Israels Chronic Water Problem

By Todd Payne,2014-05-13 23:57
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Israels Chronic Water Problem

    Israel’s Chronic Water Problem Chronic scarcity of water is a fact of life in Israel, where industry, agriculture and

    modern urban living compete for limited resources in a largely semi-arid environment. Rainfall is not uniformly distributed throughout the country and the rainy season is

    short. Annual quantities range from nearly1,000 mm (40 inches) at the northernmost point to 31mm (1.24 inches) at the southernmost tip, and nearly all rain falls within

    the four-month period from November through February with quantities fluctuating

    from year to year.Water consumption that stretches the basic supply to the limit has

    necessitated the construction of an elaborate system of water storage and distribution, and the search for additional water sources. This search, which has accompanied the

    country’s development since the 1930s, includes finding ways to transfer water from wet to arid areas, seeking unconventional solutions and experimenting with new

    methods . The problems are confronted in a number of innovative ways, including

    water-saving agricultural technology, cloud seeding and use of treated effluent.


    The total quantity of water which is practically and economically fit for use - called

    the “water balance” - is estimated at 1,700 million cubic meters per year. This quantity also represents the maximum anticipated amount of self-renewing potable

    water which can be drawn upon for drinking .Another 200 million cubic meters of

    brackish water is available for desalination. Although Israel’s total rainfall is several

    times larger than the “water balance”, only one third of it is usable. As much as 60

    percent evaporates and some five percent flows into the sea and is too difficult or

    expensive to retrieve. The remaining 35 percent seeps into the around, and is gathered

    into natural aquifers.

Israel has two main freshwater aquifers - one under the central north-south mountain

    range, the other along the coastal plain - and several smaller ones. The mountain spine of Judea-Samaria is the natural replenishment area of several of the largest and

    mostimportant groundwater basins .Rainwater which gathers on the exposed rock

    surfaces of the hills percolates through several underground strata in which it flows as

    groundwater in all directions. The Judea-Samaria region feeds groundwater in the

    underground stratum from the Beit She’an Valley in the north to Be’er Sheva in the

south. About half of the country’s potable resources (650 million cubic meters per

    year) originate in this area.

Today Israel utilizes more than 95 percent of its freshwater balance and expects to

    need larger quantities in the future (see Table). Countrywide consumption in 1994 amounted to almost 2,000 million cubic meters. The difference between that

    consumption and the 1,700 million cubic meter water balance was covered by over-

    pumping of groundwater and use of treated effluent for irrigation. Over-pumping

    creates a deficit which must eventually be replenished, and a series of dry years in the

    1980s increased the deficit to a magnitude equal to a full year’s consumption.

    Subsequent conservation efforts and aggressive recharging of aquifers have kept the

    problem in check.


    An extensive water-delivery system enables the country to cope with the by constrains

    on supply in various areas. The system began with regional waterworks and expanded to inter-regional systems. Since then, a countrywide network has evolved, with the

    National Water Carrier at its center .Ten years under construction, the Carrier brings

    water fro the northem and central regions to the semi-arid south, using giant pipes,

    aqueducts ,reservoirs, tunnels, dams and pumping stations. Most of the previously

    independent waterworks have been connected to it, thus forming an integrated grid from Metulla in the north to Eilat in south and from the Jordan River to the

    Mediterranean Sea.Considered one of the world’s best developed and most versatile,

    the system today delivers in one hour the same quantity delivered in all of 1937 and

    in one day the total amount delivered in 1948. Its 6,500 kilometers of pipeline reach

    all corners of the country to meet every need.

    UNCONVENTIONAL SOLUTIONS AND NEW POSSIBILITIES After drawing on nearly all of its water resources and promoting vigorous

    conservation programs, the country’s basic quantity of water is still barely sufficient. Thus, Israel has long made it a national mission to stretch existing sources and seek

    new ones for the future. These efforts have focused on the following:

Utilization of surplus winter runoff: This water, collected in artificial seasonal lakes

    (120 built in the past decade), is used for irrigation and ,when possible, for recharging of aquifers. The lakes also store treated effluent and water in transit from one region

    to another. Recharging of aquifers also helps prevent evaporation and, in the coastal

    area, intrusion of seawater. Once underground, the water is available for repumping as needed.

Re-use of treated household and industrial effluent: Estimated at 300 million

    m per year, this is the largest water source awaiting intensive development. More than one third of the quantity is used in agriculture today, mainly for

    cotton and fruit, crops which do not lie directly on the soil. The rest is either recharged to groundwater or discharged into watercourses and the sea for

    lack of storage possibilities.

Desalination: Israel has some 30 desalination facilities today, mostly in the Eilat area.

    The largest uses reverse osmosis to treat 27,000 cubic meters per day of brackish water, thus meeting half of Eilat’s needs. All available brackish water in the Eilat - Arava region is desalinated today .The future of desalination focuses on seawater as a

    source and depends on finding ways to make the process cost-efficient.

Rainfall enhancement: Seeding clouds with silver iodide crystals, carried out over

    the Lake Kinneret basin since 1976, has increased annual rainfall in the area by 15-18 percent. The World Meteorological Organization has cited the Israeli program as the

    only one worldwide which statistically shows significant success.


    Israel’s Water Consumption

     Million m3 Percentage

     1989/90 2000 1989/90 2000

    1,120 1200 64 57 Agriculture

    420 630 24 30 Municipal and


    100 130 6 6 Industry

    110 150 6 5 Judea-Samaria

    As the most reliable and least expensive way to stretch the country’s water resources. the challenge is being met in all sectors. In agriculture, technological breakthroughs in

    irrigation technologies such as drip irrigation and micro sprinklers reduce water loss

    up to 20 percent. Computer-assisted irrigation management enhances these results. In

    industry, special re-use facilities are being phased in and cooling facilities and other

    water-intensive devices have been revamped with conservation features. These measures have made industry the leader in water conservation, with an increase in

    industrial consumption forecast from 100 million cubic meters in 1989\1990 to 130

    million cubic meters in 2000.In local government, conservation efforts focus on

    efficient management improvements, repair, control and monitoring of municipal

    water systems .Parks have been placed under a conservation regimen including

    selection of less thirsty plants, watering at night and at minimum frequency and use of

    conservatconducive watering systems. Conservation measures are applied at all public

    institutions under municipal jurisdiction, including schools.In households, national and local agencies urge citizens to save water. The slogan “don’t waste a drop” is

    known in every home in Israel and underscores Israel’s dependence on one of its most

    limited resources.


    Mekorot Ltd., Israel’s national water company, is responsible for managing the

    country’s water resources, developing new sources and ensuring regular delivery of water to all localities for all purposes. Founded in 1937 and headquartered in Tel Aviv,

    Mekorot has sunk 1,300 wells, built 700 pumping stations (more than Consumption

    3,000 pumps in operation), constructed 600 reservoirs and laid 6,500 kilometers of

    pipes. In addition, it maintains water quality through laboratory testing and biological

control, constructs and operates desalination and fluoridation plants, and carries

    outcloud seeding operation

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