Water: Waste not, want not

Israel must take the lead in water desalination and waste water solutions.

The water shortage is becoming an increasingly worrying crisis. As the situation grows ever more acute, it is feared that water will once again become a cause of disputes and that there could even be wars over water resources.

Even before the State of Israel was founded, its leaders realized that in order to ensure the existence of a developed country on the border of a desert region, it had to have a developed and state-of-the art water infrastructure. It was with this in mind that Mekorot, Israel's national water carrier, was established 70 years ago by Levi Eshkol - later Israel's Prime Minister, and Pinhas Sapir - who went on to become finance minister.

Over the years, a nation-wide water carrying system evolved, using every water resource available: surface water, ground water, brackish water, and sea water. The skill in treating and upgrading different types of water made Mekorot a key factor in Israel's water industry and, more recently, also in water conservation worldwide.

But treating fresh water is not enough. Mekorot has developed a method for treating and upgrading waste water that has helped establish agriculture, and today 70% of the water for agricultural purposes is recycled from effluent.

As is known, it is forbidden to use waste water for agricultural purposes, unless the quality of water meets international standards. To this end, the Dan Region Sewage Reclamation Project (Shafdan), which is run by the Dan Region Cities Association (Sanitation and Solid Waste Disposal), was built 30 years ago to treat waste water in the Gush Dan region. Mekorot developed a comprehensive treatment system at the plant that entails the seepage of the water through sand dunes to filter it, with the layers of sand and soil serving as an optimal bed for water purification. The water is then transferred via a throughflow to a pipeline which transports it to the northern Negev region where it serves as the key water source for local agriculture.

Today, the Shafdan plant treats 150 million cubic meters of water a year, providing top quality water for agriculture, that be used for the irrigation of an unlimited range of agricultural crops. Most of the produce is exported to European countries and to the US. To continue increasing this water supply, all of Israel's waste water needs to be upgraded to a quality that will enable it to be used to irrigate all kinds of agricultural crops.

The process of upgrading this waste water has only just begun. The government decided that there was a need for upgraded waste water, but high costs have delayed implementation in the field. These difficulties notwithstanding, Mekorot managed to find solutions that will also enable farmers in the Arava region to grow excellent crops. As is known, the outlying Arava region is not connected to the national water carrier pipeline, nor to the waste waster delivery system.

Consequently, Mekorot carried out a deep-water drill at a site in the Arava region down to a depth of 1 to 1.5 kilometers, which produced ground water that was unfit for drinking or agricultural purposes. Using local desalination and water treatment facilities, this water was upgraded to the highest quality, making it suitable for household use and agriculture. The fact that agriculture in the Arava is now thriving, with most of its produce earmarked for export, is proof of this.

Because global warming has made water conservation a key issue for countries worldwide, the State of Israel and Mekorot must maintain a qualitative edge in all matters relating to water treatment and upgrading. We must be the ones leading the way in innovation, both in Israel and worldwide.

The writer is chairman of Mekorot National Water Company.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes.co.il - on July 12, 2007

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2007

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