Water, Water, Everywhere: Desalination Trumps Drought in Israel

Production capacity of all of Israel’s desalination plants will soon reach 600 million cubic meters of water – nearly 70 percent of the country's domestic water consumption.

David Bachar

Although Israel experienced an unprecedented drought in 2014, there will be no need to build more major desalination plants this decade, according to a new Water Authority report.

The report, to be presented to the Knesset soon, states that a desalination plant in Ashdod is set to come online shortly.

When it is finished, the production capacity of all of Israel’s desalination plants will reach 600 million cubic meters of water – which is nearly 70 percent of Israel’s domestic water consumption.

According to a government decision, by 2020 the desalination plants should reach a capacity of 750 million cubic meters.

A relatively small desalination plant is planned for the Western Galilee due to a regional water supply problem, the report added.

Israel’s dependence on rainwater has declined due to the production capacity of the desalination plants, as well as increased use of purified wastewater (graywater) for agricultural irrigation.

In his introduction to the report, Water Authority director Alex Kushnir noted that last year saw record drought conditions. “Various countries are dealing with a situation of extreme drought by drastic means, to the point of declaring emergencies and making sharp cuts in water supply. In contrast, due to early assessments, Israeli consumers have not been impacted at all by the lack of rainfall,” Kushnir wrote.

Along with the authority’s achievements, the report also noted problems and obstacles in a number of areas.

According to the Water Authority report, one of the most serious problems it faces is the deterioration in ties with the Palestinians. A joint water committee operated through the years, whose purpose was to approve projects across the Green Line.

Ties grew strained after the Palestinian Authority opposed projects to benefit the settlements, and the joint committee ceased operating. This delayed the approval of 130 water and sewage projects. Pressure has recently been placed on the Palestinians to renew the committee’s activities.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to act to stop the Palestinians connecting illegally to the water system that Israel operates for all population sectors in the territories. Last year, 1,187 such illegal connections were cut on a single water main, which passes through Hebron and Tarqumiya in the southern West Bank. In addition, seven new pirate drill sites and six illegal reservoirs were found.

The report also noted that the Water Authority had managed to move ahead a reform to reduce the number of water and sewage corporations from 55 to 10, in order to streamline their work. Serious difficulties were also reported in construction of some infrastructure to collect and purify sewage, causing major construction delays on tens of thousands of housing units. Only recently was it promised that the necessary installations would be built to complete construction of the housing.

Demonstrating surprising candor for a government report, Kushnir mentioned some of the problems the Water Authority has to face. For example, he wrote, “Most of the time, the Water Authority works without political support and must deal with political figures with vested interests and enormous public power – such as local authority heads, who work with all their might to control the cash flow of the water economy by controlling the water corporations.”

Kushnir also said that owners of the desalination plants opposed the Water Authority’s decisions to cut back on desalination, “decisions that led directly to a reduction in their profits.”

The Water Authority estimates that the state would be transferring 1.5 billion shekels ($390,000) to the companies operating the desalination plants for services rendered.

The report also noted that water sources in Israel still suffer extensive pollution from industrial sources, damaging mainly the coastal aquifer.

An estimated one tenth of water reserves in the aquifer have been contaminated from various sources, including industry.