On Sunday, PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet approved an urgent plan to deal with Israel’s drought problem.
Five consecutive drought years have threatened the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Jordan River, and the Dead Sea. According to a recent AP reports, “the Sea of Galilee stands at a century low, much of the Jordan River is a fetid trickle and the Dead Sea is rapidly shrinking.”
In late 2013, Israel’s Water Authority assured the country there was adequate water supply until the end of 2025, a promise that was followed generous rainfall in 2014-15, including the heaviest recorded snowstorm that shut down Jerusalem. Euphoric water officials were convinced Israel’s water problems were over, and so they cancelled a purchase of 100 million cubic meters from local desalination plants. This euphoria in turned encouraged Israelis to raise water consumption, and then the drought came back and the Water Authority was forced in December 2017 to increase the purchase of desalinated water by some 75 million cubic meters.
On Sunday, the PM explained: “This problem stems from climatic changes and other reasons. Over the years, Israel has shown an amazing ability to deal with the water problem, which has caused endless conflicts in our region for thousands of years, also in the new era. But thanks to technology, initiatives and creativity, we have succeeded in overcoming it.
“The plan that Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will present today has several innovative features including the construction of two new desalination plants in order to increase the quantity of desalinated water in Israel.
“But it also has two special, unusual elements: One, the channeling of desalinated water to the Kinneret. Usually we pump water from the Kinneret and bring to various parts of the country. Here we are bringing desalinated water to the Kinneret because as we desalinate water on the coast in the water it goes to waste because there is no use for it. Now we are turning the Kinneret into a reservoir for desalinated water. This is innovative and important, at least to the extent we are doing this, and has not been done until now.
“The second thing is the rehabilitation of seven streams. This speaks to me. I used to walk in these streams, I would even cross them, more than once or even twice. Of course we all regret that there is sewage there and other things that we want to fix. Therefore this correction is important not only for the water economy but for our country’s scenic vistas.”
And so, Israel once again claims the role of the world’s Desali-Nation, utilizing a process that extracts mineral components from saline water. Saltwater is desalinated to produce water suitable for human consumption or irrigation, and exploit the by-product: salt. Most of the modern interest in desalination is focused on cost-effective provision of fresh water for human use. Along with recycled wastewater, it is one of the few rainfall-independent water sources.
“The Middle East is drying up,” says Osnat Gillor, a professor at Israel’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research who studies the use of recycled wastewater on crops. “The only country that isn’t suffering acute water stress is Israel.”