The Drought in Israel

The Drought in Israel and the National Plan to Save the Water Sector

​Since the establishment of the State, Israel has suffered from an ongoing shortage of water. In order to cope with the scarcity of precipitation in Israel, and to prepare for future shortages, the State of Israel began the process of desalinating water. The desalination process has been carried out in Eilat since the 1960s, and in 2005 the large desalination plants began operating along Israel’s Mediterranean Coastal Plain. Israel currently desalinates 585 million cubic meters of water per year. In addition to desalination, Israel utilizes wastewater for agriculture. If not  for this utilization of wastewater, Israel would have required several more desalination plants.

Israel is the world leader in the percentage of desalinated water as well as the percentage of recycled water that is used for agriculture, with a gap of more than double between it and the country in second place. Israel is also ranked number one in the world in dealing with water loss, as well as in operational models of command and control.

Over the past five years, Israel has experienced a continuous decline in precipitation, compared to the multi-year average, which has led Israel into a state drought. This shortfall, which has lasted for so long, is a rare phenomenon, the likes of which have not been recorded in Israel since the 1920s. The significant decline in precipitation has been particularly noticeable in the north of the country. This area is not connected to the national water system, because, up until today, this was apparently not necessary. The level of the Sea of Galilee is currently also below the lower red line, even though the pumping of water from it to the national carrier has been halted. The result of the drought is a significant deficit in the freshwater reservoirs.

The shortage of natural water sources amounts to approximately 2.5 billion cubic meters of water, which represents three years of domestic consumption, and while there is no real danger of water shortages at home, the drought has seriously affected agriculture, nature and the environment.

Likewise, the professional models for long-term forecasting for the next winter, 2018-2019, are not optimistic. The predictions speak of an average winter. It should be noted that the severe drought is not confined to Israel alone. There is consensus among climate professionals and scientists regarding the climate changes that different regions of the world are experiencing. In the Middle East, the drought phenomenon is intensifying with extreme dry conditions, and there is a danger of water sources drying up.

The ongoing drought has led to a situation where the production of desalinated water in Israel is at its full capacity. Another drought year, as is expected, will bring the natural water sources to an unprecedented low, and will lead to the drying up of springs, and endanger the Sea of Galilee.

In January of this year (2018), the Minister of Energy and Water, Dr. Yuval Steinitz, convened an emergency meeting on the dire situation of the water sector. In light of the recommendations of the Professional Department, Minister Steinitz ordered a draft resolution to be prepared, for approval by the government to declare a drought year, accompanied by a national plan to save the water sector.

In June 2018, the government approved the strategic emergency plan to enable the water sector to deal with the drought, which was presented by the Minister of Energy and Water. In the draft proposal, it was written that: “a rare continuum of five years of unprecedented drought, with a probability of 1:50 years has led to the need for the Israeli economy to make urgent adjustments in the water production plan, and accordingly to the development plan as well. This situation has even worsened as a result of hydro-climatic trends attributed to climate change”. The proposal also noted that, apart from the rare continuum of years of drought, the volume of demand in the domestic sector has also increased over the last two years by a total of  approx. 150 million MCM (the amount produced annually by a large desalination plant). According to forecasts, domestic water consumption is expected to continue to rise due to population growth. 

According to Minister Steinitz, the strategic plan that has been formulated will provide a solution to dealing with unprecedented continuum of the last five years of drought, which has led Israel’s water sector to an acute shortage of natural water and has brought the water resources in the north to an unprecedented low. The strategic plan proposes how the water sector can cope with the drought in the coming decade.

If Israel currently consumes approx. 2.4 billion cubic meters a year, then in 2030 the demand for water in Israel will be about half a billion cubic meters of desalinated water, while the amount of treated wastewater will increase twofold. The target capacity for desalinated water production by 2030 will be set at 990 MCM per annum, and this target will be re-examined in 2023 depending on the state of the water sources. Insofar as the water resources do not reach the desired level, the desalination target will be increased to at least 1,200 MCM per year, following an examination by the Water Authority Council.

In order to realize the government’s decision, a significant increase in investment is required of almost double the development budget, estimated at more than NIS 1 billion. This cost will probably be financed by raising the water tariffs.

As in previous years, Mekorot continues to develop the water sector in the amount of NIS 1 billion for the benefit of the citizens of Israel and in order to meet the development goals of the government.