Israel needs no more desalination this decade

Despite a record level of drought in 2014, Israel will not need to build more major desalination capacity this decade according to a new report by the country’s Water Authority.

Israel’s desalination capacity is approaching close to 70% of the country’s annual domestic demand. A desalination plant in Ashdod, set to come online shortly, will take the nation’s desalination production capacity to 600 million m³ a year. And the government expects further annual capacity growth to 750 million m³ by 2020.

Israel’s dependence on rainwater has declined not only because desalination capacity has grown but also because the use of purified wastewater for agricultural irrigation too has increased.

Last year Israel calculated that two consecutive years of heavy rainfall had boosted its desalination capacity beyond its needs. So the government and the Water Authority, opted to cut desalinated water production by 30% this year, saving about US$ 54 million.

The return of rain has also reduced Israel’s dependence on the heavily depleted river Jordan, the Sea of Galilee and underground aquifers.

Water Authority director, Alex Kushnir, noted that Israel’s position was in contrast with the “drastic means” used by other countries to counter draught: “In contrast, due to early assessments, Israeli consumers have not been impacted at all by the lack of rainfall,” Kushnir wrote in the authority’s report.

Kushnir referred in the report, to lack of political backing among a list of problems faced by the the Water Authority: “Most of the time, the Water Authority works without political support and must deal with political figures with vested interests and enormous public power.” He singled out local authority heads, “who work with all their might to control the cash flow of the water economy by controlling the water corporations.”

“Kushnir also said owners of desalination plants opposed the Water Authority’s decisions to cut back on desalination, “decisions that led directly to a reduction in their profits.”

The Water Authority said the state would be transferring about 1.5 billion shekels (US$390,000) to the desalination plant operators for their services.

The report noted also that water sources in Israel still suffer extensive pollution from industrial sources, damaging mainly the coastal aquifer. Some 10% of water reserves in the aquifer have been contaminated from various sources, including industry.