80 Years of Mekorot

From Fantasy to Reality

​This year Mekorot celebrates 80 years since its establishment. Today, the drinking water that comes from every tap, the irrigation water that reaches every field is something that we take for granted.  But is wasn't always so.


Former Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharet (deceased) said that: "The history of Jewish settlement in the country is, first and foremost, the story of the search, discovery and exploitation of new water sources".


Former Israeli Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Yitzhak Rabin (deceased) said: "I never thought of my future in military terms. Even later, in 1940, after finishing school at Kaduri, I decided to go on to study Water Engineering. I believed then that the problem of water would be the central problem facing the Land of Israel". In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1994 he said: "... [being a soldier] wasn't my dream. I wanted to be a water engineer. I studied at an agricultural school. I thought that being a water engineer was an important profession in the arid Middle East. I still think that today but I was forced to hold a gun".


David Ben Gurion, the head of the fledgling Jewish State, the person who led the struggle for the State's foundation and who declared Israel's independence, constantly stressed the vital importance of developing Israel's water sources.  He said: "Water and strength – these are the two central elements that our country lacks"; "The need for additional water sources is not just essential, but will decide the future of Israel"; "If the State fails to defeat the desert – then the desert could well defeat the State": "The single largest problem for which there is yet no answer and for which there seems to be no answer in the foreseeable future is water.  Also for the army…. You can't bring people without water… our need for water is great and ever increasing. Industry needs water, settlement efforts require water, living standards get better, people who once never used large quantities of water, now use increasing amounts. This is a good thing, we want to encourage people to shower, to bathe… swimming pools as well… the Ministry of Agriculture needs to supply the entire country with water but the Lord gave us very little".


Amazingly, when few believed it practically possible, Ben Gurion foretold desalination. He said: "The important task before Hebrew science is to discover a cheap and practical process for refining sea water. A process that will make it possible to saturate the Negev's parched earth… Today, irrigating the wilderness with distilled sea water will seem like a fantasy to many. But Israel, more than any other country, shouldn't be afraid of "fantasies" that could, thanks to our vision, science and pioneering spirit, change the face of nature. Everything in this country is the result of fantasies that were realized by vision, science and pioneering spirit".

Mekorot was established before the State of Israel and it is difficult to overstate the importance of the company's activities in building the country and the establishment of the fledgling State. From the beginning, Mekorot was an integral part of the Zionist vision. Mekorot's actions were so firmly rooted in the development of Israel's water economy that its name has become a synonym for water in Israel.


Levi Eshkol's, young daughter, Ophra Nevo-Eshkol, tells of the reasons that led to the establishment of Mekorot: At Degania B', they tell the story of how, when the settlement was first established, Giladi and Eshkol would take a wagon pulled by two mules to bring barrels of water from the Jordan River. One day, they decided that they had had enough and said: 'Something has to be done! We need to install a pump and lay a pipeline'. The only question was – how to do it? The two shared their dilemma with Simcha Blass, a water engineer… and, as a result, they brought a water pump and pipeline to Degania. This was the start of Mekorot.


In the summer of 1948, just a short while after the founding of the State, at the height of the siege on Jerusalem, Mekorot was called to implement "Operation Delivery": an improvised, 20 Km. long water pipe that was laid in just 30 days bringing water to the parched city and thus ensuring its ability to withstand the siege.


At a meeting of Israel's Provisional Government regarding the operation, Joseph Weitz said: "The value of the suggested project is not just that it will supply water to the Jewish population of Jerusalem, it has a far greater value as well. The pipeline will act as a means of connecting Jerusalem and the State of Israel. Laying of the pipelines will pave the way that will connect the rest of Israel with Jerusalem. These are new facts whose creation is of great importance and which should be completed as soon as possible".

All recognized the importance of Mekorot's contribution towards the strengthening of Israel's Jewish population. For example, in a Knesset session in 1961 that was discussing the approval of Mekorot's accreditation as the national water service, Knesset Member Amos Degani made the following comment: "With the laying of Mekorot's pipeline, the Jews settled the Negev; With the laying of Mekorot's pipeline, the first pipeline laid in the Western Jezreel Valley in the 1930's, the door to Jewish settlement in the Jezreel Valley, of which we are so proud, was opened".


This spirit of "delusion" and "fantasy" has always been the driving force behind Mekorot, along with its engineering capabilities and exemplary professionalism,. Mekorot's first engineer, Simcha Blass, , expressed this spirit on many occasions – "We don't have the Nile, the Euphrates or the Tigris. What we can't do with quantity, we can do with the quality of the way we use water. The waters of the River Jordan we will divide, drop by drop, every drop will result in a harvest… We began with a heartfelt dream but didn't abandon logic".

Levi Eshkol, Mekorot's first CEO, also referred to the connection between the determination of the Zionist spirit and Mekorot's success. In answer to the doubts expressed by foreign experts with regard to the success of Mekorot's program he said: "We have an attachment and affinity to the Land of Israel that is far greater than the talent of any expert who comes to Israel for a month or two months. Why don't we use the skills that we have developed over the course of many years of occupation in swamp drainage and  finding water. There are many programs regarding our water potential.   Israel's nature holds many resources, and that's the most important thing. In the meantime, let the experts argue amongst themselves on the right program". He described Mekorot as: "Our country's largest water drawer, one that was born from the love and hope of the working population, in the Jezreel valley and its hills". He also described Mekorot's activities in Israel thus: "With the discovery of water and the secret of life teeming within it, Mekorot, in a way, placed on its shoulders, the responsibility for the creation of Israel: to draw water from the depths of the earth; to divert the flow of rivers and streams; to build dams, to control the water, to collect it into prepared reservoirs, to flood the country from north to south, from the west and to the east where the sun rises; to carve out the earth, create a network of channels, streams, water pipelines and rivers –   hundreds of miles; to build using steel and concrete with powerful pumping units that command the water to flow and irrigate, to saturate and fertilize… the dream of years becomes a reality. Those who do not share in our "Rejoicing of the Water-Drawing House" (Simchat Beit Hashoeivah) – has never experienced a real celebration!".


Mekorot is responsible for far too many and varied projects to describe them all here. However, Mekorot's most important and monumental project is also the State of Israel's largest and most imposing water project – the National Water Carrier.

The construction of the National Water Carrier signified the end of the construction of the national water system. Mekorot worked on its design and construction for many years, exploiting the knowledge and experience accumulated during the development of Israel's water economy. Levi Eshkol described Mekorot as "the pillar of water going before the camp" and Simcha Blass described the company as: "the backbone of the national water system".


At a reception held at the President's residence to mark 70 years of Mekorot's activities, the President of Israel at the time, Shimon Peres, said the following: "The National Water Carrier is the largest and most ambitious national project since the establishment of the State of Israel. Without it, the map of settlements would not be as it is today.  Mekorot has, since its inception and until today, made an indelible mark in every corner of Israel".


Mekorot has never rested on its laurels nor ceased to improve and innovate. Today, in the second decade of the 21st century and as Mekorot celebrates 80 years of endeavor, the central challenges faced by the company when it was founded, have changed. Perhaps the most significant change has been in the company's entry into the era of desalination where the quantity of available water has ceased to be a restriction.

The "fantasy" of desalinating sea water forecast by Ben Gurion, has become a reality thanks to the /tireless work and innovations of Mekorot and its courage to "fantasize".


In the Jubilee year of the National Water Carrier's opening, Mekorot constructed the New National Water Carrier, one of Israel's largest national projects and infrastructure development schemes of the past few years. This was a massive undertaking that made it possible to extract Israel from its continuing water shortage and made possible the smooth entry into the era of desalination. The ability to cover the length and breadth of Israel with large water pipes, to send desalinated water into the national water system, was no less than a revolution in Israel's water economy. Its construction involved a change in thinking, a change in the historic perception of the direction in which the nation's water traditionally flows. No more just from North to South but also from West to East and all other directions.


Today, thanks to the New National Water Carrier, most of Israel's residential water needs are met by desalinated water. Now, for the first time, it is possible to begin the rehabilitation of the country's natural water reservoirs and return our water "debt", caused by years of consecutive drought, to mother nature, for the benefit of both the present and future generations.


Its construction signifies another step in the development of Israel's strong economy and its security.


The integration of desalinated water into the national water system via the New National Water Carrier signifies, on the one hand, Mekorot's logistical, engineering and management capabilities and, on the other hand, new heights of technology and innovation in the management of modern water economies. With the problem of water shortages no longer being an existential, critical problem, Mekorot has the privilege of being able to continue to improve, constantly, water quality through the integration of new technologies. Now the spotlight is focused on development and innovation in the field of energy, financial, environmental and operational efficiency.


Mekorot has been promoting the water system to Jerusalem for 80 years. Today, Mekorot is constructing the Fifth Jerusalem System which includes four large, high output, pumping stations which raise water from sea level to 860 meters above sea level. For the first time ever, Mekorot is using pumps and motors designed specifically for this project. The project's engineering challenge is the construction of the first water tunnel of its kind in Israel. Water will be pumped for 13 Km, under pressure from Kisalon to Ein Kerem. As with many of Mekorot's other projects, this project is also of national importance and has social, economic, environmental and political implications. It has great importance, not only to Jerusalem, but also to surrounding neighborhoods and settlements, to industry and to the Palestinian Authority. It will provide an answer to water needs for the coming decades.


And this is by no means the end of Mekorot's tasks.   You can read about other projects that Mekorot is working on, on our website and in the following articles.


We will end with the words spoken by Shimon Peres over a decade ago: "If Mekorot's next 70 years will be similar to its first 70 years – then the sky, and not just water, is the limit".