Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Challenges in Israel

The overexploitation of water resources in Israel affects flow in rivers such as the Jordan. Photo: Mark Wilson.Israel has been facing water challenges since the country was first established. Policy, innovation and management have helped the country address and in some cases overcome some of these challenges. Today, the main challenges regarding water are inefficient water use, growing demand and urbanization, and climate change. In addition, there are the political aspects of water management between Israel and its neighbours that still need to be addressed, specifically those between Israel and Palestine.

Inefficient water use

The general overexploitation of natural water resources is a long-standing problem in Israel, which threatens water security and affects both the population and the environment. The overuse of groundwater is causing the depletion of aquifers, which has in turn increased pumping costs as the water table drops and springs and shallow wells dry up. It has also increased salinity levels in the Coastal Aquifer as seawater seeps into the groundwater.

The Coastal Aquifer is facing irreversible damage following years of overpumping. When an aquifer that lies beside a saltwater body is overpumped, saltwater can seep into the groundwater. The Coastal Aquifer is today affected by saltwater intrusion from the Mediterranean Sea, and pollution from untreated or partially treated sewage, particularly from Gaza. Water of poor quality is expensive to treat and can pose a health risk to consumers. Unless urgent action is taken to control pollution and to prevent overpumping, the Coastal Aquifer will suffer irreversible damage and become unusable. This is especially the case in Gaza where the Coastal Aquifer is severely overpumped. The continuing conflict between Hamas and Israel makes a solution to this issue particularly problematic.

Coping with growing demand and urbanization

As previously discussed, water demand is expected to increase in the future. Israel’s primary method for coping with this demand is developing alternative sources of water, including desalination and wastewater reuse. Additionally, the Water Authority has outlined plans to develop the water network in order to facilitate greater reliance on desalinated water, to continue meeting the needs of growing cities and to provide areas which may experience water shortages.

Climate change

There is wide agreement that average temperatures in Israel have increased and precipitation has decreased over the last decade, especially in summer.[1] Over the next 50 years these trends are expected to continue, in addition to an increase in heat waves, a higher risk of forest fires and extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, all of which will severely affect Israel’s water sector.[2] It is important to note that these are the expected outcomes, but the effects of climate change are not fully understood. Therefore Israel is proceeding with a ‘no regret’ approach. This means all of the measures taken to prepare for climate change will have a positive outcome with or without climate change.

Demand for water in Israel is set to increase with population growth. Photo: Ville Miettinen.
Demand for water in Israel is set to increase with population growth. Photo: Ville Miettinen.

[1] Givati, A. Climate Trends in Israel and Effects on Water Resources.
[2] Israeli Climate Change Information Center, 2014. Adaptation to Climate Change in Israel.