The Water Crisis in Israel Changing our Attitude to Water

The Minister of Agriculture reiterated the great value of using recycled water both for agriculture and for the environment. "In view of the continuing water crisis, the general public is asked to be thrifty, but for farmers the water crisis is a question of "to be or not to be."

January 19, 2010 14:56

Uzi Landau top1. (photo credit: KKL)


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At the second plenary session of the opening day of the Manitoba Israel Water Experts Symposium, Minister of Agriculture Shalom Simhon remarked that "the cost of recycled water makes the product attractive to the farmers."

The Minister of Agriculture reiterated the great value of using recycled water both for agriculture and for the environment. "In view of the continuing water crisis, the general public is asked to be thrifty, but for farmers the water crisis is a question of "to be or not to be." In spite of major cutbacks in water allocations, causing several farmers to cease their activities, there has been no decrease in Israel's agricultural production. Indeed there has been an increase, largely owing to the innovative use of recycled water and to the construction of hundreds of reservoirs, most of which work on tertiary quality purification and provide irrigation for agricultural areas all over Israel."

Simhon noted that an advantage of recycled water is that it is available all year round, in regular quantities that may be reliable in planning. Furthermore, the quality of the recycled water for agriculture, at least in terms of its salinity, is higher today than that of water pumped from the Sea of Galilee. 50% of the water used in Israel for agricultural irrigation is recycled water - the highest percentage in the world - but our situation requires continued tireless efforts to promote the recycling of sewage water.

"The additional advantage of recycled water is in its contribution to the environment, as effluents are purified even further. Whilst agricultural research used to be concerned with identifying the varieties of crops that could be grown with purified effluents, today we are hopefully moving towards a point where all recycled water will be of tertiary quality - similar to potable water -by the end of the decade."

According to the Minister of Agriculture, the immediate aim of agriculture is to survive this interim period, pending full activation of all the purification facilities that are currently being built in Israel. "With their completion in 2013, the agricultural sector will be receiving an additional 300 cubic meters of water per year, whose quality exceeds that of the water from the Sea of Galilee."

The Minister of Agriculture and the National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau were guests of honor at the water symposium. Introducing the two ministers, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler stated that in the course of the last decade, Israeli farmers had foregone an annual quantity of 650 million cubic meters of fresh water and had started using recycled water instead. Because of this, he said, he likes to call the 210 reservoirs constructed by KKL-JNF all over Israel "Israel's fourth aquifer!"

Minister Landau made the point that water has no borders, unlike political borders drawn by human hands. "We share the same resources with our neighbors and the point is to know how to co-exist. What happens to our neighbors affects what happens to us and to them. In Amman, even today, water is distributed from a water tank twice a week. Here, however, even today, you can turn on a faucet and there is still water - not because we have more wisdom, but because our lack of choice has led us to invest great effort in the management of water sources."

Minister Landau also spoke about the political significance of water. "Water is also a basis for understanding, as in the peace agreement with Jordan. We have already delivered far above the entire amount of water stipulated in political agreements despite our strained relations and despite the fact that they do not prevent the pollution of water sources by their effluents which flow into our territory. We channel water to the mountain regions and we receive their sewage which pollutes our streams and the aquifers. All politics aside, water has to be respected here and the water sources and the environment must not be polluted."

According to Minister Landau, in addition to short-term solutions to the present water crisis of taxation and of domestic-use reduction, the system aspires to base the future development of Israel's water industry on corporate activity whose profits from water sales to consumers will be re-invested in developing water systems. He expressed the hope that such a policy will hasten the development of a national water system.

Professor Uri Shani, CEO of the Israel Water Authority, in his address to the plenary session, presented a rather pessimistic assessment when related to a scientific model developed by Japanese scientists. "Actual quantities of water in recent years have been less than expected. The forecast for the second half of this century is that the Middle East will become more arid, whereas there will be an increase in precipitation in northern Europe and the tropical regions of Africa."

Professor Shani described the current quantities of water available in Israel in relation to demand, pursuant to five years of drought. Nevertheless, he said, as a result of the acceleration of desalination projects, it is hoped that Israel will not be entirely dependent on nature in the not-too-distant future. "Water consumption for non-agricultural use is about 800 million cubic meters per annum and by 2013 we should be purifying about 600 million cubic meters. This is an extremely significant change but another change is that water is becoming more expensive, owing to the costs of production. We no longer have a concept of "water from nature for free." We have to change our attitude to water. Citizens of Israel contributed significantly last year to the reduction of water consumption in the private sector but it must be understood that after the present crisis, the water economy will possibly never be the same again."

According to Professor Shani, the dramatic change in the field of water has not yet been grasped in Israel. While the salinity of water from the Sea of Galilee is uncomfortably high at 300 units per cubic meter, the price of a cubic meter of water supplied by the Kinneret to the water authority is almost the same as a cubic meter of desalinated water, which has a particularly low level of salinity. "This requires a new way of thinking about water policy in Israel. Recycled water is relatively expensive. If the price of desalinated water is similar to that of water from the Kinneret, maybe purified water should be diverted to the streambeds and not used solely for agriculture." Shani, however, was careful neither to make immediate specific recommendations at this stage nor to refer to the additional ecological advantages of recycling effluents.

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