OpinionIsrael News

Working on wet ways to make the deserts bloom

Israel’s water economy has been transformed in recent years; nevertheless, planning and budgeting continues year-round to meet agricultural and population needs.

A child plays with water, a precious resource in Israel. Credit: Jewish National Fund.
A child plays with water, a precious resource in Israel. Credit: Jewish National Fund.
Giora Shaham

Israel’s water sector is one of the most advanced in the world. I emphatically believe this and state it with pride. To arrive at this point, it was understood 20 years ago that the state of Israel’s natural water resources would not be able to supply the long-term quantities and needs of the country. In the last decade, decision-makers—already facing a water shortage and population growth—adopted and implemented the Integrated Water Resources Management Approach.

A child plays with water, a precious resource in Israel. Credit: Jewish National Fund.

The results have transformed Israel’s water economy. High efficiency was attained in agricultural production per water unit; an aggressive educational and media campaign reduced domestic-water consumption by nearly 20 percent; government-supported treatment plants and hundreds of Jewish National Fund-built reservoirs around the country enabled the reuse of 86 percent of treated sewage for agricultural irrigation; and funds were invested into desalination plants that now provide 30 percent of Israel’s drinking water. These are major accomplishments, and today we are working on finalizing a master plan for Israel’s water sector to ensure a water-secure future for the land and people of Israel through 2050.

To regulate and manage its water resources, Israel’s Water Authority strictly enforces National Water Laws. Passed in the 1950s, these laws ensure the proper allocation of water resources for optimal use in all sectors and for the country’s development; preserve and protect existing natural water reserves; set water tariffs and levies; and so on. Despite all of our advances and the major steps taken, we are not immune from the forces of nature. For five consecutive years, northern Israel has suffered from severe and unprecedented drought, leaving the Sea of Galilee and water reservoirs in poor condition. Without significant rainfall we will inevitably cross the “red line,” and see negative effects on our underground aquifers and the Sea of Galilee.

Fortunately, no impact is expected on the public’s drinking-water supply, thanks to desalination. The agricultural industry, however, will be acutely affected by persistent drought—particularly in the agriculturally rich Upper Galilee, Sea of Galilee basin and Beit She’an Valley.

But where there are problems, there are also solutions.

Since the 1980s, JNF has built more than 250 reservoirs across Israel, each of them storing recycled and runoff water for agricultural use. A potential solution to Israel’s pending agricultural crisis is to build more reservoirs. With an additional 80 million to 100 million cubic meters of water available, the status of Israel’s agricultural industry would significantly improve, even during consecutive drought years. Such an endeavor will cost between $350 million and $400 million—a considerably low expenditure to avert an even greater economic loss—and can be accomplished within a decade.

Water is the essence of life, and it’s needed to keep Israel green. It is the most important environmental resource that has enabled us to make our deserts bloom, now and in the future.

Giora Shaham is director general of the Israel Water Authority.

The article was written for World Water Day on March 22.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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