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
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