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Israel Faces Almost Unprecedented Water Crisis

Agricultural official says only a 'climate miracle' can prevent severe crisis unless gov't increases desalination efforts.
By David Lev
First Publish: 2/17/2014, 11:29 AM

Desalination plant
Desalination plant
Flash 90

Israel faces a severe crisis if urgent measures are not taken to address the country's growing water scarcity, according to experts.

January passed with barely a drop of rain, and February hasn't been much better, despite last weekend's rainstorm, said Avshalom Vilan, chairman of the Israeli Agricultural Federation, a group representing farmers and agricultural families. Unless there is a “climatic miracle,” he said, Israel would soon be in a very serious water shortage situation.

The situation is so bad, he said, that stored water that is usually released only in April to farmers in northern Israel is already being used, due to a lack of natural rainfall.

Fortunately, there is something the government can do to alleviate the shortage – by activating all of Israel's water desalination plants. Due to last year's good rainfall, the desalination plants are currently running only at half capacity. At full capacity, said Vilan, they could supply 150 million cubic meters of water, enough to get Israel through the current crisis.

One reason the authorities prefer natural water over desalinated water is because the latter costs more to produce, but according to Vilan, Israelis will not pay directly for that water, because most of it will be used for agricultural purposes, leaving the fresh water for drinking. While farmers and food processors would probably pass on their extra costs to consumers – who would end up paying the desalination costs indirectly – it was still a better alternative than going thirsty.

“A lack of water could be very problematic for the Israeli consumer,” said Vilan. “We need to make decisions now. The Treasury must lead this effort. If we enact this we have an opportunity to begin to solve our water problems,” he said.