An Israeli Guide to Making Water Count

The Israel Journal at NYU
4 min readDec 12, 2023

By Mia Kreindler

Sorek Desalination Plant (Photo: IDE Technologies)

In the age of climate change and water scarcity amid the Middle East’s arid climate, Israel has become a frontrunner for innovation, sustainability, and technology. Instead of becoming dependent on foreign help, Israel managed to change the world in terms of water desalination and water management. Israel’s journey of establishing a secure water resource in an area known for its dry and water-scarce landscape is a testament to how ingenuity, technology, and foresight can help mitigate the severe challenges posed by climate change, population growth, and the escalating water demands that modern life requires.

The struggle for water in Israel is not unique but similar to that of many other nations in dry climates and is starting to become an issue for countries worldwide regardless of what environment they are in. Going back in time, Israel relied on natural resources for its water supply, mainly relying on the Sea of Galilee. However, natural resources were becoming increasingly inadequate in providing enough water for Israel’s growing population and needs. As Israel dealt with the dangers of drought and water scarcity, the first solution lay in an unassuming resource. Wastewater. Israel recognized the value of repurposing wastewater to combat water scarcity. Recycled wastewater proved to be especially valuable for Israel’s agricultural sector. An estimated 86% of wastewater from drains is recycled and used for irrigation.

However, more than recycling wastewater alone was needed. Water still needed to be more abundant. Enter the Mediterranean Sea, a body of water that offers unlimited supply, is natural, and is not dependent on unforeseeable and uncontrollable factors such as rainfall, dried-up lakes, or even politics for that matter. The plan to desalinate the water from the Mediterranean Sea started to take form after a cabinet decision on the matter in 2000. Over the next two decades, Israel constructed facilities in Ashkelon, Palmachim, Hadera, Ashdod, and two plants in Nahal Sorek. In total, these facilities have the capability to produce about 585 million cubic meters of water. As of 2020, further plans have been published to establish a water desalination facility in the Western Galilee, producing around 100 million cubic meters of water.

Across the world, the issue of water scarcity is becoming more and more prevalent. Increased droughts worldwide, especially in countries around the Middle East, have led to agricultural collapse, inevitably leading to unemployment, unrest, and famine. Water scarcity is bound to lead to geopolitical conflicts. For many people worldwide, they don’t think twice about water. You turn on the tap or go to the grocery store and buy liters of water, and that’s that. However, water is as scarce as gold and a true privilege for the majority.

The Ein Netafim wastewater treatment plant in Eilat (Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP)

While the desalination of salt water is less expensive and complicated than in the 1990s, it is still not for free. Clive Lipchin of the Arava Institute in southern Israel has emphasized that people must rethink how they approach water. “It’s a basic right, but it cannot be a free good. People have to pay,” he said to The Times of Israel. If people start having to pay for their water, they are more likely to think twice about wasting it.

Israel’s innovations in water technology have undoubtedly been a beacon of hope in the arid Middle East, but it’s important to consider the environmental and economic implications as well. Desalination, though a solution to water scarcity, is energy-intensive and can have ecological impacts, such as the effect on marine life due to brine discharge. Israel has been addressing these concerns by investing in research to make desalination more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

Economically, these technological advancements have fostered a new industry within Israel, creating jobs and boosting the economy. The expertise developed in water technology has also become an exportable commodity, with Israel assisting other nations in implementing similar systems. This not only provides an economic benefit but also strengthens diplomatic ties, as water scarcity becomes a common challenge that crosses national borders. Israel’s journey in water management is a success story. It’s not just about securing water resources; it’s about advancing technology in a sustainable and economically viable way, setting a precedent for nations around the globe grappling with similar challenges.

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The Israel Journal at NYU

The Israel Journal at NYU is an explanatory journal dedicated to clearing up the conversation around Israel.