Ministry: Desalination can't meet water needs

According to Bar-Or, one of the threats to the water supply is global warming.

desalination 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy photo)
desalination 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy photo)
Current plans for water conservation and existing desalination facilities are insufficient to meet the country's growing water demands and rapidly decreasing supply, the Environmental Protection Ministry warned on Tuesday. Due to the "serious threats to Israel's water resources, there is a need for a visionary plan exceeding the one in place today," Dr. Yeshayahu Bar-Or, the ministry's chief scientist, wrote in a letter to Water Authority head Prof. Uri Shani. "Desalination plants operating even at the increased rate of 500-800 million cubic meters per year cannot provide an adequate response to the worsening shortage in water. Extra measures are needed." Currently, 60 percent of Israel's sewage water is recycled. According to forecasts published in 2005, water produced at a string of desalination plants planned for the Mediterranean coast is expected to meet 15% of the country's needs in 2008. Bar-Or was referring to the Desalination Master Plan, launched in 2000, which called for the construction of a series of plants along the coast, to enable an annual total of 400 million cu.m. of desalinated water to be produced by 2005, chiefly for urban consumption. According to the plan, production is intended to rise to 750 million cu.m. by 2020. However, according to Bar-Or, the country's current desalinated water production and the plans for future production are insufficient in the face of a coming severe water shortage caused largely by climate change, the pollution of water reservoirs and sources, and rapid urbanization of the coastal plains, which catch much of the country's rainfall. Israel has also had lower-than-average rainfall for the last several years. Bar-Or's findings on the country's projected water supply are to be released this week at a conference on nature and environment hosted by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. He has outlined several measures urgently required:
  • There must be a constant and comprehensive public relations campaign teaching how to water private and public gardens in a way that conserves water. This campaign needs to be carried out together with local authorities and nature conservation bodies throughout the country.
  • A professional plan teaching local authorities how to build and use infrastructure to conserve water and catch rainfall must be prepared. All upgrades to existing city infrastructures such as sidewalk drainage need to take into account the need for water conservation.
  • Underground pipes need to be checked for infectious growth, and damaged pipes need to be repaired. According to Bar-Or, one of the threats to the water supply is global warming, especially in the nighttime hours in all seasons (there has been an approximately 2º Celsius increase since the 1970s). Added to that is the increase in the number of dry days during the summer. These extra dry days increase the amount of water needed to irrigate public and private green spaces. Another factor affecting the water supply is the decline in the amount of water in the Kinneret and the Jordan River Valley. This is due largely to climate change and an increase in the concentration of air pollution in the second half of the 20th century. Furthermore, the report states that during 2071-2100, Israel's average temperature is expected to rise by between 3.5º and 5º Celsius, compared to 1961-1990. Precipitation during winter is expected to drop to the 15-mm.-75-mm. range, translating into a 10%-30% drop from current levels. The report also predicts an increase in extreme climate events in Israel. "All these factors will bring about a future increase in heat and dryness that could result, by the end of this century, in a decrease of up to 35% in precipitation. Furthermore, land masses with bad water retention, like built-up areas, will experience more frequent and severe flooding, which could cause serious physical harm to life, the economy and the environment," the report states. The document points to the rapid construction on the coastal plain that is increasingly blocking the ground from absorbing rainwater. This, in turn, makes it harder to reclaim groundwater for drinking purposes. In addition, the rising levels of the Mediterranean Sea could cause an acceleration of the saltification of the coastal aquifer. Bar-Or's report also points to alarming changes in Lake Kinneret, which has seen the growth of potentially poisonous organisms due to the rising heat. This could in turn pollute the Kinneret, leading to a further decrease in water supply. For more of Amir Mizroch's articles, see his personal blog Forecast Highs