What Water Scarcity? Israel May Soon Have A Surplus
By Kevin Westerling, Web Editor, Water Online
As warnings increase about the world's dwindling water supply, predictions of a future surplus come from an unlikely source — drought-stricken Israel. The optimistic picture was painted by Israel's national water company, Mekorot, during a recent meeting commemorating the company's 75th anniversary, reported on by Ynetnews. Seawater desalination, according to Mekorot, will allow Israel to rehabilitate of all its freshwater reservoirs and enjoy a substantial surplus within eight years.
If realized, the surplus would put Israel in the enviable position of being a water exporter in a time of heightened water scarcity. In an article released by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs touting the country's leading role in desalination, former Mekorot CEO Booky Oren noted that Israel — a country that is two-thirds arid — aggressively pursued desalination out of necessity. "All the population here is increasing and the demand for water is increasing," he said. "This is the force that caused Israel to reinvent itself."
Though the outlook is positive for coming years, Israel is currently short on its current water supply due to several successive dry winters — a fact that both reinforces the need for desalination and makes more impressive the notion of a surplus.
Israel's projected water surplus is attributed not only to Israel's desalination facilities — currently producing 600 million cubic meters of water per year — but also to the replenishment of the existing freshwater reservoirs and the reduced pumping of the coastal aquifer.
Mekorot stated during the meeting that over-pumping of the aquifer has caused treatment challenges due to the increasing salination of the groundwater, according to an article on Haaretz.com. The latest report of the Hydrological Service of Israel indicated that just 39% of the aquifer was of good quality, and 11% was unusable.
Despite the challenges, Mekorot, which supplies roughly half of Israel's water, announced that the quality of its water has drastically improved over the past two decades, and now far surpasses the standards set by the World Health Organization (WHO). While WHO recommends a 5% limit for disease-causing bacteria and parasites, only 0.07% of Mekorot samples taken in 2010 turned up such contaminants — compared to 6.5% in 1991. Furthermore, only 0.03% of samples found evidence of chemical pollution.
Another improvement spanning two decades — and the key to Israel's change of fortune from water-starved to (potentially) water-rich — is the cost of the water that the country produces. Oren, the former Mekorot head who is now chairman of Israel's WATEC conference and expo, explains that the price of water has gone from $2 per cubic meter 20 years ago to 50 cents per cubic meter today. He credits ingenuity — specifically better ways to recycle water and reduce energy — as catalysts for Israel's emerging status in the world water market.
That forward-thinking may soon pay dividends for Israel. In a region with plenty of sand, Israel has refused to stick its head in it when it comes to water scarcity.
What does this projection say about Israel's position in the world water market? What can be learned by the country's ventures into desalination? What would an Israeli water surplus mean from a geopolitical standpoint? Please share your thoughts below...