When The Well Is Dry, We Learn The Worth Of Water

I keep hearing that the recent heat wave and scanty rainfall this past winter created a dangerously low water level in Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee).

This winter’s rains raised the level by a total of only 60 centimeters (24 inches) – and 25 percent of that gain has already been lost because of the intense heat.  During Pesach, for example, it reached 109F in the area of the Galilee.

This is the fourth straight year that there has been a less than average rainfall in the country, leaving the underground aquifers throughout the country in worse shape than they have been for more than a decade.  Officials say the Kinneret is at its lowest in 46 years – since 1962.  Israelis may well face water rationing this summer.

Israel has had an ongoing water deficit for a number of years. That’s because the amount of water consumed is greater than the amount of water collected from rainfall. In a drought year, the situation worsens, because the amount of water in reservoirs and the amount of water flowing in rivers and streams is significantly decreased.

There are a number of long-term solutions, such as building water desalination facilities. Short-term solutions include conserving water or building sewage water reclamation plants. Treatment of sewage water accomplishes two purposes: first, it supplies purified water to the major water consumers, agriculture and industry; and second, it preserves the environment and the quality of the aquifers.

There is a therefore a growing awareness of the importance of conserving and purifying water In Israel. In public gardens and parks, the municipalities are requested to give preference to plants that do not require much water, and to reduce grassy areas. Car-wash facilities receive an operating license on condition that they purify and recycle the water. Local authorities are required to build facilities for treating sewage water, and Israeli farmers were asked to stop raising crops with high water consumption, and to go over to sophisticated cultivation methods that conserve water (such as hothouses and improved irrigation systems).

Because of the drought this year, the government decided to cut the amount of water allocated to agriculture. Forty percent of the water allocation for vegetables, and 20 percent for aquaculture will be cut. During the summer months, possibilities for further cuts in the municipal, industrial and private sectors will be examined.

For more than 50 years, Israel has been trying to solve the country’s water shortage problem and has resorted to technological ingenuity to make it happen. As a result, Israel has emerged as a leader in developing water purification, irrigation and desalination technologies. It doesn’t therefore come as a surprise that Israeli water companies take on world market. After decades of developing water technologies aiming to “make the desert bloom”, Israel has now shifted focus to selling its products abroad with a goal of doubling exports in the sector to $2 billion by 2010.

World markets noticed Israel’s water purifying, recycling technology, as companies introduce new water purification and conservation techniques. From ultra-violet light technology to purify water to a recycling system using millions of small, plastic rings to breed bacteria and break down organic waste, Israeli innovations are finding buyers abroad. Daniel Wild, senior analyst at Zurich-based Sustainable Asset Management (SAM), an independent asset management group managing some $8.3 billion in assets, said Israeli technology is leading in two main segments – irrigation and desalination – because it was one of the first countries to develop efficient technologies. “When it comes to water scarcity, Israel had to have a closer look very early,” Wild said.

The Tides of Change attracted foreign companies, investors and governments who were keen to hear and see how Israel, a tiny, arid country has become one of the world’s most important suppliers of water technology.

From the largest desalination plant in the world to the famous Israeli drip irrigation system of Plastro Irrigation, Israel “is the Silicon Valley of water technologies.” In the business world, water is a hot new commodity and that heat is generating more than steam: it is a $400 billion industry growing at about 6 percent per year. But, besides the financial opportunities, water technology is clearly an attractive market for other more important reasons. New technology promises to quench the world’s thirst and to provide environmentally sound solutions to reducing water shortage and water contamination.

That is remarkable. To maintain a supply of clean water, Israelis have for many years had to optimize their liquid assets, because water is such a scarce commodity in Israel. Benjamin Franklin said: “When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.”

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