Water of the Middle East and North Africa

Water Use and Quality in Israel

Lake Tiberias - Water Use in Israel
Photo 1: A picture taken on July 21, 2021, shows a center-pivot irrigation system spraying water in agricultural fields near the border with Jordan, south of the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Tiberias, one of the main water sources in Israel. As scientific warnings of dire climate change-induced drought grow, many in Israel and Jordan cast worried eyes at the river running between them and the critical but limited resources they share. Source: MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP

Water Use in Israel

Israel’s total water consumption in 2020 was approximately 2.4 billion cubic metres (BCM).

This includes water use in the agricultural, domestic and industrial sectors, water that Israel provides to Jordan and Palestine as part of bilateral agreements, and water that is returned to nature for ecological purposes (Figure 1).

According to the Israel Water Authority, the average per capita household freshwater consumption in 2020 was 95 cubic metres (m3) per person per year.[1]

Figure 1: Water consumption in Israel by sector, according to the Israel Water Authority.[2]

Studies show that by 2065, total water demand will rise to 3.8 BCM (0.8%), 4.9 BCM (1.6%) and 6.2 BCM (2%) under respective low, medium and high population growth scenarios (Figure 2(a)).[4] Subsequently, based on the current water management trends in the region, this will require Israel to increase its desalination production by 280-650% of its maximum capacity in 2020 to meet the projected water demand in 2065, as illustrated in Figure 2(b).[4] On the other hand, natural water availability is expected to drop by 10-15% by 2050, as a result of climate change, deterioration of water quality, forestation, infrastructure works and geopolitical issues.[3]

Water demand projection in Israel

Figure 2(a): Water demand projections in Israel under varying population growth scenarios.

Figure 2(b): Required annual water production from desalination technology under different population growth scenarios. Source: reproduced from Salem and Isaac.[5]

Water Quality in Israel

Natural water quality in Israel has been deteriorating due to a decrease in rainfall, increase in population, improper runoff and sewage treatment and over-exploitation of natural resources.

As a result of over-extraction of groundwater, seawater intrusion has impacted the Coastal Aquifer. The Jordan River is polluted with untreated sewage, runoff, groundwater seepage and brackish water from springs. The water quality in the Sea of Galilee has deteriorated due to over-pumping for water supply purposes in the past. In addition, the health of the aquatic ecosystem in the east of the Mediterranean has declined due to the disposal of the brine produced by desalination plants. This is why Israel is currently transforming its water management strategy, placing extra emphasis on producing more desalinated water to decrease the reliance on natural water resources. In addition, research and development activities aim to optimize brine treatment and minimize the environmental costs of desalination.

When it comes to water supply in Israel, there are three main water quality standards:

  1. Standard water quality for drinking.
  2. Irrigation water.
  3. Standard for treated wastewater discharged into stream flows.

The standard for chloride concentration in drinking water is 450 parts per million (ppm) which is relatively high, with no coliform bacteria allowed. Irrigation water has different standards because this is typically treated wastewater. The main substances tested in effluent water are coliform bacteria and the amount of organic matter dissolved in the water. There are also standards for heavy metals and biomedical materials that may be present in water.

In terms of sanitation and wastewater treatment, wastewater in Israel is regulated in three ways:

  1. Prevention: includes maintenance of wastewater treatment plants; eliminating, or at least reducing, industrial contaminants from sewage and effluent; and enforcing laws and rules.
  2. Monitoring: involves assessing groundwater conditions and measuring groundwater quality. A highly developed monitoring network helps detect early signs of groundwater pollution.
  3. Remediation: provides instructions on how to address pollution.

The majority of the population is connected to proper sanitation, except for the Bedouin community in the Negev.

[1] Israel Water Authority, 2021. Freshwater consumption for 2020.
[2] Bhaskar, R.N., 2019. ‘Managing a miracle called water in Israel and the world.’ AsiaConverge. Published on 7 September 2019.
[3] Zaide, M. and Provizor, M, 2012. Long-Term Master Plan for the National Water Sector. Policy Document Version 3. Israel Water Authority.
[4] Kramer, I., Tsairi, Y., Roth, M.B., Tal, A. and Mau, Y., 2022. ‘Effects of population growth on Israel’s demand for desalinated water.’ npj Clean Water 5, 67.
[5] Salem, H.S. and Isaac, J., 2007. ‘Water agreements between Israel and Palestine and the region’s water argumentations between policies, anxieties and unsustainable development.’ A keynote paper presented at the International Conference on Green Wars: Environment between Conflict and Cooperation in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Beirut, Lebanon, November 2-3, 2007.