Mainly because it doesn’t waste time on such mundane tasks as developing and maintaining its water resources, the PWA and its director have abundant time to level false charges against Israel. And mainly because Israelis aren’t doing any of the things of which they stand accused, they’ve had abundant time to work on the region’s very real water crisis. Indeed, they’ve been working on it since before Israel was a state. It was the Jewish community that drained the swamps of Mandatory Palestine’s coastal plain in the 1920s in order to access springs from the Western Aquifer which lay beneath. In 1937, this same community founded the Mekerot (or national water company). Since that time, they’ve attacked the water problem from multiple angles. For example, “drip irrigation” methods pioneered by Israel in the 1960s, deliver water to plant roots with an efficiency approaching 80% (double the rate seen with open irrigation), and newer “sub-surface irrigation” techniques do even better. Because the country is mostly arid, Israel built its National Water Carrier (1964) to transport water from areas of higher rainfall near Lake Kinneret to the parched Negev, thereby transforming desert areas into productive agricultural land. Israel recycles 75% of its wastewater (6x the rate of its nearest competitor), and employs the recovered water in agriculture. They have developed airborne drones that detect leaks in water pipes via water meter alarm systems and a “curapipe” process that seals “pinhole” leaks before they are even detectable. Hi-tech “SmarTap” faucets reduce household water consumption by 30% with patrons scarcely noticing.
Israel’s most ambitious program, however, is its “Desalination Master Plan.” Initiated in 2000, its goal was to build state-of-the-art “reverse osmosis” desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast capable of producing 400 million cubic meters of potable water annually by 2005. (By 2020, the figure is projected to be 750 million cubic meters). The first reverse osmosis plant — then the largest of its kind worldwide — opened in Ashkelon in 2005 with a capacity to produce 100 million cubic meters annually at a cost of 52 cents per cubic meter. (Natural drinking water actually costs more since it must be processed.) A second plant opened in Hadera in 2010, and when the Soreq and Ashdod plants go on-line in 2013, Israel’s desalination plants will account for 85% of Israel’s household water consumption and turn the state into a water exporter.
Abroad, Israeli technology companies have built more than 400 desalination plants in 40 countries. India has embarked on a pilot project relying on Israeli expertise, and China has signed a deal with Israel’s IDE technologies to build a “Green” desalination plant that desalinates via evaporation and condensation.
While Palestinians blame Israel, Israelis work on innovative solutions. This March, the Palestinian Water Authority petitioned the World Water Forum to fund a $450 million desalination plant in Gaza. Within 24 hours, Israel offered to lend its expertise to the project. Perhaps an Israeli-Palestinian “water war” is occurring – but it isn’t being waged by Israel.
Jack Schwartzwald is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Brown University and author of Nine Lives of Israel (McFarland, 2012).
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