Israel’s Innovative Water Solutions Way, Way Ahead

JUST A LUSTRUM AGO, ISRAEL HAD WATER PROBLEMS. IT WAS BEGINNING TO RUN DRY, WITH A GROWING POPULATION
ADDING WATER CONSUMPTION TO A LIMITED CAPACITY WATER INFRASTRUCTURE. THANKS TO DECISIVE INVESTMENTS, WATER IS TODAY GUARANTEED FOR ALL ISRAEL AND EVEN SOME NEIGHBORS.

By James Galfund

In 2012, a representative of Israel’s Water Authority told a visitor from the Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds, “Israel is drying.” Four years later, it’s time for another look.

The rst stop is the National Water Carrier, arguably Israel’s most iconic undertaking. The National Water Carrier falls under the domain of Mekorot, Israel’s water consortium. Ashley Davidson, manager of the company’s visitor center, explains that the project, which began in the late 1950s, stretches the length of the country, from the Sea of Galilee to the Negev. Nearly 60 years later, it remains, according to Davidson, Israel’s “biggest and most complex infrastructure project,” noting that the National Water Carrier “was instrumental in making the desert bloom.”


Power station near Ashkelon in Israel

But there was a problem. As Israel’s population grew, Davidson says the amount of water needed for drinking rose exponentially. Consequently, increasing amounts of Israel’s scarce water resources had to be diverted from agriculture to the growing needs of Israel’s citizens.

That’s where Israel’s well-established reputation for innovative solutions came into play. With the Mediterranean Sea as the country’s western border, desalination became the obvious answer. Today, says Davidson, “Eighty- ve percent of Israel‘s drinking water comes from the sea.” Taking into account anticipated population growth, he projects desalination will ensure clean drinking water “for the next ten years,” adding the complex filtration process produces water “ten times cleaner than what the Health Ministry requires.” The success of desalination gave birth to another extensive infrastructure project, dubbed the New National Water Carrier. The updated carrier distributes water from ve different desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast to locales throughout the country.

Nearly 60 years later, it remains, according to Davidson, Israel’s “biggest and most complex infrastructure project,”

As for agricultural needs, Davidson says Mekorot has that covered too. Seventy percent of Israel’s wastewater is recycled and used for agriculture, particularly in the arid Negev.
This is Israeli innovation at its best, and in addition, these ideas are shared with the world.

EVERY DROP COUNTS

Oded Distel, who heads Israel New Tech for the Ministry of Economy and Industry, is all about water. Distel professes that he “fell in love with the sector,” calling it “one of the most important sectors for the future. Israel’s approach to water is totally di erent because in Israel, water is really appreciated. We learn from childhood that every drop counts.”

Distel ticks o Israel’s myriad accomplishments: water independence; producing 20 percent more water than the nation consumes—a surplus allowing Israel to export water to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan; and a knowledge base that bene ts countries throughout the world.

Oded Distel emphasizes the problem of dwindling water resources is “a major headache everywhere. It’s not only a Third World issue; it’s everybody’s issue.” As a case in point, Distel cites a recent visit to California, where his ministry hosted the Israel-California Water Conference. The idea was to explore partnerships and initiatives to help position California as a leader in sustainable water solutions. Looking forward, Distel projects an air of con dence. He feels Israel’s water situation is “perfect,” to the point where “even in a dry year, there is no problem with water usage being cut.”

He gives much credit to Israel’s focus on desalination, calling it a “revolution.” Israel’s water supply “is no longer dependent on nature. If there were a catastrophe, Israel’s population would still have water to drink and use domestically.”

Another success story has been water recycling. Distel believes that without a proactive approach to reusing wastewater, Israel’s agriculture sector “could not have survived.”
Oded Distel maintains that the current global business model regarding water “is not functioning efficiently,” stressing the world “can’t avoid reforms any longer.” He has visited every continent, save Antarctica, to share his expertise. A problem he highlights as critically important is water leakage, which, he says, averages 25 percent around the globe and up to 50 percent in some countries. But someone in Israel came up with a solution.


Shafdan was chosen by the United Nations as an exemplary project
that demonstrates the ability of local authorities to deal
with environmental problems.
Ashkelon, Israel. Reverse Osmosis water desalination plant – Membranes

THE FUTURE OF WATER UTILITIES

“Amazing” is how Shani Feldman, sales operations manager for Israeli company TaKaDu, describes the amount of water countries lose to leakage. Feldman emphasizes countries need to tackle the problem by being “proactive rather than reactive.”
The idea behind TaKaDu, explains Feldman, “is to use analytics to save water.” Launched in 2009, founder Amir Peleg realized early on how TaKaDu could leverage the potential of the “Internet of Things” to address global water issues.

Peleg recalls going to water trade shows and being “surprised to see how, among all the pipes and valves, software was hardly seen. Surely,” he thought, “it had a part to play in the lack of e ciency. I started to think about how data analytics, together with cloud computing, could help power a smart water revolution.”

Today, TaKaDu helps 20 utility companies in 9 countries manage water resources through software utilizing statistical algorithms to provide real-time detection and insights into any, and every, type of water event. “All factors” are programmed into TaKaDu’s software, Feldman says, “allowing event management in one centralized system.”

She lists potential trouble spots TaKaDu’s algorithms can detect: identifying leaks before they turn into large bursts; changes and trends in water pressure, usage patterns, and supply interruptions; water quality issues; identifying water theft; and automatic early

warning of operational issues such as open valves and zone breaches.
The predictive analytics of TaKaDu’s software establish a baseline Feldman classi es as “normal behavior” within each network. The better the program understands normal patterns of water ow, the more accurately it senses aberrations. Once activated by an alert, the software goes through a series of checks, enabling utilities to respond e ectively.

Feldman calls the software “the future of water utilities.”

WAY, WAY AHEAD

Water carriers, desalination, recycling, and advanced analytics, this Israeli outside-the-box approach to maximizing scarce water resources has dramatically changed the outlook from four years ago, when the statement was “Israel is drying.” Oded Distel summed it up best in asserting, “When it comes to water, Israel is way, way ahead of the rest of the world.”


Staff water carrier

Ripe grapes on a vine in a vineyard
Photographed in Kfar Tabor, Israel

Urban water tower of Mekorot. Founded in 1937, it supplies Israel
with 90% of its drinking water and operates
the National Water Carrier.
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