Israel is a Middle Eastern country located on the Eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea that borders Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. The northern and coastal regions of Israel experience a Mediterranean climate characterized by hot and dry summers and winters with decreasing levels of rainfall. The southern and eastern areas of Israel are characterized by an arid climate throughout the year. Israel’s less-than-favourable climate has led to it being considered as one of the most water-scarce countries in the world.
So just how did Israel become one of the leading experts of water management? Over a period of 12 years, Israel experienced three major water crises that led to the gradual implementation of institutional policy reforms and massive investments in infrastructure. In 2000, the Israeli government changed their policy for water sector management to one that moved to adopt a sustainable approach to guaranteeing water security for the country. Moreover, the country implemented key innovations to ensure water sustainability for its future.
Israel established a national bulk water transmission system that conveys 95 percent of Israel’s potable water resources (surface water, groundwater, desalinated water). This massive water infrastructure includes as many as 3,000 installations and 12,000 kilometres of transmission pipelines controlled by 10 main command centres across the country. Impressively, the overall level of water losses in the bulk transportation system declined and is currently reported to stand at 3 percent.
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Gradually, Israel reclaimed wastewater which has now become a major source of water for farmers, supplying more than 40 percent of the country’s needs for irrigation and more than 87 percent of wastewater being reused. It is also worth noting that re-use of wastewater is environmentally less damaging than the traditional methods of disposing treated sewerage into the environment, something that Israel really tapped into.
Five mega desalination plants based on seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) were constructed along the Mediterranean Coast with a total capacity of 585 million cubic meter per year. Four of them were developed through public private partnerships (PPPs) with private concessionaires under build-operate-transfer (BOT) and build-operate-own (BOO) schemes. Desalinated water now supplies 85 percent of domestic urban water consumption and 40 percent of the country’s total water consumption.
Using aquifers as reservoirs in the absence of surface reservoirs and dams was also an innovation that was adopted by Israel. This involves recharging of aquifers with treated wastewater during low-demand months, capturing of occasional flash floods, and comprehensive monitoring and control of aquifer levels with a strict abstraction regime.
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Demand management has also been strengthened by controlling aquifer abstraction through water permits and metering, improving efficiency, reducing domestic consumption of potable water per capita, and shifting water use to higher value irrigated crops.
Israel’s promotion of innovation in the water sector through the integration of the private sector, urban water utilities and the government is unmatched. They truly are an example that all water-scarce and water-abundant countries need to follow.
By Amanda Kibe