Researcher: Eilon M. Adar
The Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research
The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research
Water in Israel is a most precious and scarce resource. It is vital to the existence of its inhabitants. Since the establishment of Israeli settlements, both during and after the British Mandate, water supply has been one of Israel’s major concerns.
The fact that water conduits (pipelines) had to go through hostile land forced the Jewish authorities and later the Water Authority of the State of Israel to draw special attention to their security in order to guarantee the safe supply of water to remote communities.
Immediately after the establishment of the State of Israel, the government made the strategic decision that water should not be a limiting factor to the development of settlements all over the country, including the Negev desert. The location of the State of Israel and its complex boundary system raised the issue of safe water supply in terms of availability and quantity. The fact that every major water source available in Israel is a trans-boundary (cross-border) resource, adds to the complexity of long-term secured water supplies.
The strategy adopted in the early 1950’s (which still holds today) is to have a central water supply and distribution system, known as the National Water Carrier, that serves as the State of Israel’s water-spinal-cord. The philosophy behind this policy is that beyond the ability to transfer water from where it is relatively abundant in the North to the Southern basin with scarce water sources, it also connects all major water resources. Sources such as groundwater from the costal aquifer, groundwater from the mountain aquifer and Jordan River water are all mixed and then supplied to the end users to meet the demand for both adequate supplies and water quality.
Israel selected the option of a pressurized pipe system to transfer water from basin to basin, instead of the more common method of open waterways. This system allows for a higher discharge whenever needed and additionally provides better protection of the water supply system against hostile acts. Apart from an open channel about 27-km long in the Galilee area, the National Water Carrier conduit is below surface in the rest of the country.
This system also enables the National Water Authority of Israel to introduce desalinated sea water and desalinated saline groundwater into the system to bridge the gap between demand and available supplies. Desalination plants now provide 22% of the potable water supply and this is expected to increase to about 30% in the next two years. Desalinated water plants have increased the water supply but protecting these strategic desalination plants has introduced new security concerns.
As a result, the design of the pumping stations of the National Water Carrier has placed them in reinforced bunkers to eliminate the possibility of physical attacks on these strategic elements of water transport. The three pumps that inject Sea of Galilee water into the National Water Carrier are buried deep below the surface of the earth. Only the 4th pump is placed outside the deep bunker. Furthermore, water-conduit bridges were completely avoided during construction of the national water distribution system. These were replaced by unique sophisticated siphons instead. At the end of the open channel in the lower Galilee basin, and before the water is injected into the closed pressurized pipe system, Mekorot, the National Water Company, established sophisticated multivariable sensing devices to guarantee the quality of the water before the injection into the close water distribution system and also in order to guarantee the safety of the supplied water. Some of these are biological and microbial sensors, while others are chemicals sensors.
Security concerns prohibit us from elaborating on the specific type of sensors and on the specific elements we use to guarantee the water quality and safety. However, the knowledge that we have taken these precautions assures us that safety and security concerns have been addressed. The infrastructure is also secured by a safety operation system which can automatically block further water supply whenever there is a clear indication of any dramatic change in water quality. There are also “false alarm sub-routine” codes and Back to Normal procedures.
At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, we are also continuously working on novel sensing devices that can provide a real time alarm that alerts us whenever there is a sign that some hazardous compound is detected in the water supply.
Israel has developed one of the most advanced water quality control and delivery system in the world. Today there are several Israeli companies offering hardware and sophisticated software that provide maximum physical protection to the infrastructure as well as safety measures regarding the quality of water along the main distribution lines and within local municipalities. There is an even higher resolution where required in selected neighborhoods.