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Water in Israel:
Israel's Chronic Water Problem


Water: Table of Contents | Desalination | Water Cooperation


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Water is considered as a national resource of utmost importance. Water is vital to ensure the population's well-being and quality of life and to preserve the rural-agricultural sector. Israel has suffered from a chronic water shortage for years. In recent years however, the situation has developed into a crisis so severe that it is feared that by the next summer it may be difficult to adequately supply municipal and household water requirements. The current cumulative deficit in Israel's renewable water resources amounts to approximately 2 billion cubic meters, an amount equal to the annual consumption of the State. The deficit has also lead to the qualitative deterioration of potable aquifer water resources that have, in part, become either of brackish quality or otherwise become polluted.

The causes of the crisis are both natural and man-made. Israel has suffered from four consecutive years of drought. The increase in demand for water for domestic uses, caused by population growth and the rising standard of living, together with the need to supply water pursuant to international undertakings have led to over-utilization of its renewable water sources.

The policy for the water sector, particularly in the past decade, combined with the absence of adequate action facing the impending water shortage situation, has contributed to the severity of the present crisis.

The agricultural sector has suffered most because of the crisis. Due to the shortage, water allocations to the sector had to be reduced drastically causing a reduction in the agricultural productivity.

The current crisis has led to the realization that a master plan for policy, institutional and operational changes is required to stabilize the situation and to improve Israel's water balance with a long-term perspective.


Water Resources and Water Availability

Conventional Water Resources

The total average annual potential of renewable water amounts to some 1,800 MCM, of which about 95% is already exploited and used for domestic consumption and irrigation. About 80% of the water potential is in the north of the country and only 20% in the south.

Israel's main freshwater resources are: Lake Kinneret - the Sea of Galilee, the Coastal Aquifer - along the coastal plain of the Mediterranean Sea, and the Mountain Aquifer - under the central north-south (Carmel) mountain range. Additional smaller regional resources are located in the Upper Galilee, Western Galilee, Beit Shean Valley, Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea Rift, the Negev and the Arava. The long-term average quantity of replenishable water from major water resources amounts to about 1,800 MCM per year.

Long-term Potential of Renewable Water

Resource Replenishable Quantities (MCM/year)
The Coastal Aquifer 320
The Mountain Aquifer 370
Lake Kinneret 700
Additional Regional Resources 410
Total Average 1,800

Non-conventional Water Resources and Conservation

After drawing on nearly all of its readily available water resources and promoting vigorous conservation programs, Israel has long made it a national mission to stretch existing sources by developing non-conventional water sources, while promoting conservation. These efforts have focused on the following: reclaimed wastewater effluents; intercepted runoff and artificial recharge; artificially-induced rainfall - cloud seeding; and desalination.


Water Conservation and Water Use Efficiency

Water conservation is the most reliable and least expensive way to stretch the country's water resources, and the challenge is being met in all sectors. Public water conservation campaigns coupled with technical and economic measures are being applied to reduce consumption and to increase awareness of water scarcity.

In agriculture, the wide scale adoption of low volume irrigation systems (e.g. drip, micro-sprinklers) and automation has increased the average efficiency to 90% as compared to 64% for furrow irrigation. As a result, the average requirement of water per unit of land area has decreased from 8,700 cum/ha in 1975 to the current application rate of 5,500 cum/ha. At the same time agricultural output has increased twelve fold, while total water consumption by the sector has remained almost constant.

In the domestic and urban sectors, conservation efforts focus on improvements in efficiency, resource management, repair, control and monitoring of municipal water systems. Citizens are urged to save water. The slogan "Don't waste a drop" is known in every home in Israel. Parks have been placed under a conservation regime, including planting of drought-resistant plants and watering at night.


Water Quality

Water quality is an issue of equal importance to water scarcity, and water quality degradation is a considerable issue in water management. The quality of supplied water in Israel varies from very low salinity water (10 mg/l of chlorides) from the Upper Jordan River, 200 mg/l from the Kinneret, and more than 1500 mg/l from groundwater sources in the south. Groundwater exploitation is controlled to prevent seawater intrusion to the Coastal Aquifer and movement of saline water bodies within the Karstic Limestone Aquifer.

Despite the limits on water withdrawal, due to global warming and frequent droughts, the regime of the natural flows are decreasing. At the same time, the influx of pollutants from human activity and negligence above the aquifers is increasing, resulting in the increase of mineral and other pollutants in the groundwater. Due to unbalanced exploitation and return flow from irrigation, an increase in the salinity of the groundwater has occurred in many wells.

The most advanced technology and practices are being applied to protect and minimize the pollution of water resources. Water conservation maps, restricting land use activities above groundwater resources, were produced to protect the underlying resources. Regular monitoring of water resources, including: water recharge, water table levels, abstraction, salinity (chlorides) and pollution (nitrates) data are regularly monitored and reported. The data provides an effective tool for influencing the planning, the development process, and permissible emission of pollutants to the environment.


Water Management Policy

In 1959, a comprehensive water law was passed, making water resources public property and regulating water resources exploitation and allocation, as well as pollution prevention and water conservation. Under the law, all available water resources are made available for use by consumers, as directed by the Water Commissioner. The Water Commissioner is responsible for implementing the Government's policy, ensuring sufficient water supply of the required quality and reliability, while conserving and preserving water resources.

The Government of Israel has discussed a proposed master plan for the development of the water sector with the aim of solving the water crisis and has resolved to immediately implement a number of components thereof.

At this stage, the following has been authorized:

  • The construction of desalination plants with an installed annual capacity of 400 MCM for seawater and with an annual 50 MCM capacity for brackish water.
  • The rehabilitation of polluted and depleted wells with an annual total yield of up to 50 MCM.
  • The importation from Turkey of an annual quantity of 50 MCM fresh water.
  • To increase the amounts of treated sewage effluents suitable for for irrigation up to 500 MCM.
  • By the second half of the year 2004 the impact of these projects ought to be felt, and all projects will be gradually completed by the end of the decade.

The amount of additional water produced and imported in accordance with these decisions is needed to close the gap formed in Israel's water balance caused by overexploitation and depletion of natural water sources on the one hand and the increased demand on the other.

All activities in the water sector will be based on a new water sector policy that incorporates a development plan and is founded upon three basic components:

  • Ensuring water supply.
  • Social and economic requirements.
  • Environmental and ecological needs.

 

Water Supply and Demand - Israel 1998-2020 MCM/year

WATER SUPPLY/WATER SOURCES

Year

Population

(Million)

Surface

Water

Ground

Water

Brackish

Treated

Effluents

Desal-
ination
Total
1998 6.0 640 1050 140 260 10 2100
2010 7.4 645 1050 165 470 100 2430
2020 8.6 660 1075 180 565 200 2680

 

WATER DEMAND/WATER SOURCES

Year Urban Sector Natural Effluents Brackish Wastewater Total
1998 800 920 120 260 1300 2100
2005 980 750 95 380 1225 2430
2010 1060 680 75 490 1245 2680
2020 1330 600 60 640 1300 2680


Source: Israel Water Commission, 1998

Water Distribution

Mekorot Water Company Ltd. is a Government-owned company and, as 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. Mekorot is in charge of the wholesale supply of water to urban communities, industries and agricultural users. Mekorot produces and supplies about two-thirds of the total amount of water used in Israel. The remainder is provided through privately-owned facilities. In 1997, Mekorot supplied 1,380 MCM of water, of which 745 MCM were supplied for irrigation, 540 MCM for domestic use, 94 MCM for industry and 27 MCM to replenish over-pumped aquifers. Water was also supplied to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, in accordance with the peace accord.

Israel National Water Supply System - National Water Carrier

The shortage of water in the southern, semi-arid region of Israel required the construction of an extensive water-delivery system that supplies water to this region from resources in the north. Thus, most of the country's fresh water resources were inter-connected into the National Water Carrier, commissioned in 1964. The National Water Carrier supplies a blend of surface and groundwater. Water not required by consumers is recharged into the aquifer through spreading basins and dual-purpose wells. Recharging of aquifers helps to prevent evaporation losses and, in the coastal area, intrusion of seawater. The National Water Carrier supplies a total of 1,000 major consumers, including 18 municipalities and 80 local authorities.


Sources: Israeli Foreign Ministry

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