Law literature and studies have shown that arid and semi-arid regions experience the lowest amount of precipitation and only 2% of runoff of total global runoff can be accounted in the arid and semi-arid regions compared to 16% of global runoff carried by the Amazon River (UNESCO, 2016).Factors such as population growth and climate change have been cited as the reasons for the worsening water crisis in arid and semi-arid areas. This report will focus on the methods that are used to address the water problem in Israel.
The state of Israel is one of the semi-arid countries that are faced with the challenge of sustainable water management. The country experiences an average of not less than six rainless months per year. Though the country experiences rainfall variations year to year, multi-year droughts with periods of heavy rainfall in between the droughts are also encountered in the country. In addition to rainfall scarcity, Israels water issue is complicated with surface evapotranspiration caused by solar radiations and the absorption resistance of rainfall and runoff water (Zaide, 2016).
Israel has suffered water shortage crisis since its inception. The crisis is attributed to many factors. These factors include harsh climatic changes, and water degradation resulting from pressures such as urban development, industrialization, and agricultural fertilizers and pesticides (Zaide, 2016). According to Zaide, the surge in population levels and industrialization has led to the rise in water demand in Israel which, in turn, has resulted in the overutilization of its renewable water sources. Due to the increased water demand and the overutilization of the natural water resources, Israel sought an alternative to its water crisis and adopted technology through wastewater treatment and desalination of salty sea water.
Waste Water Treatment
The reuse of waste water for irrigation purpose has become a common and rapid practice in countries of arid and semi-arid areas. Israel being arid and semi-arid has taken the global lead in wastewater treatment and reuse. Studies show that almost all the population of Israel is connected to the sewage network and water treatment systems which include wastewater treatment plants, septic tanks, pour flush latrines and simple pit or ventilated pit latrines (Miljoagentur, 2014). It is the responsibility of the local authorities in Israel to treat the municipal sewage. This has seen the setup of new or upgraded treatment plants in all municipalities in Israel with the main objective being the 100% treatment of Israels wastewater (SEMIDE, 2005). As a result, more than 87% of Israels wastewater undergoes tertiary or secondary treatment whereby 80% of wastewater is reclaimed for agricultural irrigation (Miljoagentur, 2014). The recycled sewage water is, however, meant for non-drinking purposes such as irrigation, and its conditioned and approved by the Ministry of Health and the Hydrological Service of the Israel so as to avoid irrigation along the drinking water sources. This is intended to protect drinking sources from contamination (Zaide, 2016)
Israels largest wastewater treatment plant is the Dan Region Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) which treats a quarter of Israels wastewater. The Dan Region Treatment Plant is a comprehensive system that consists of facilities for collection, treatment, ground water recharge and reuse of Tel Avivs wastewater (SEMIDE, 2005). Besides treatment of Dan region effluent, the plant was meant to provide water for irrigation purpose in the south region of Negev and instead replace drinking water which was used for the agricultural purposes in this region back to municipal use (Zaide, 2016).After treatment in the WWTP, the effluents are discharged into the aquifer for further treatment through the Soil Aquifer Treatment (SAT). SAT is a unique technology used to purify reclaimed water that is used for the purpose of irrigation of food crops.
Wastewater treatment in Israel has, however, come with a heavy price. For instance, in 2010, $580 million was spent in sewerage and wastewater treatment plants and their maintenance and operation. Additionally, the cost of the mentioned operations is expected to rise to $1 billion by 2020 due to the projected upgrading of the wastewater treatment plant to the tertiary level and expected construction of new wastewater treatment facilities. For the new facilities, $110 million was spent in expanding the effluent pipes in 2010, and this expenditure is expected to rise to $140 million/year by 2020(OECD, 2011).
Use of treated wastewater for irrigation may be hazardous to the environment. Wastewater contains chemicals and heavy metal which can pollute the soils and contaminate drinking water. The chemicals and heavy metal found in treated wastewater can potentially damage crops and also passed on to human beings through consumption of food (OECD, 2011). Therefore, Israels water use (especially for irrigation purposes) must be compliant with the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO) recommendations. Treated wastewater is also hazardous to fieldworkers who spent most of their time in the irrigation fields since it is not clean hence it causes hookworm infections. Although the workers have been encouraged to put on rubber boots while at the irrigation fields and access hand washing facilities when they leave the fields, the risk of harm remains high(Miljagentur,2014; SEMIDE,2005).For this reason, such source of water remains a dangerous venture.
Sea Water Desalination
Desalination simply means the removal of salt from water through the reverse osmosis technology and the membrane technologies. Israel has adopted desalination into its water management strategy, and the vast of Israels drinking water is from desalinated sea water. It is estimated that 80% of Israels drinking water is desalinated sea water (Cipollina, Micale, & Rizzuti, 2009). Since the demand for clean and safe drinking water motivated by an increase in population is expected to rise, Israel plans to expand its desalination capacity. Israel produces 280MCM/year of desalinated water, and this capacity is expected to 700MCM/year by 2020 (Becker, 2013). This increase will help to reduce pressure on natural water sources.
Desalination is also a costly investment. In many cases, desalination facilities are done based on the build-operate- transfer (BOT) agreements where the concessionaire designs, builds, and operates the desalination plant for 26.5 years and then transfers it to the state (Becker, 2013). According to Becker, the total project of large-scale desalination plants cost approximately $200million-$500 million, and these projects are mostly funded by financial institutions such as banks due to their costly nature. For example, the desalination projects of Ashdod, Hadera, and Sorek are estimated to have cost more than $400 million while those of Palmachim and Ashkelon cost approximately $200 million (Becker, 2013).This is a huge capital outlay which can affect other sectors of the economy.
Sea water desalination is an industrial activity and, therefore, presents varying environmental concerns that need to be understood and mitigated. Firstly, the desalination process is a major contributor to the rise in the mortality rate of marine organisms. The fatalities of these marine organisms occur as a result of them trapped at the intake screens or be entrained into the desalination plant with sea water due to the high suction force and increased velocity of the plants intake openings. The aquatic organisms are mostly killed by starvation, exhaustion, and asphyxiation (Cipollina, Micale, &Rizzuti, 2009). Another aspect of environmental degradation attributed to desalination is the release of brine which is a by-product of the treatment process into the sea (Becker, 2013). Studies show that the brine solution contains a range of additive chemicals such as chlorine and other biocides. It also contains approximately two times the concentration of heavy metals extracted from the desalination process due to equipment corrosion. According to Becker, the Brine solution is often diluted and deposited into the sea with the expectations that the ecological harm will be mitigated due to its diluted nature. It, however, sinks into the bottom of the sea forming a salty desert, and its continuous accumulation adversely affects aquatic life in the affected area.
In conclusion, the two technological methods of providing water are often mistaken to be one and the same thing, but they are different methods. The difference is that wastewater treatment converts harmful sewage water into more harmless water to be reused while desalination removes salt from sea water. Treated wastewater is not safe for human consumption and can only be used for industrial and irrigation purpose while desalinated water is that can be used for both human consumption and industrial and agricultural purposes.
Becker, N. (2014). Water Policy in Israel: Context, Issues and Options. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
Cipollina, A., Micale, G., &Rizzuti, L. (2009). Seawater Desalination: Conventional and Renewable Energy Processes.
Europiske Miljagentur. (2014). Horizon 2020 Mediterranean report: Palestine. Copenhagen: European Environment Agency.
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2011). OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Israel 2011. (Israel 2011.) Paris: OECD Publishing.
SEMIDE.(2005). Local Water Supply, Sanitation and Sewage. Retrieved from SEMIDE website: http://www.emwis.org/documents/emwis-main...country/Israel...pdf/.../Israel%20Final.pdf
Standish-Lee, P., Loboschefsky, E., &Beuhler, M. (2005). The future of water: identifying and developing effective methods for managing water in arid and semi-arid regions. Proceedings of the Water Environment Federation, 2005(6), 8598-8606.doi:10.2175/193864705783813007
UNESCO. (2016). Managing Water Resources in Arid and Semi Arid Regions of Latin America and Caribbean (MWAR LAC). Retrieved from UNESCO website: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0024/002442/244247E
Zaide, M. (2016). Drought and Arid Land Water Management (CSD16/17). Retrieved from United Nations website: http://www.un.org/esa/agenda21/natlinfo/countr/israel/drought
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