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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Israel's desalination miracle

The amazing thing about this article is that it was originally written in Arabic, at Lebanon's As-Safir:

Since the beginning of the Zionist project, Israel's founding fathers drew up a roadmap so that the rising entity would not only survive, but flourish. Water played a central role in how this entity was shaped, whether it involved underground or surface water — such as the Tiberias or Al-Hawlah Lakes — or salt water, like that found in the Mediterranean Sea or the Gulf of Aqaba.

Over time, the conflict between Israel and the Arab countries over both freshwater and salt water intensified, whether it was over the Jordan River tributary or the Straits of Tiran. For decades, many predicted that the war over water resources would become the most virulent in the region.

However, after combining technology with money and political, regional and international changes, the water resources issue has been revisited from another angle. It is possible that the talk about gas discovery in the Mediterranean Sea and the possible outbreak of conflict over gas — whether between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, or even Egypt — has overshadowed the issue of water. Talking about fresh water as a probable cause of conflict has ceased.

Clearly, part of the reason why the focus on fresh water has shifted, at least from the Israeli side, is due to Israel’s successful investment in water desalination projects.

Some people in Israel talk about this issue as if it were a miracle. The state, which would have gone to war for water resources, realized that desalinating water is not only less expensive than war, but it can also become a profitable investment.

[Israel], a state once desperate for fresh water, has now become a country wishing to export it — or at least the technology that can produce it.

Media reports have emphasized Israel’s satisfaction with the water issue after seven austere years during which it faced scarcity, especially in surface water and groundwater. For years, water experts had been adjusting the “red line” for water in Israel. However, their satisfaction stems mainly from the water desalination projects that were established on the Mediterranean shore, described by some as one of the “largest in the world.”

Currently, there are five desalination facilities in Israel that are either complete or nearly complete, the largest of which is in Hadera city. In addition to these, there are two facilities in Ashkelon, Palmachim, Soreq, and Ashdod. By 2013, these facilities are expected to desalinate approximately 600 million cubic meters of water annually. This is nearly four times the amount pumped from Tiberias Lake each year.

At this point, half of the running water in Israeli homes comes from water desalination plants. Israelis stopped relying on rain water years ago; now they resort to sea water to meet their needs. The IDE Company (a subsidiary of Delek Group) and Kail Company played an important role in transforming Israel into a major player in the desalination field. The two companies have established desalination plants not only in Israel, but also in many countries around the world.

Ironically, Israeli experts said that the idea of water desalination is very old, and that the Phoenicians were the first to come up with it. “The first scientific article written about water desalination in history was published by Arab chemists in the eighth century,” they added. An Israeli expert said that, despite the great difference between today’s facilities and those set up in the past, the underlying principle “has existed for hundreds of years, at least.”