Oded Fixler, the Water Authority’s senior deputy director general, warns Israel’s limited water resources are growing ever-scarcer. Rainfall over the past decade, he says, “has been really, really low.” This, he adds, means continued reduction of the Kinneret, Israel’s most important water source.
Shrinking water resources are a global concern. “By 2050,” Fixler predicts, “45 percent of the world’s population will be chronically short of water.”
But this is Israel, and so the approach to diminishing resources goes beyond slogans and ominous predictions. Israel first began tackling its water shortages more than half a century ago with construction of the National Water Carrier, a game-changing infrastructure project enabled with the support of the Israel Bonds organization.
The National Water Carrier, which Fixler terms “a major resource,” channeled water down from the north and ultimately brought 450,000 acres under irrigation, transforming Israel from a country dependant on food imports into an agriculturally self-sufficient nation.
Today, Israel’s plan for resolving its water issues is built on three pillars. One is drilling wells, some of which, according to Fixler, are “the deepest in the world,” reaching depths of up to a mile below ground.
A value-added aspect of Israel’s drilling expertise, Fixler points out, is “strengthened cooperation in the region.” When it comes to water, “relations are excellent,” particularly with the Jordanians.
Fredy Zach knows this firsthand. A former IDF brigadier general whose “dream is to develop the desert,” Zach interacts extensively with Jordanians through his consulting company. In June, he assisted Jordan with the drilling of two wells, resulting in “good quantity and quality of water.” Zach says regional tensions keep interaction at a level of “quiet contacts,” but “dealings, from an agricultural point of view, are very good.”
The second pillar is waste-water treatment, an area in which Israel excels. Treated waste, predominantly sewage, accounts for 80 percent of Israel’s irrigation requirements, ranking it first in the world. Spain, a distant second, utilizes just 17 percent. Small wonder, then, that Israel’s booth at a water technology expo in Moscow last June attracted enormous attention.
Desalination comprises the final part of Israel’s answer to water shortages. There are two aspects to desalination. One is conversion of brackish water. In the arid Arava Valley, for example, small plants convert brackish water for irrigation use, as well as household needs other than drinking, for the 500 farmers living and working at the five moshavim located throughout the region.
Drinking water is being addressed via three major desalination plants situated along the Mediterranean coast in Ashkelon, Palmachim and Hadera. Two more, in Ashdod and Sorek, are scheduled to go online in 2013.
The Ashkelon plant, the first of the series, went online in 2005. The NIS 1 billion project took two years to complete. Because this is Israel, there are additional concerns beyond the challenge of producing clean drinking water from the Mediterranean – concerns like being three miles from Gaza and experiencing a near-miss from a terrorist missile strike.
Oshik Achinoam, spokesman for the Ashkelon plant, explains purification at the massive complex – which contains more than 24 miles of pipe spread over 20 acres – entails a five-step procedure. It begins with intake valves delivering seawater for pre-treatment, which ultimately undergoes a process called reverse osmosis – a membrane-technology filtration method that removes large molecules and ions. The final step is post-treatment with Negev limestone, following which the finished product is transferred to the national water grid. Water quality is checked six times each day by Water Authority inspectors, and analyzed in real time by multiple monitoring stations.
Israel’s innovative approach to water solutions bodes well for a future that is not very far off. “By the end of next year,” predicts the Water Authority’s Fixler, “Israel will be very comfortable. Drought will not affect us.”