Water Security in the Middle East? From the Desk of Israel's Water Commission

israel water commission logo hebrew

If you’ve been following Green Prophet, you’ll know we’re running a water series on Israeli water experts.

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

Comments

comments

16 thoughts on “Water Security in the Middle East? From the Desk of Israel's Water Commission”

  1. JTR says:

    Peacefully reduce the human population and there will be plenty of water for everyone everywhere. But if the various populations continue to grow, there will be no more water, but there will be an ecocidal catastrophe.

  2. muntherjhaddadin says:

    Comments by Dr. Munther J HaddadinFormer Chairman of the Jordan Valley AuthorityFormer Minister of Water and Irrigation- JordanQ1. Israel had negotiations with Turkey in the past to transport freshwater from the Sihon River. The plan fell through and Israel opted for sea water desalination to increase its water resources. In the Middle East Multilateral peace talks Israel refrained from subscribing to any regional water project if it delivered water to it from the outside, especially if it has to traverse Arab lands. More confidence building is mandatory to convince Israel to be a party to regional water projects.If Israel, as Mr. Shimon Tal says,is willing to negotiate cooperation with Jordan and the PA with respect to water from Cyhon, Turkey, passing through Israel, a better idea yet is to build pipelines from Turkish sources through Syria on to Jordan and PA and Israel (if Israel is convinced to subscribe). Jordan presented a regional cooperation water project to the third Multilateral session on water resources held at the U.S State Department in September 1992. It is worth tabling now and negotiated.If Tal's idea on Israel's role is to serve as transit medium then Jordan and the PA can think of another option: water from Turkey to share with Syria and parts of Saudi Arabia. But if Israel is to come in as a partner, the picture becomes more attractive to the entire world and the best of the available options can be adopted.Q2, Q3:I note that Tal's answer evades the question which is about ISRAEL's additional supplies. Tal responds with the concern over the Middle East!It should be stressed here, as indeed it was stressed back in the indirect negotiations (1953-1955) conducted by the U.S Presidential Envoy, Eric Johnston, and his team, that the Litani is a totally Lebanese River that awaits development to benefit the poor Lebanese south. Currently a portion of it, released from the Qaroun Dam for power generation, is diverted to the Awwali River from which additional supply for municipal and industrial uses as far north as Beirut itself is past the drawing board stage. National reconciliation and regional peace are key to enable Lebanon to develop not only the Litani, but also to rehabilitate and repair the destruction Lebanon was dealt during the Israeli incursions and air attacks on one hand and the domestic instability on the other, and to proceed on the economic and social development trail that the Lebanese have once excelled in.Q4.Again, the answer ducks the question which focused on Groundwater in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. While I commend the steps taken to avert serious damage due to droughts and overuse, I hope that the same measures are implemented in the territories occupied by Israel. Although it may sound as political, one should note the tresspassing that Israeli colonies in the Occupied West Bank are allowed to make on Palestinian water in the Eastern Aquifer, the Northern Aquifer and also upstream from the Gaza Aquifer. While the colonies are allowed plentiful supplies, the rightful owners of the land and water (the Palestinians) are denied such privileges.(To the Editor: telling the truth and criticising Israel's actions in the Occupied Palestinian territories should not be construed as hatred for Israel. If raising the flag on Israeli “off-side is hatred then what do you call anti-semetism? As Editor I think patience is needed aand also tolerence”Q5.Israel should be commended on the advances it has made in water technology and wastewater treatment. The reuse of wastewater in irrigation started in the region in 1968 (Jordan) and 1974 (Israel). It has since propagated to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and others.It should be stressed that it is unfair to compare the countries surrounding Israel with Israel's capabilities in terms of both human resources quality and GDP. What Israel could achieve in science and technology is remarkable, but that should not shade our eyes from seeing the injustice that has been done unto the native Palestinians and on the surrounding countries that hosted scores of Palestinian refugees. The genrousity that Israel was accorded by the Western nations and the transfer of technology therefrom to Israel speaks highly of the raapid absorption of technology and the innovations that Israeli scientists added therafter.Let us just not mix carrots and ornages! Each chapter of the region's modern history should be examined on its own first and then in combination with the other chapters.

  3. muntherjhaddadin says:

    Comments by Dr. Munther J HaddadinFormer Chairman of the Jordan Valley AuthorityFormer Minister of Water and Irrigation- JordanQ1. Israel had negotiations with Turkey in the past to transport freshwater from the Sihon River. The plan fell through and Israel opted for sea water desalination to increase its water resources. In the Middle East Multilateral peace talks Israel refrained from subscribing to any regional water project if it delivered water to it from the outside, especially if it has to traverse Arab lands. More confidence building is mandatory to convince Israel to be a party to regional water projects.If Israel, as Mr. Shimon Tal says,is willing to negotiate cooperation with Jordan and the PA with respect to water from Cyhon, Turkey, passing through Israel, a better idea yet is to build pipelines from Turkish sources through Syria on to Jordan and PA and Israel (if Israel is convinced to subscribe). Jordan presented a regional cooperation water project to the third Multilateral session on water resources held at the U.S State Department in September 1992. It is worth tabling now and negotiated.If Tal's idea on Israel's role is to serve as transit medium then Jordan and the PA can think of another option: water from Turkey to share with Syria and parts of Saudi Arabia. But if Israel is to come in as a partner, the picture becomes more attractive to the entire world and the best of the available options can be adopted.Q2, Q3:I note that Tal's answer evades the question which is about ISRAEL's additional supplies. Tal responds with the concern over the Middle East!It should be stressed here, as indeed it was stressed back in the indirect negotiations (1953-1955) conducted by the U.S Presidential Envoy, Eric Johnston, and his team, that the Litani is a totally Lebanese River that awaits development to benefit the poor Lebanese south. Currently a portion of it, released from the Qaroun Dam for power generation, is diverted to the Awwali River from which additional supply for municipal and industrial uses as far north as Beirut itself is past the drawing board stage. National reconciliation and regional peace are key to enable Lebanon to develop not only the Litani, but also to rehabilitate and repair the destruction Lebanon was dealt during the Israeli incursions and air attacks on one hand and the domestic instability on the other, and to proceed on the economic and social development trail that the Lebanese have once excelled in.Q4.Again, the answer ducks the question which focused on Groundwater in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. While I commend the steps taken to avert serious damage due to droughts and overuse, I hope that the same measures are implemented in the territories occupied by Israel. Although it may sound as political, one should note the tresspassing that Israeli colonies in the Occupied West Bank are allowed to make on Palestinian water in the Eastern Aquifer, the Northern Aquifer and also upstream from the Gaza Aquifer. While the colonies are allowed plentiful supplies, the rightful owners of the land and water (the Palestinians) are denied such privileges.(To the Editor: telling the truth and criticising Israel's actions in the Occupied Palestinian territories should not be construed as hatred for Israel. If raising the flag on Israeli “off-side is hatred then what do you call anti-semetism? As Editor I think patience is needed aand also tolerence”Q5.Israel should be commended on the advances it has made in water technology and wastewater treatment. The reuse of wastewater in irrigation started in the region in 1968 (Jordan) and 1974 (Israel). It has since propagated to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and others.It should be stressed that it is unfair to compare the countries surrounding Israel with Israel's capabilities in terms of both human resources quality and GDP. What Israel could achieve in science and technology is remarkable, but that should not shade our eyes from seeing the injustice that has been done unto the native Palestinians and on the surrounding countries that hosted scores of Palestinian refugees. The genrousity that Israel was accorded by the Western nations and the transfer of technology therefrom to Israel speaks highly of the raapid absorption of technology and the innovations that Israeli scientists added therafter.Let us just not mix carrots and ornages! Each chapter of the region's modern history should be examined on its own first and then in combination with the other chapters.

  4. Monad67,You may have your point of view; the point of this series is to separate fact from fiction; political propaganda from reality so that progress can be made. Your anti-Israeli sentiments show your bias, but the fact of the matter is that Israel is a world leader in water technologies and solutions. If you choose to keep wearing your blinders, by all means do, but don't expect I will accept future comments of this nature. Your example is a non-sequitor. -Karin (Green Prophet, Editor)

  5. monad67 says:

    What a joke of an article. Israel is one of the worst governments when it comes to providing adequate water to the communities under its control. Please read the latest Amnesty International and World Bank reports on drinking water in Israel, released in 2009. I can't believe you are giving such an uncritical platform to a regime that uses water resources as a weapon and as the spoils of conquest, in violation of international law.To put Israel's actions in perspective, how ridiculous would it be if the USA started pumping most of the water in Iraq to the continental US?

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