From the Golan Heights to desalination: Learning water management


The spring season in the Golan Heights is amazingly beautiful.  Everything is so green and fresh, and bursting with colour.  Green, yellow, red, purple, blue, you name it.  Flowers are everywhere and the trees are sprouting.  I have been living for seven months in the middle of desert, the Arava Valley, where the dominant colour is the yellow of mountains and sand.  The amount of green seems almost surreal; it is like the green in the Nordic Finland.  I just can’t help loving the contrasts in the nature.


The Golan Heights. Photo: Shmuel WillnerThe Golan Heights. Photo: Shmuel Willner
Hermon Stream/Banias. Picture: Shmuel Willner 


What makes everything so green?  Water is the source of life, and without water, the land would be dry and yellow.  The heavy rains this winter and spring blessed the land that had suffered several years of drought, which had been causing record low water levels in the Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).


The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES) arranged a field trip to the Northern Israel at the end of March that focused on Israel’s water management sector and the challenges it is facing.  I had the opportunity to participate in this trip and enjoy the unique experience.  We learned about the importance of the Lake Kinneret and the Golan Heights as Israel’s freshwater source and reserve.


This winter was exceptional in terms of rainfall, but that does not mean that in the future we will have enough rain.  Little over a decade ago, the government of Israel had to come up with alternative sources of water.  Just like any other growing industrialized high-tech nation, Israel needs to secure its water production.  The government made a strategic decision to move into large-scale desalination, the production of drinking water from the seawater.


We had the privilege to gain first hand information about the Israel’s state of art desalination technology by visiting the Ashkelon mega desalination plant, which produces 125 million cubic meters of fresh drinking water annually from Mediterranean Sea water, for Israel’s domestic use.  This plant is among the largest in the world and is based on the most advanced desalination technologies.


It was truly impressive to see the process of producing water in a commercial desalination plant, from production to sale. The plant, which is a commercial business enterprise, sells the water to the National Water Company of Israel, Mekorot, for incredibly low and competitive prices. 


One of the challenges the process of desalination faces today is the fact that it is still quite energy intensive.  However, the technology is constantly developing, enabling the future plants to become even more efficient, thereby producing cheaper water.  This is a critical factor, since water, as we already know, is the source of life.


With the abundant and cheap water, David Ben-Gurion''s vision of the flourishing desert becomes one step closer to reality.  Perhaps in future, this water will be a catalyst for peace, when we stretch our arms with water to our neighbours.