Israel Solves Its Perennial Drought Problem For Good

  • Date: 22/03/14
  • Joel Greenberg, McClatchy News

Israel has gone through one of the driest winters in its history, but despite the lean rainy season, the government has suspended a longstanding campaign to conserve water. “The water problem is no longer on the agenda.”

WORLD NEWS MIDEAST-WATER 3 MCT

At a water desalination plant on the sea near the northern Israeli town of Hadera, water pumped in from the Mediterranean is pushed through rows of multi-layered plastic membranes, and through a process called reverse osmosis, emerges after 90 minutes as tasty drinking water. QUIQUE KIERSZENBAUM — MCT

The familiar public messages during recent years of drought, often showing images of parched earth, have disappeared from television despite weeks of balmy weather with record low rainfalls in some areas.

The level of the Sea of Galilee, the country’s natural water reservoir, is no longer closely tracked in news reports or the subject of anxious national discussion.

The reason: Israel has in recent years achieved a quiet water revolution through desalination.

With four plants currently in operation, all built since 2005, and a fifth slated to go into service this year, Israel is meeting much of its water needs by purifying seawater from the Mediterranean. Some 80 percent of domestic water use in Israeli cities comes from desalinated water, according to Israeli officials.

“There’s no water problem because of the desalination,” said Hila Gil, director of the desalination division in the Israel Water Authority. “The problem is no longer on the agenda.”

The struggle over scarce water resources has fueled conflict between Israel and its neighbors, but the country is now finding itself increasingly self-sufficient after years of dependency on rainfall and subterranean aquifers.

Israel’s experience might also offer some important lessons, or at least contrast, for states like California. Now gripped by drought, with the all-important snowpack averaging only 26 percent of normal, California has struggled with desalination efforts in the past.

At present, more than a dozen desalination projects are at various stages of planning in the state, and the California Department of Water Resources will be announcing a new round of desalination grants in May. The grants are very modest, though; the last round, for instance, offered just $45,000 to study the technology in southern San Luis Obispo County.

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