How Mekorot made 'the wilderness a pool of water'

Mekorot's pipelines in the Negev and Arava have been cited as a paradigm by the United Nations.

tap water 88 (photo credit: )
tap water 88
(photo credit: )
It is entirely appropriate that Mekorot, Israel's national water company, concluded its 70th anniversary celebrations at Beit Hanassi while Shimon Peres is president, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said on Thursday. Peres is one of the few people in the country who can remember the launch of Mekorot, which was founded on February 15, 1937 by Levi Eshkol, Pinhas Sapir and Simha Blass, noted Ben-Eliezer, who celebrated his own 70th birthday this week. "Shimon's story is the story of the state, which is the story of Mekorot," said Ben-Eliezer, alluding to the crucial roles played by both Peres and Mekorot in Israel's creation and development. Eshkol went on to become prime minister, Sapir became finance minister and water engineer Blass invented the drip irrigation method for which Israel has become famous. Mekorot's initial target was to lay pipelines in order to supply water to all the residents of the country, explained Ben-Eliezer. But over the years, Mekorot expanded into many areas of water management, treatment and technology and today its achievements are recognized worldwide; countries are entering into joint ventures with Mekorot hoping to solve their own water problems. In fact, Sri Lanka's minister for water is currently in Israel for just that purpose, said Ben-Eliezer, who visited Australia last year as the head of a water technologies delegation. Peres, Mekorot Chairman Eli Ronen and Mekorot CEO Ronen Wolfman each invoked the Bible as proof there had always been water problems in Israel, and that from the time of the patriarchs, solutions had always been found. Peres quoted from Genesis, when Isaac settled in the land of the Philistines and sent his people out to find water. Ronen and Wolfman quoted the verse from Isaiah: "I will open rivers on the bare heights and springs in the midst of the valleys. I will make the wilderness a pool of water and the dry land fountains of water." Mekorot had turned this prophecy into a reality, they said, and in more contemporary terms had done much to fulfill Ben Gurion's dream of making the Negev bloom. "Mekorot taught us how to be resourceful in a time of need, and like Isaac, to look for another place in which to dig a well, and then another and another," said Peres. Without Mekorot, he said, "Israel's national infrastructure map would not look the way it does today." Aside from combating the forces of nature, Mekorot also had to contend with Arab opposition, the president recalled. In 1953, the matter was taken to the United Nations by Syria and the Soviet Union. Israel decided not to become embroiled. Later, Eshkol ordered the IDF to defend Israel's water sources. Mekorot has left its mark on every corner of the land, said Peres, from faucets in private homes to irrigation networks on agricultural land. However, he warned none of this should be taken for granted, noting that two-thirds of Israel's terrain is desert. The population has grown considerably since the 1950s, which has led to a hefty increase in water consumption. There is insufficient rain in Israel, the riverbeds are too dry and the water level of the Kinneret is receding. "Yet for all that," he said, "the land is flourishing because Mekorot has come up with solutions." Mekorot's pipelines in the Negev and Arava have been cited as a paradigm by the United Nations, Ronen noted. Because the whole region suffers from water shortages and because Mekorot is a world leader in water technologies, "water has to be a bridge to peace," he explained. Wolfman, who is from Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev, reminded those gathered that because Mekorot had supplied water to the Negev during the period of the British Mandate, 11 tower and stockade settlements were set up overnight. Two years later, those northern Negev settlements acted as a buffer zone against the Egyptian army. Had they not been there, Egypt would have taken control of the Negev, and Israel would have been a much smaller country than it is now. To mark the Mekorot milestone and bring it wider global attention, the Israel Postal Company's Philatelic Services produced a special stamp designed by Ronen Goldberg.