Israel leads way in making saltwater potable
Scarce rainfall and abundant seawater prompted Israel to find desalination solutions now getting a ‘green’ makeover and being shared globally. So, instead of "bleating" about "unfair" allocation on inflated population figures, why not cooperate with Israel and a) build a desalination plant and b) start recycling water instead of destroying the infrastructure.
In an old Middle Eastern curse, enemies are told to drink from the sea. Cursed with water-shortage problems, Israel has pioneered desalination solutions that are changing the world. From manufacturing China’s largest desalination plant and smaller ones on Caribbean islands, to watering its own agricultural industry, Israel’s desalination business is a story that started at the founding of the state.
Today Israel’s award-winning desalination companies are quenching the thirst of dry nations, and are challenged by today’s environmental questions to provide greener options for tomorrow.
Desalination is a process that removes salts and minerals from otherwise undrinkable sea or saline water. With about 70 percent of the world covered in water, and more than 90% of it saltwater, even the water-rich United States finds itself in need of desalination solutions in California. And Israel is there to help.
The biblical Book of Exodus relates how the ancient Israelite leader Moses was empowered to turn bitter water sweet for drinking. Wind the tape forward to the 1950s, when Israel’s technological progress in desalination was catalyzed by founding father David Ben-Gurion, who saw desalination as part of Israel’s destiny.
Over the last few thousand years, nothing has changed: To survive and thrive, Israelis still need a source for fresh drinking water.
Israel’s major foray into desalination began with IDE Technologies – known as Israel Desalination Engineering when it was government-owned – which has built more than 400 desalination plants in some 40 countries, from Caribbean islands to the United States, to mammoth plants in China and Israel. The company is headquartered in Kadima.
Every day, IDE plants produce about two million cubic meters of potable water for the world to use, and its R&D staff is investigating and implementing greener solutions for an industry not known for its environmentalism. Desalination alleviates world “water pressure”
Some estimates suggest that the demand for water-treatment products will rise 6.2 percent every year to $65 billion in the year 2015. Meeting the world’s water needs requires local and international policy and legislation. Israel is deeply involved in implementing policy locally and sharing its processes with the world.
Looking locally, Israel’s major sources of water are the Sea of Galilee, its holding tank and a number of inland and seaside aquifers. Those sources, now combined with desalinated water, supply a population that has expanded many times over from its former size in the last 80 years. As environmentalists rally to protect coastlines from development, the country is also seeking to establish the creation of artificial islands on which to build desalination plants.
Booky Oren, a former CEO of Israel’s national water carrier Mekorot, is now an independent water consultant and is chairman of Israel’s WATEC conference and expo, held in Tel Aviv from November 15-17, 2011. Oren says rising needs lead to little choice but to desalinate water, and similar situations are felt in the rest of the world as well.
“All the population here is increasing and the demand for water is increasing. This is the force that caused Israel to reinvent itself,” he says. “In the beginning, 50 years ago, Israel began to deliver water from the north to the south from the national carrier. Then we moved to recycled water. We began to recycle the wastewater to create more water because we don’t have enough. All the time there is a crisis because we are coping with continuous droughts. The water you have from natural collection is not enough,” says Oren.
“While tools like drip irrigation help to alleviate the problem, at the end of the day this doesn’t solve Israel’s crisis. Israel took a strategic decision to produce more water from the sea,” he continues, though this is expensive. “By 2015, Israel will be fully independent from rainfall and will produce enough water from the sea. Even coping with continuous droughts, we will have enough.”
Israel had to formulate policy to assure that the price of desalinated water would remain relatively low, and this is where ingenuity had to factor in. Water in Israel was about $2 per cubic meter 20 years ago, and it now it is down to 50 cents– a 75 percent reduction, says Oren. To achieve this cost benefit, Israel invented better ways to recycle water, and processes that were less energy intensive.