By Shmuel Katz
It’s finally gotten close to the real rainy season here in Israel. We’ve been praying for rain for over a month, and you guys chimed in with “v’sein tal u’matar” about a week ago. We’ve had scattered rains over the past few weeks, but the serious rains generally come mid- to late-December and that’s when we begin to get an idea of where we stand.
Historically, Lake Kinneret, while technically serving as a barometer of the rainfall in northern Israel, actually served as the source for over 40% of our pumped water. The level of water there was of vital importance to the country’s water health.
As has been reported in these pages over the last decade or so, we’ve faced severe drought conditions twice in that period, once for close to six years. We haven’t gotten to the level of Johannesburg but conservation laws were enacted and the water supply was a main concern.
Both droughts ended because G-d blessed us with good rainy seasons. Even the impact of the droughts was radically different because G-d blessed us with some incredible technologies.
Water Reclamation. This has been a major focus for decades. Israel may be the world’s leader in the use of these technologies.
Brackish-water processing. About 30 factories were built, generally located in the desert and near Eilat. I think all of Eilat’s drinking water is processed here.
Sea/saltwater desalination. Again we are among the leaders in the field. This is our single largest source of artificially produced potable water. We started to crank up the operation of three desalination facilities toward the end of the drought that ended in 2010. Those facilities had the capacity to produce 292 million m3 per year. Coming just as the drought ended, and with the subsequent three years of good rainfalls, the water produced was a significant boon to the water supply.
Then, as happens with regularity here, the 2014 rainy season was the first of five consecutive bad years of rainfall. During that time, the Kinneret fell to very low levels. Yet, there was no hue and cry about conservation that had been seen in prior droughts. It seemed that water supply was not a hot-button issue.
This is because, very quietly, in 2013 and again in 2015, we opened two huge new desalination factories. From 292 million m3 per year, our capacity more than doubled—to 620 million m3. Both these locations also have space to add more equipment to significantly expand production. They are both much cheaper to operate than the older facilities.
What does this mean to us? The latest drought did not raise significant alarm here, probably in no small measure due to our ability to produce our own water. You can see this in the fact that the Kinneret has dropped from being above 40% of our water supply to currently being somewhere around 20% (maybe even less by now).
Even though last year’s rains were amazing, we continue to produce large amounts of desalinated water. It is not so easy to quickly and significantly ramp production back up once you’ve toned it down. Secondly, we need to pay for these factories by selling water to the water carrier and the consumer.
So what happens when rains are plentiful and we are also producing significant amounts of desalinated water? Well, this summer, instead of the height/water level of the Kinneret receding (from evaporation and water pumping) by the normal 1.2–1.6 meters during the dry season, we’ve seen a reduction of only 71.5 cm this year. And the Kinneret generally reflects the general condition of the rest of the natural water supply.
With the hope and prayer that we will see more years of good rainfall, we are well positioned to maintain a healthy natural ecosystem throughout the country and build up our reserves for a “non-rainy day.” So please, continue to pray for rain, rain, rain, and continued berachah for our wonderful Holy Land.
Shmuel Katz, his wife, Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at email@example.com.