Encountering Environmental Challenges in Israel in the beginning of a New Year

 The sabbatical year (Shnat Shmita in Hebrew), which occurs every seven years, has now finished. The fields were given a year of rest from commercial agriculture in the Land of Israel. Despite the one year of rest, the environment is facing many challenges ranging from desertification and drought to forest fires and pollution. Israel is not alone with these global issues. This blog article discusses some of the environmental challenges related to its water resources in Israel for the year 5776 (2015-2016).
Water reservoir in Nevatim in the Western Negev. Photo: KKL-JNFWater reservoir in Nevatim in the Western Negev. Photo: KKL-JNF
Perhaps more than ever, the world is experiencing changing weather – whether it is a consequence of natural or man-made global warming one can agree or disagree. Melting polar ice caps can result in changing currents of which the consequences are not known. For instance, the heavy drought in California is unprecedented and several steps to conserve water have been taken, beginning from giving up on watering private lawns, and replacing the natural green grass with artificial turfs. As a result Israel has sent its best experts to advise the authorities in the region on how to cope with the water shortage. How is it so that Israel is one of world's top nations with water expertise and technology?
Every two years, the water technology convention WATEC (Water Technology and Environmental Control Exhibition and Conference) is organized in Tel Aviv, which gathers the world's top experts to discuss the global water challenges, but also advances business and technology in the water sector. In the 21st century, the key phrase is 'water security'. Keren Keyemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) has always been one of the exhibitors due to its vast expertise in water and environmental management. Today in 2015 Israel's water situation looks bright but it wasn't like this few years ago.
Less than a decade ago, Israeli water management was on the verge of catastrophe. Several years of drought, diminishing aquifers and water reservoirs and increasing water demand was a dangerous combination. Thanks to the lower price of desalinated water and advancement of technology, constructing gigantic desalination projects was financially feasible. The government of Israel decided to invest significant sums in developing and constructing such infrastructure on the Mediterranean coast, transforming the entire water situation in to a new millennium. In 2015, around 35-40 percent of the drinking quality water is produced through desalination processes. A flip-side of the desalination is that it is quite energy intensive, and thus requires cheap energy resources. Solar-desalination could be part of the solution in the future.
Ketura Sun solar field in the Arava. Photo: Samuel WilnerKetura Sun solar field in the Arava. Photo: Samuel Wilner
Another great regional challenge is the deteriorating state of the Dead Sea, which is losing around one meter of its level every year. This phenomenon has caused thousands of sinkholes to emerge over the past decades. Today numerous areas along the Dead Sea coast have become unusable and very likely the situation will only worsen. Several solutions have been proposed over the past years, but until now no solution has been implemented.
Israel is the number one water recycler in the world and over 80 percent of the water is recycled for irrigation. This is a major achievement and no other nation is even close to this figure. In addition, Israel has built hundreds of water reservoirs with the help and expertise of the KKL-JNF. Interestingly, another desert nation, Saudi Arabia, has also built few hundred floodwater reservoirs to collect the seasonal flows of otherwise dry riverbeds. A challenge that still exists in storing water in reservoirs is evaporation; especially during the hot summer months. Some solutions have been considered, such as constructing solar power stations to cover the water surface and thus reducing the effect of evaporation. In addition, this solution would increase the efficiency of land use. In the coming years this might become more relevant as the price of electricity from solar power becomes cheaper.
Israel has proved that many dreams and visions, which seemed impossible in the past, can become today's reality. This has required hard work and commitment. KKL-JNF has almost 115 years of history in Zionism and environmentalism. Its existence is a solid proof that these dreams matter – yesterday, today and tomorrow. I believe in the vision of making the desert green; the once impossible dream is now possible. This only proves that one can find feasible solutions to challenges even much more daring.