició una administración hídrica no integral sino parcelada con el fin de facilitar las concesiones privadas de recursos acuíferos. Como consecuencia de esa concepción neoliberal, se puede decir que el recurso casi fue “descuartizado” en diversas instancias del Poder Ejecutivo y de las superintendencias sectoriales.En la actualidad, el Ministerio de Asuntos Campesinos se ocupa del riego; el Ministerio de Saneamiento y Obras Públicas atiende el agua potable y saneamiento básico; el Ministerio de Medio Ambiente controla la Dirección de Cuentas y la Cancillería vela por las aguas internacionales. Además, existen otras dependencias que disponen del recurso agua sin someterse al control estatal, como las superintendencias sectoriales de Electricidad, Hidrocarburos y Minería. El desafío del futuro gobierno es unir todas estas reparticiones estatales en una sola estructura, el Ministerio del Agua, para desarrollar un control efectivo de los usos del agua, incluidos los usos industriales.
El gobierno del MAS planea diseñar una política nacional de recursos hídricos y normas para el manejo y la conservación de cuencas que garantice y proteja legalmente los derechos de comunidades indígenas y campesinas a las fuentes de agua. Dicha política regularizaría los derechos de aguas, incluiría planes nacionales y regionales de riego; reconocería los derechos de aguas para uso agropecuario y forestal; y propiciaría la transferencia de infraestructura de riego y microriego.
EN BUSCA DE UNA POLÍTICA NACIONAL DEL AGUAPara conseguir estos objetivos el MAS se propone diseñar una Estrategia Nacional del Agua y de los Recursos Hídricos en función de la estrategia de defensa de la soberanía y seguridad nacionales. La iniciativa incluye la concertación de una nueva Ley de Aguas y su reglamentación ajustada a la estrategia nacional del agua; el rediseño de las políticas y planes nacionales y regionales de riego ajustados a los objetivos nacionales de soberanía alimentaria; el diseño de la Estrategia Nacional de Manejo de Cuencas en función de la estrategia nacional del agua, y el diseño concertado de la Política Nacional de Agua Potable y el Plan Nacional Decenal de Agua Potable.Una de las primeras tareas del futuro gobierno será regularizar los derechos de agua para que en el mediano plazo gran parte de las organizaciones de regantes, comunidades indígenas y campesinas obtengan el registro de sus derechos como respaldo legal para el uso de sus fuentes de agua para riego. A la vez, se pretende regularizar las licencias de prestación de servicios de agua potable y alcantarillado sanitario, para que las entidades públicas y sociales cuenten con planes quinquenales, anuales y de desarrollo de largo plazo que amplíen y mejoren sus servicios. EMPRESAS SOCIALESDurante la campaña, el MAS prometió apoyar y promocionar estrategias locales, departamentales, de carácter municipal, intermunicipal, metropolitano que fortalezcan servicios públicos y sociales de agua potable y alcantarillado sanitario. El partido de Evo dijo que concertaría un modelo institucional participativo de regulación del sector a través de una Dirección Nacional. También prometió modificar la indexación al dólar de las tarifas de servicios de agua potable y alcantarillado, estableciendo una estructura tarifaria indexada a las Unidades de Fomento a la Vivienda (UFV), y aumentar la inversión pública nacional, departamental y municipal en servicios de agua y alcantarillado para superar los actuales déficits de cobertura. LOS DESAFÍOS INMEDIATOS DEL MASAntes de poner en marcha su plan para el sector hídrico, el gobierno del MAS debe resolver dos conflictos pendientes que podrían complicarle las cosas: La terminación del contrato con Aguas del Illimani (AISA), concesionaria del servicio en La Paz y El Alto, y la liquidación de la empresa Aguas del Tunari (ADT).Si bien el conflicto con ADT llegó a buen puerto luego de que el gobierno comprara el 80 por ciento de las acciones a International Water y a Abengoa –librando de esta manera al Estado de un juicio internacional en el Ciadi por 50 millones de dólares–, todavía queda por resolver la disolución de la empresa. Para lograr ese objetivo, el futuro gobierno debe negociar con capitalistas bolivianos que poseen el 20% de las acciones de ADT, entre ellos el empresario Samuel Doria Medina (5%),? la empresa ICE Agua y Energía SA (5%), la Compañía Boliviana de Ingeniería SRL (5%) y la constructora Petricevic (5%).Por otro lado, en el caso de AISA, los vecinos de El Alto comienzan a impacientarse y parecen ya no estar dispuestos a esperar mucho tiempo más la resolución del conflicto con la subsidiaria de Suez. Si bien la Superintendencia de Saneamiento Básico (Sisab) suscribió un contrato con la firma Pozo Asociados Auditores para realizar una auditoría regulatoria a la empresa que abarque el período 1997-2005 –investigación que permitiría evaluar el trabajo de la compañía y eventualmente confirmar ineficiencias que permitan rescindir su contrato–, algunos vecinos de la ciudad de El Alto consideran que esa auditoría no resolverá sus necesidades inmediatas y ya hablan de tomar físicamente las instalaciones de AISA. Por ejemplo, los vecinos del Distrito 4 se desmarcaron de la Federación de Juntas Vecinales (Fejuve) al rechazar cualquier tipo de auditaje, pues esa investigación tardará mucho y sólo retrasará la atención de sus demandas, es decir acceder al agua potable. Haya o no auditoría, razonan algunos vecinos, la transnacional Suez iniciará a un arbitraje internacional. Por tanto, los vecinos no descartan una toma física para que la empresa, al menos, tenga una razón para juzgar al país.Se estima que los resultados de la auditoría serán conocidos en la segunda quincena de febrero de 2006 o principios de marzo. El gobierno pagará alrededor de 360 mil dólares por el trabajo.
In summary, they are decided that water resources should remain in Bolivian hands and that the water supply should be a public service. Moreover, water is a human right, so it should be supplied more or less free.
The idea is clear and for them, absolutely self evident. What kind of pervert may demand payment for fresh air to breath? I can put myself in their alpargatas and understand them. What is very remarkable, they are searching for practical ways to make this ideal happen and they have contracted a consultant (360,000 $) to draw up a plan.
The World Bank made the mistake of discounting this "primitive" thinking. I shall not. Many people - and not only Andean Indians - instinctively feel that water, the pure essence of life, should not be in the hands of those abominable profit seeking capitalists. I decided to invest effort and think about these new ideas.
Nota bene: "Pure essence of life" does not represent my way of thinking about water. I am an engineer.
Hope, however, is immortal. TSEM's price is rising.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
From 2001 to 2005 I worked very closely with (for) them and can vouch for their self-important and full of air, inflated personalities, and their technical and executive impotence. Having evacuated my opinion of my former bosses, lets hear what the State Comptroller has to say about them.
The Comptroller reminds its readers that the Government formally took the decision of building two large desalination plants - one in Hadera and another in Ashkelon, both through private enterprises, and to build a third one in Ashdod by Mekorot, the National Water Corporation, a State owned Company. In addition, the Government decided to build several small desalination plants through private enterprises, without deciding at that stage about their actual siting.
In February 2000 the Government ordered the Ministry of Treasure to fund the projects, and in 2001 it ordered the organization of an interministerial committee to advance the projects (the idea was to publish public bids).
In fact, only one of the projects, the 100 million cubic meter per year plant in Ashkelon, was built till now. In Palmachim there are working on a small, 30 million cu m plant, that may be working around 2007.
The consorcium building the Ashkelon plant sued the Government and was rewarded with a payment of 92 million shekel "advance" (20 million US dollar). The Comptroller's Report says something obscure on this affair, and I dont pretend to understand it. Knowing the personalities in play, I dont think Dreizin or some other functionary did something wrong. Correction ! In fact I am sure they did everything possible wrong, but I presume that no personal corruption is involved.
Regarding the Hadera plant, the original bidding was annuled and the new one, published in 2004, was not yet closed in 2006.
The Ashdod plant did not take off because the Treasure interpreted the original decision as conditional on the privatization of Mekorot, which never happened. And if I may add, with the Minister Fuad in place, will never take place. Fuad is a Labor party leader, and Mekorot vaad (workers union) is one of his sources of power.
The small plants never advanced farther than initial contacts and meetings with potential entrepreneurs and investors.
The Comptroller closes his short report on Yossi Dreizin and Co. with a lapidary sentence: "The Government should extract consequences from this extensive failure to carry out its decisions, a failure that endangers Israel's future water supply."
Of course, nothing will happen. Dreizin and his friends will continue working very hard and till very late in the night in very important meetings, drinking tasteless Nescafe and eating cheap Elite waffles, exploding learned Aramean bon mots in their pilpulim and pitputim and enjoying their incredibly high verbal capabilities and buying useless computer models that no one ever applies to reality but give the impression of hard and intelligent activity, evermore inflated and self important in their nice and secure Government jobs.
All in all, they are not bad guys, they are decent and patriotic, they try to carry out Government decisions, which is not easy at all. The problem is that they try to do it within the framework of bureaucracy, through meetings and papers and with advisers and reports and more reports and protocols and batteries of legal advisors. They are deadly afraid of being cought in infraction of the Holy Sacred Rules Book of Bureacratic Procedure (which exists in their imagination only). They are afraid of doing anything in fact. In one word, they are uncapable, impotent.
It is most revealing that the State Comptroller does not critizes them for some procedural violation or professional mistake or financial irregularity or for taking bad decisions. He is simply saying they are not doing their jobs.
Kol ha Kavod to the Comptroller. But they need not worry, they have "kviut", their jobs are protected, secure and they will go on (failing) forever.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
He rents a big hangar in the Kfar Edumim industrial area. Kfar Edumim is a "settlement" on a very high hill a few kilometers east of Maale Adumim. The industrial area is empty and abandoned, except for a lonely garage. When visiting the place, I got interested by the neighbouring hangar that has a fully equipped floor drainage system, a hazardous materials storage area and an abandoned industrial wastewater treatment plant. It appears that not long ago it was a fruit jam and olive oil factory, that had moved out. The whole area is in deep disrepair and the Judean desert is reconquering it. It is like an abandoned phantom mining town in Arizona.
Kfar Edumim has good dry climate and nice solid-looking houses on the top of the hill. There is a mini-air force base near the village, which was supposed to be "my" base in case of real war - my antiair 22 mm cannon battery was supposed to shoot downward from the top of the hill to the 1000 m deep East West wadi, to kill any enemy helicopter trying to infiltrate undetected from Jordan. They took us only once to see the place, since in my times no one tried to attack Israel from the East.
The Kurdish expert intends to produce chemical, synthetic extract-flavored beer to export to American forces in Iraq. And bottled water for the whole Middle East. A natural herb energy drink. He says he is the first one who introduced blue colored beverages, and has many ideas.
He is worried by the quality of the water - most of all, by sudden changes in composition. He has made extensive enquiries about the source of Kfar Edumim water supply, and it seems that sometimes it comes from the National Carrier and others from Rosh Ha Ayin sources. I complicated the picture telling him about the coming water quality management plan, with desalinated seawater and other non-conventional waters mixing into a cocktail to be supplied to customers. I presume the Judean desert water sources are quite limited and low quality. He will need serious water treatment facilities, in fact, that may be the main part of the factory. And the wastewater disposal. Coca Cola and the Beer companies have their own water sources, but that solution is far from satisfactory.
My solution is based on Reverse Osmosis and Ultraviolet Irradiation, but at this stage we are just trying to receive Ministry of Health permit and not actually producing a product. Nothing is easy... people thinks that selling bottled water is the easiest way of making money, but it is a hard competitive industry. Local consumers are more Europeans than American in their food preferences, they love health, organic, natural, biologically labeled foods and they reject synthetic drinks, but he thinks there is a big market for them in the New Middle East. It must be so, because the man certainly knows the beverage business. He thinks to sell the product to retailers and food chains, that may use their own labels. On Tuesday we have the first meeting with the health functionaries.
He was supposed to give a retainer, but I accepted his word. When, when shall I start earning money?
Thursday, May 11, 2006
Water engineer does not really convey what I am and and what I do. So I wrote:
Then I wrote a plausible definition of Combobulator in the Wikipedia.
I am sure some overzealous pedant will point out that Combobulator is not my invention, it was already employed in 1890 in Klondike by Mark Twain. I dont know about Mr Twain, but this world is "mine".
There are several words in Hebrew that are "mine". I am most proud of "shidrug". I was writing an article on Herzliya WWTP upgrading, and the nearest Hebrew word I could came up for upgrading was the biblical "kfitzat derech" (short cut - also used in Dune) or "kfitzat madriga" (jump in the stare). So I invented this new word, shidrug - upgrading, that was so needed that now everybody has adopted it.
If I only could collect royalties ...