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Water Economy in Israel

                                                Water Economy in Israel


The economy of water in Israel is on the edge of catastrophe.  As recently as twenty years ago, Israel could rely on precipitation to supply the great majority of its water needs.  Today, the combination of a rising population and a continuing shortfall of precipitation have created a major water crisis in Israel.  The Sea of Galilee, the primary source of water in Israel, is four meters below its maximal level.  Aquifer levels along the Mediterranean coast and in the mountains are also below their "red lines".  Water desalination is being done but it is too late to forestall a crisis and too little to end the crisis.  As it is, Israel is just north of the desert belt of the Northern Hemisphere.  Even as the shortfall in precipitation is causing the water level in the Sea of Galilee to fall, but, owing primarily to the greenhouse effect, yearly temperatures are rising, causing increased evaporation. In short, our region is drying.


Sources of water in Israel


Rain is the main provider of water for Israel.  Approximately ten billion cubic meters of rainwater fell on Israel annually from 1960 to 1990.  Relying on rainwater has two major problems: in recent years rain has decreased by 4-8%.  This amounts to a shortfall of 600 million cubic meters of water.  In addition, Israel is able to use only 20% of the rainwater.  Therefore, Israel must rely on other water sources. 


The Sea of Galilee is the largest fresh-water lake in Israel.  It is fed by run-off and snowmelt from the Golan Heights, Mount Hermon, the Hula Valley, the mountains of Galilee, and rain that falls directly on it.  The Sea of Galilee provides 600 million cubic meters of water annually.  The two main aquifers are the mountain aquifer and the coastal aquifer.  The mountain aquifer provides 300 million cubic meters of water and the coastal aquifer provides 250 million cubic meters.  All other aquifers and floodwaters combined provide 650 million cubic meters of water annually.  In an effort to further make use of available water supply, thousands of wells were drilled until the 1980's.  Much well water has turned salty and is no longer potable.  It should be pointed out that when deep water sources become salty, not only people are harmed but damage is felt by animals and plant life as well.


Desalinization of water in Israel


Desalinization began only in 2000, far too late to prevent a dangerous deficiency of water in all the reservoirs in Israel.  As of 2005, desalinization provided less than 2% of all water used in Israel.


Today there are four desalinization plants.  Three are along the Mediterranean coast, in Ashkelon, Palmachim, and Hadera.  The fourth is in Eilat.  The Eilat plant provides all the water the city needs.  Two more plants will come on-line soon, in Shorek and in Ashdod.  These will provide 300 million cubic meters of water annually.


Desalinization of salt water results in water without salt or minerals.  Desalinization can be done on sea water, briny water, or waste water.  The biggest drawbacks to desalinization are the high cost of constructing the plant and its maintenance.  This makes desalinized water very expensive.  Desalinized water will likely not be used in agriculture.  It is better used as drinking water although it has very little taste owing to its lack of minerals.  Sometimes minerals are added after the desalinization to enhance its flavor.


Pollution and salinization of water


The deficiency of rainfall coupled with maximal use of reservoirs has caused dozens of reservoirs in Israel to become salty and many have become polluted as well.  This renders the water undrinkable.  There is also the fear that the Sea of Galilee will become salty if the water level falls below 215 meters below sea level.  Under the Sea of Galilee are salt water springs which cannot release their water into the lake because of the pressure of the water above them.  If the water level drops below 215 meters below sea level, the pressure above the salt water springs may decrease enough to allow the salt water to escape into the lake, rendering it unsuitable for use.


The flow of sewage in the Judean Mountains and in Samaria has damaged the mountain aquifer.  Pollution and salinization of aquifers don't create problems for human use only; they have resulted in the drying up of many trees throughout Israel.   The eucalyptus nature preserve in the north was closed to visitors last year because of falling trees and branches. Dozens of eucalyptus trees along the coastal road between Tel Aviv and Haifa are drying up. A similar phenomenon is occurring in the area of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan Valley.  Many trees are drying up in Jerusalem and the forests around Jerusalem.  Is Israel really drying up?  The answer is unequivocally, yes.  Desertification is already underway in Israel.  In the last twenty years desert vegetation has appeared in the north, a clear sign that desertification is already advanced.


Recycled water


Grey water, also called recycled water, is water that has little solid matter and was previously used in washing.  Large amounts of grey water come from washing machines, dishwashers, air conditioners, sinks, and bathtubs.  Grey water is not suitable for drinking because of the bacteriological and otherwise toxic pollutants present in the water.  Grey water may only be used with the approval of the Ministry of Health.


Grey water can be used to flush toilets, to water gardens, to wash cars and for household cleaning.  Such use of grey water can amount to 30% of the water used in Israel.  It should be pointed out that the soaps present in grey water are not harmful to plants.  Grey water and treated waste water are similar in the way they are purified and in their composition.  Treated waste water is used in irrigation.


The National Water Carrier


The National Water Carrier was completed in 1964 with the purpose of bringing water from the Sea of Galilee to the northern Negev.  Today the water carrier delivers 400 million cubic meters of water annually, more than 15% of the total water available for use in Israel.  The water carrier was a major factor in the development of Israel along its length as far as south of Beersheba.  Most of the agricultural water in the northern Negev comes from the water carrier.


Water shortage in the Middle East and in the world


Use of fresh water doubles every twenty years.  The increase in population and in standards of living worldwide has resulted in maximal use of reservoirs on the one hand and to a shortage of readily accessible fresh water on the other hand.  The situation is especially grave in the world's desert regions.  Global climate change is exacerbating droughts and causing the deserts to move northward.  This phenomenon is happening in the Middle East.  Most of the Middle East is desert, that is, yearly precipitation is less than 200 mm.  In Israel, the land south of Beersheba is considered desert.  In the Jordan Rift Valley, south of Beit Shean, the desert is moving north.  Of Israel's neighbors, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan are also desert areas.  Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, and the coastal region of Syria are not deserts and their water situation is better.  In the last ten years, owing to the northward movement of the desert, even northern regions that don't normally have water problems are beginning to experience them.  Both political and security dangers are expected.  A report released recently by the United Nations says that Israel will suffer from severe water shortages in the foreseeable future and by 2020 will not be able to supply its own needs through precipitation alone.  If desalinization throughout the region is not brought online soon and to a large extent, water shortages could be the spark for wars.


The United Nations reported a study sponsored by Switzerland and Sweden.  The study concluded that the present level of desalinization will suffice only until 2020.  The study warned that as the water problem intensifies in the near future, there must be broad co-operation between the nations of the region.  The study also states that Israel's rivers, especially the Jordan and the Yarmuk have begun to dry up in the last 50 years.  It also states that even the mighty Euphrates River has begun to dry up.


At a recent convention in Ottawa, Canada with 300 participants, on the subject of the world's water situation, it was claimed that within 40 years, owing to rising population and global warming, the availability of fresh water will fall 40% below the need for such.

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