Israel: Water Exporter?!
With Purim around the corner, I would like to focus on an issue that is truly reminiscent of the holiday’s “v’nahafoch” theme, where things appear to be going in one direction, and then G-d in his mysterious wisdom and power, turns events on their head and causes the exact opposite to occur.
Israel, despite its diverse geography, is two-thirds desert, and from time immemorial has suffered from a scarcity of water. Recently, Israel has had to deal with the challenge of declining precipitation coupled with population, industrial and agricultural growth, causing an enormous shortfall of natural water for its citizens’ use. In an effort to curb the amount of water consumed, the government has implemented several stringent economic measures to limit usage, including significantly raising the price of water and dramatically reducing the water allocated to the agricultural industry.
Presently, the country consumes about 1.85 million cubic meters of water a year but Israel’s precipitation averages only 1.85 million cubic meters of water per year, which means that in some years the total amount can be significantly lower. Over the past seven years, Israel has experienced relatively dry winters, causing the country’s water reserves to become dangerously low. That fact, coupled with concurrently losing up to10% of the country’s reserves to contamination, has created an unsustainable water situation.
The situation was so grave that in 2005, Israel signed a 20-year agreement with Turkey by which we would import enough water to cover 3% of Israel’s needs. Today, Israel’s diplomatic relationship with Turkey has deteriorated so badly that this water crisis is not merely an environmental and economic challenge, but has serious security implications as well.
Israel understood the importance of creating a master plan to develop a long-term solution. In 1997, the first reverse osmosis desalination plant, which removes salt and other chemicals from water to make it suitable for human consumption, was opened in Eilat. And in 1999, the Israeli Water Commission proposed a large-scale seawater desalination program which, after much debate, was finally implemented.
Thankfully, the country seems to have turned the corner on this long-term challenge. Last month, Israel’s national water company reported that its five desalination facilities, two of which will open in 2013, will be able to supply water to 85% of the country’s residents.
Because the desalination plants will supply water to most Israeli households, the country will also be able to reduce the amount of water pumped from Israel’s coastal aquifer along the Mediterranean Sea. The aquifer is one of Israel’s important sources of groundwater and will now be rehabilitated from the effects of salination. And here’s the kicker: the authorities believe that within eight years, Israel will have accumulated enough water surplus to be in a position to export water to its neighbors!
With all the uncertainties and challenges that Israel faces from within and from abroad, appreciating the miracles that are occurring daily gives us perspective and hope for the future. With Purim around the corner, it’s an excellent opportunity to focus on the words of the “al hanissim” prayer and thank G-d for performing his miracles “bayamim haheim bazman hazeh” – in the past and in our present days.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home, a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.