Monday, 1 August 2016

How Israel Became A Water Surplus Nation?

The Sorek facility features 16in membrane elements
installed in vertical pressure vessels
Every second rural woman in India had walked an average 173 kilometres to fetch potable water in 2012. Seventy percent of the planet is covered with water and yet countries like India are facing severe water crisis. According to a new analysis, over 4 billion people in the world live with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year.

A report from United Nations, “Water for a Sustainable World,” paints a rather dismal picture, claiming that unless there is a significant global policy change the world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030. The report proposes several measures that the nations can take, from rationing of water and increasing water prices to finding new ways of recycling waste water.

But Israel has already shown a much better way for ensuring the availability of abundant clean drinking water at reasonable cost. Till few years ago Israel was relying entirely on groundwater and rain and was facing the worst draught in 900 years, but today the country is a water giant. It is the only nation in the Middle East to have a water surplus instead of scarcity.

This turnaround has been achieved in Israel through the new system of desalination plants called Sorek which use conventional desalination technology called reverse osmosis (RO). The Sorek plants, built by the private company Israel Desalination Enterprises, or IDE Technologies, are now producing 627,000 cubic meters of water daily.

The Scientific American reports:
Inside Sorek, 50,000 membranes enclosed in vertical white cylinders, each 4 feet high and 16 inches wide, are whirring like jet engines. The whole thing feels like a throbbing spaceship about to blast off. The cylinders contain sheets of plastic membranes wrapped around a central pipe, and the membranes are stippled with pores less than a hundredth the diameter of a human hair. Water shoots into the cylinders at a pressure of 70 atmospheres and is pushed through the membranes, while the remaining brine is returned to the sea. 
Desalination used to be an expensive energy hog, but the kind of advanced technologies being employed at Sorek have been a game changer. Water produced by desalination costs just a third of what it did in the 1990s. Sorek can produce a thousand liters of drinking water for 58 cents. Israeli households pay about US$30 a month for their water — similar to households in most U.S. cities, and far less than Las Vegas (US$47) or Los Angeles (US$58).
Sorek desalination is the world's largest seawater desalination plant
If Israel can solve its water problem through desalination technology, why can’t other countries do the same? The desalination technology, which can convert sea water into clean drinking water, has been around for many years—it is baffling that this technology is not being used in countries where there is acute water crisis. It is also baffling that in its lengthy report United Nations has not taken cognizance of Israel’s desalination technology.

The truth is that today clean drinking water is being used as a tool for political control. As long as water remains a scarce resource, the governments can buy patronage by supplying more water to their supporters at the cost of other groups. Such water politics is a fact of life in many countries. Water management is a total government monopoly—bloated bureaucracies regulate how much water the citizens can consume, and how much goes to the farming sector and the industries.

The idea that water is a finite resource and a scarce commodity is complete baloney. The innumerable doomsday scenarios regarding water scarcity that the environmentalist groups keep proposing have nothing to do with objective and verifiable science. But these environmentalists often manage to influence government policy and are able to stop the development of new reservoirs and water treatment systems.

When seventy percent of the planet is covered by sea water, with enough desalination plants we can have virtually limitless supply of clean drinking water. People in many parts of the world are facing a water crisis because the governments regard water as a public utility which must be managed by bureaucrats and politicians. The water problems intensify when irrational environmental demands are prioritized over the basic provision of water to the public.

If the governments and the environmentalists move out of the way the availability of clean water will cease to be a problem. 


Peter Visser said...

Hi Anoop,

nice article!

I do wonder about the energy cost of desalination (in Israël), for which plentiful cheap energy is (aside from the power-politics) probably an important stimulant (often blocked by the same power-politics..). I also wonder a bit about possible subsidies on water that could make the industry lok more viable than it is. Even for a higher price, it's a miracle to turn the desert into an oasis, of course. But clarity on the possible priviliges creates a clearer picture.

Anonymous said...

Peter Visser, Those aspects can be there. But the important thing is that with this technology it is possible to transform sea water into drinking water at a much cheaper rate. It is much more efficient. I think if the govt moves completely out of the way there will be more innovation and the price will fall further.

Anoop Verma