And we love the idea of hydro-diplomacy.
Hoping for some sustainable changes in the water sector for Israel and its neighbours, we’ve partnered with the Strategic Foresight Group to interview those people and organizations at the heart of Israel’s water industry.
Last week: Shimon Tal, the past Water Commissioner of Israel. Today from the office of Dr. Uri Shani, Israel’s current water commissioner. Responsible for the overall management of the nation’s water resources, this interview with the Israeli Water Commission office (Ministry of Infrastructure), includes information that policy makers, journalists and those following the Middle East water story, will love.
Read about how Israel formulates its water policy, the planning and development of the water economy, how it prevents the pollution of water sources, how Israel regulates streams and flood prevention; uses its overflow water, develops new water sources, uses waste water, and promotes the efficient use of water. See our questions below and read on for the answers.
Q1. Turkey and Israel have had talks about freshwater supply and purchase in the past. The Turkish government has been positive in its overall response so far but there is some opposition to this in the Turkish political spectrum. If the Turkish government were to agree to supply 1 BCM of freshwater to Israel, is there a possibility that Israel will agree in return to share this water with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan?
A1. Israel does not have any formal negotiation with Turkey regarding freshwater supply at the moment. Transferring water from Turkey through Israel to Jordan and the Palestinians, on prices that will be agreed in advanced between all parties, is an appropriate possibility that should be considered. Israel is always aspiring towards regional cooperation in order to resolve the water problem in this region.
Q2. Israel is counting on desalination as a major source of its future water supply. However, there are limits to the growth of Israel’s water supply based on marginal water alone. What are the other ‘regional’ solutions that Israel can examine in terms of water cooperation with other countries?
A2. As stated, Israel is aspiring towards regional cooperation in order to resolve the water problem in the Middle East. The ideas of freshwater supply from Turkey, and utilization of the Litani River, as mentioned on your third question, are positive issues for regional cooperation.
Q3. Lebanon’s Litani River has a particularly high quality of water, with a very low quantity of chlorates and nitrates present. Water cooperation with Lebanon would therefore serve Israeli interests but in order for this to happen, political cooperation between these two parties is required; in addition Israel-Lebanon relations are inter-linked with the Israel-Palestine conflict. Is it worth it for Israel to find political cooperation with Lebanon in order to secure its water situation or is this not a practical option?
A3. Effective cooperation between Israel and other parties, and Lebanon, regarding an agreed and mutually beneficial use of the Litani River waters, can be highly valuable for both states and can also be highly beneficial to the region as well, including Jordan and the Palestinians.
There is a considerable amount of water in the Litani River, in regional terms: the average multi-annual amount as estimated today is about 700 million cubic meters. Only a fraction of that high amount is used, mostly for agriculture, in Southern Lebanon. Most of the water goes to waste, flowing into the sea (part of the water is also used for power generation, before it drains into the sea without any further use). As for the quality of the water, as far as we know most of the Litani waters are contaminated and not considered potable.
It is in essence a practically–pending agreement: technically, it would demand the development of a simple project (which is highly preferable), practically and economically, to any other known alternative for adding additional and significant amounts of water resources to the region and to the three above-mentioned consumers. Any solution, though, requires cooperation between all parties.
Q4. Technical reports suggest that over-pumping is leading to the depletion of groundwater aquifers in the West Bank, both in terms of water levels as well as water quality. This could cause water shortages in the short-run and devastation of the eco-system in the long-run. What can be done to preserve these aquifers?
A4. Five years of severe drought in our area resulted in both a decrease in the amount of precipitation as well as a difference in the character of this precipitation. The natural recharge of both upper-water and groundwater sources was significantly reduced and this in turn gradually affected the quality of Israel’s water resources. The Israeli Water Authority is taking tremendous efforts to reduce the damage caused to these natural water resources and the descent in water levels that they have experienced. Efforts include:
a. Preserving minimum groundwater levels in all the basins in order to prevent irreversible damage and to prevent pollution of neighboring fresh water aquifers,
b. Ascertaining the exact volume of outflow from springs in order to preserve salt removing processes from the aquifers,
c. Ensuring a balanced distribution of water production in order to assure groundwater gradients, directions and flow regimes,
d. Conducting frequent monitoring of every water source in order to follow depletion in volume and quality, including condensation of monitoring networks in the tremendous expenses in areas of the high mountain and in the depth of the aquifer in order to follow negative regional influences,
e. Taking measures to prevent pollution from natural, agricultural or human sources, in order to minimize the volume and type of the pervasive pollutants to the aquifers.
There is no doubt that regional cooperation together with the Palestinian Authority, with the overall view of developing new (natural or artificial) water resources, as well as preventing the pollution of upper-water and groundwater sources, will significantly reduce the deterioration of both the quantity and quality of natural water resources in our area.
Q5. Israel has experienced a severe drought period in the recent past. With environmental neglect and the effects of climate change, this can be a frequent and imminent risk in the future. What can be done to minimize the impact of such a danger in terms of national measures as well as well as regional cooperation?
A5. In the last decade, the State of Israel has been taking significant measures to deal with climate change and with extreme climate conditions. The government made a series of decisions in order to increase the water supply and to restrict the water demand.
The steps included in this plan are:
a. Intensive use of marginal and recycled water (more than 60% of the agricultural irrigation is based on this kind of water).
b. Desalination of brackish water from natural sources.
c. Desalination of sea water (at the end of 2009, sea water desalination plants produce about 40% of the domestic demand and till 2014 the production will reach 600 million cubic meters per year which is more than 80% of the projected domestic consumption in that year).
d. Planning sea water desalination at this magnitude takes into account a decrease of 10% in the freshwater safe yield in the coming years and therefore has the intention to stabilize natural water resources in next decade.
e. Dramatic improvement in the efficiency of agriculture (more production for less water).
f. Cuts in allocations for agriculture.
g. Increasing water tariffs (to the actual cost).
h. Stepping water tariffs (relating to the consumed amount).
i. Levy on surplus domestic consumption (in drought years).
j. Distribution of water saving devices in the domestic sector.
k. Governmental campaign for water conservation.
l. Adopting a strong preventive maintenance approach (water losses in the range of 10% with a goal to reach to only 8%).
Israel Water Commission (promo video in Hebrew)
::Israel Water Commission (in Hebrew only, we’re afraid)
More on Israel’s water industry:
Interview with Shimon Tal, past water commission of Israel
All the Water in Israel: Interviews with Government, Analysts and Researchers
The Agricultural Roots of Israel’s Water Crisis
Israel and Jordan’s Red Dead Debate
Israel’s WATEC Water Conference, Makes a Splash