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Sustainable Development of the Water Sector and the Fate of Agriculture

Prof. Dan Zaslavsky
Cite As:
Zaslavsky Dan . Sustainable Development of the Water Sector and the Fate of Agriculture Haifa Israel: Samuel Neaman Institute, 1999.
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Israel used all that was worth pumping in the 1970's already. Over- pumping today exceeds 500 million cubic meters a years and it will keep growing at an average rate of over 40 million cubic meters a year.

Even over a decade ago the water system suffered severe shortage. Since then consumption grew on the one hand and significant quantities of water were taken from us following the peace agreements. On the other hand this process will get worse.

Excessive pumping combined with other operations has already caused very large scale salinity in the aquifers. The damage in over-pumping one cubic meter of water amounts to the equivalent of desalting several cubic meters of sea water. Hence, the annual damage as a result of over- pumping exceeds one billion dollars. In addition to increased water salinity, there is a an ever accelerating process of water sources pollution by agricultural processes, seepage of sewage water and its use for irrigation, runoffs from garbage heaps, fuel seepage, urbanization and industrial processes.

Without action, even long before the year 2020, even potable water will be scarce. There are soothing appraisals that irrigated agriculture will be able to make do with reclaimed sewage water of today's quality. This is, to a large extent an illusion. All the scenarios actually indicate varying stages of liquidation of irrigated agriculture because of the water shortage, in addition to a massive reduction of non-irrigated agriculture as a result of building on fertile land in the rainy regions of the country.

The leadership of the water system sends out signals of fervent protection of the farmers' interests, but with its own hands causes the unavoidable destruction of irrigated agriculture, or, at least, a cruel curtailment together with a series of severe economic crises.

The economic leadership of Israel emits signals of protecting rational allocation of resources, privatization and market forces, but succeeds in causing economic damages to the water system which exceed one billion dollars a year, and will bring about the destruction of an economic branch that fulfills important national goals.

The only future solution is desalination and water recycling, meaning sewage water, to a level of potable water. This is an unavoidable but very worthwhile solution. The water system leadership now admits, albeit very slowly, that this is indeed so. If at first they argued that until 2010 there won't be a shortage of even one cubic meter of water, they now claim that desalination is needed only to assure the supply of water to the cities. No wonder the Ministry of Finance does not consider this claim as a serious or trustworthy one.

The only apparent solution is desalination by reverse osmosis. At first, hundreds of cubic meters of saline water and in special projects where there are significant economic advantages and an effective low cost of the water. Later on ever increasing quantities of water should be desalinated. This should be started immediately without regard to what the solution for agriculture will be.

Desalination consumes large quantities of energy. At first the increase might reach 7%-8% of all the electricity consumed in 1997 and thereafter an addition of 1% each year. The impending possibility of imposing severe limitations on the emission of greenhouse gases and the very real fear of future increases in the price of fuels threatens the chance to accommodate future demands for additional water. It is therefore essential to search for every economic way possible to utilize energy from renewable sources. There are at least two promising technologies to achieve this. Every solution for energy from renewable sources which offers a combined solution of desalination should be given priority.

· The existing and future peace treaties only underline the urgency of executing the proposed solution. The efforts of some to mislead the public that there is no serious over-pumping, no pollution and no growing shortage of water in Israel, only encourages more pressure, lack of confidence and groundless demands from Israel.

· There is no possible way to maintain the necessary neighborly relations with subsidized water tariffs, without causing disaster.

· A most threatening combination has occurred, not only to the development of Israel but to its very existence, even at the present level. The components are:

? Ever worsening demands to take more water from Israel.

? A consistent and growing process of mutilation and destruction of sources.

? International agreements that will impose in Israel restrictions on the use of fuel burning energy, energy which is a must for the only solution in sight – desalination. Israel will probably be asked to reduce the use by 50% as compared with the use in 1997 and approximately by 2/3 to 3/4 of the predicted use in 2010.

And finally, it is important to regard the water system as an integrated part of the energy system. There are at present several Israeli developed technologies which have an excellent chance of solving both the energy problems and the desalination problems, and are all within a 3-5 year application range.

Just as the founders of the State saw in the correct utilization of water part of realizing Zionism, the continued neglect of the water system might bring an end to the Zionist enterprise or considerably shrink it.

Only a change of values in the way of thinking, decision and action can prevent this. Only reinstating the professional level, long range planning and wide overview can bring about appropriate ways of action.

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