We all remember the Renana Raz's dry, flaking skin in the Water Authority's 2009 ad. The public did not remain indifferent, as Israel's water crisis in those years had been evident everywhere. The limited rainfall and the sweltering summers all contributed to the partial drying of the Kinneret.
Although you cannot argue with the weather, it was clear to the Water Authority and Mekorot National Water Company that we could not continue relying on Kinneret water as Israel's chief source of drinking and irrigation water.
Mekorot's VP Engineering and Technologies Avraham Ben Yosef says, "The water crisis ended in 2013 when most of Israel's water desalination facilities operated in full output, providing hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of water per year. In 2015, they were joined by the Ashdod desalination facility. The Ashkelon, Ashdod, Palmachim, Soreq and Hadera facilities desalinate Mediterranean Sea water around the clock, preventing any threat of water shortage.
When were Israel's desalination facilities built?
The first desalination facility in Ashkelon was built in 2005. The other facilities had been gradually launched since 2010, with the last facility in Ashdod beginning to operate in December 2015. The desalination facilities had originally been planned to supply 100 million cubic meters of water per year, and some have been expanded to provide 125 million cubic meters per year. The Palmachim facility was built to provide 45 million cubic meters per year and expanded to 90 million cubic meters per year; the only facility originally built to provide a large volume was the Soreq facility, providing 150 million cubic meters per year."
Ben Yosef adds, "As a result of the decision to build Israel's five desalination facilities, Mekorot was required to establish infrastructure that would receive this incredible amount of water. In the past few years, we have built the 'new National Water Carrier', composed of a system of 100 inch pipelines situated in central Israel, which enables us to receive the large amount of water coming from the desalination facilities and distribute it to all parts of Israel."
Is water being desalinated throughout Israel?
"In most of it. In northern Israel Akko and Nahariya receive local underground water, and the Water Authority plans to build an additional desalination facility nearby.
In the Arava, all drinking water is desalinated, with agriculture based mainly on local underground water. At present, we reached an advanced stage in connecting the Neot HaKikar and the Middle Arava area to the national water system, by laying a pipeline from Dimona.
"In addition, we plan an additional facility named the 'the peace desalination facility' in the vicinity of Aqaba, Jordan. This facility is part of the government Red Sea project aimed at supplying Jordan with water. This is a desalination facility that will produce 65 million cubic meters per year, 35 million cubic meters of which will be supplied to Israel for irrigation. As such, there will be a desalination facility not situated in Israel, but providing additional desalinated water for irrigation to Israeli farmers."
"Israel's use of desalinated water began in the 1970s, with the first desalination facility built in Eilat in the 1960s. The facilities have been integrated in stages, and free us of dependence on weather conditions."
In 2016, Mekorot intends to provide Israel with 1.479 billion cubic meters of water. 617 million of them are desalinated water and about 474 million are Kinneret and underground water; 248 million cubic meters will be treated wastewater and 140 million will be brackish water used for agriculture.
Ben Yosef explains, "Desalination facilities in central Israel, which provide about 600 million cubic meters of water per year, make Israel independent on weather conditions. In the past, we had relied on underground water and Kinneret water. When the weather did not enable a renewal of the Kinneret, we faced the threat of a drought.
In fact, in the past year Israel has experienced highly irregular weather throughout northern Israel, including the Kinneret area. One two thirds of the multiannual average precipitation has rained and this is the third year in a row that this has occurred. We are just slightly above the Kinneret red line and, as mentioned above, the desalinated water has been saving the day."
So we no longer rely on water from the Kinneret?
We use Kinneret water from Haifa northward and local underground and desalinated water from Haifa to central Israel. In the past, every drop of water that left the Kinneret used to reach Mizpe Ramon. Today, it does not reach further than Haifa."
Does it mean Israel no longer has to worry about water?
"We should certainly stay vigilant. We have no in-depth understanding of drought and must always take care that the Kinneret and the aquifers remain full. These 600 million cubic meters will be the contingency supply to be used during extreme drought. But if we have no Kinneret water, all desalinated water will be used for drinking, potentially causing problems with irrigation. Water exclusively from desalination facilities is not sufficient to address the numerous needs of the Israeli market and we also use underground water when necessary.
"At the same time, he have no water crisis at present and, in fact, we have a water surplus due to desalination. But this surplus is aimed at decreasing water drawing from aquifers and the Kinneret, in order to enable them to renew and their water level to rise. In terms of drinking water, we have nothing to worry about, but as for agriculture, which is a significant part of Israel's economy, we must always stay on the watch.
"The bottom line is that, if the population grows and water consumption increases, the volume of desalinated water will be sufficient until 2025. This could of course change based on national water consumption and state decisions."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 19, 2016
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2016