Overcoming the challenges of an arid climate and scarce natural water reserves has always been a vital necessity for the growth of Israel’s population and economy since the founding of the state. This has led to continuous improvements in Israel’s water sector, through innovations in technologies, practices and long-term plans.
Currently, Israel annually requires almost a billion cubic metres per year (MCM/year) more water than average natural replenishment provides. Nevertheless, average annual sustainable natural water consumption has been achieved, while nevertheless providing for all of the country’s water needs, via innovations that have involved overcoming extensive engineering, biological and logistic challenges. These innovations include:
• A visionary, nationwide water conveyance system, constructed from 1955-64, to deliver water from the natural reserves in the north throughout the country, including the dry south;
• Treatment and reuse of almost all of the nation’s domestic waste water for irrigation in the agricultural sector;
• Highly advanced irrigation methods such as moisture-sensitive automated drip irrigation directly to plant roots;
• Development of new crop strains that provide 10 times higher yield with the same amount of water;
• Pioneering work in drilling exceptionally deep wells, reaching 1,500 metres and pump settings as high as 500 metres;
• Large-scale desalination of seawater and brackish groundwater;
• Controls of algae blooms in reservoirs for reused water;
• Innovative, multi-tiered water safety methods, early warning systems and other technologies;
• Innovative methods for minimising non-revenue water loss.
Innovations in planning, policies and tariffs
Numerous governmental strategies and policies have been created throughout Israel’s history to ensure a continuous supply of potable water for all citizens and to promote sustainable national water consumption. These include Israel’s National Long-Term Master Plan for the Water Sector, from 2010-15, and innovations in both governmental and private sectors in key areas, particularly demand management, water use efficiency, creating supplementary potable water, and governmental support for innovations, notably in the NewTech Programme.
The Israel NewTech Programme promotes the country as a global water technology leader by investing in human capital, research and development, marketing, and start-up growth and international activity. This programme achieved great success in the local development and global export of Israel’s innovative water technologies. Israel’s agricultural sector has transformed into one of the world’s foremost leaders in water conservation, as was recognised by the OECD and FAO in 2012. Despite the drastic decline in agricultural water consumption over the past decades, agricultural production has continuously grown, and is sufficient to export approximately 80% of its products with the highest ratio globally in crop-yield/m3 of water.
Desalination is another innovation where Israel leads. Even with exceptionally efficient national water use, Israel’s water needs exceed natural supplies. To address this deficit, Israel’s desalination capacity has rapidly reached 560 million cubic metres/year with some of the world’s largest sea water reverse osmosis (SWRO) facilities, lowest costs and numerous innovations.
Israel’s successes to date speak for themselves. As of 2015, approximately half of Israel’s water supply comes from reused treated waste water, brackish water and desalinated water (see graph above), and the agricultural sector is a world leader in water use efficiency and conservation. Israel’s successes as such arise from the continuous need for and support of innovative methods, technologies, holistic water resource management and strategies for sustainably providing for the nation’s water needs.
*Israel’s National Water Company
Master Plan for Water Sector Development in the Period 2010-2050, Planning Department, Israel Water Authority, Israel.
Rejwan, Ariel and Abraham Tenne (2012), Israel’s Innovations Overcome Water Shortages, Israel Water Authority Internal Document, Israel.
“Water in Israel: Fast facts”, see www.investinisrael.gov.il/NR/exeres/0CB6A8B8- 8561-4943-ABBE-A697DDDD1123.htm
©OECD Observer No 302, April 2015