My former boss Dr Yossi Dreizin, fulfilling his mandate as Head of Water Planning Division in Israel, created one-handedly the Israeli water desalination industry. My office was in front of his office and we used to leave our doors always open. I saw it and witnessed it from the very beginning to the end. The first international public bid was prepared by Dreizin and it was very successful, achieving the low price of 0.52 dollar per cubic meter of purified seawater. Later the price was increased by 5 cents because the highly purified water needs hardness artificially added to be usable. Later, other seawater and brackish water treatment projects were designed and contract documents drawn up, published and bidded, so that these days Israel is signed on several very long term contracts establishing its obligation to purchase some 500 million cubic meters of desalinated water per year.
Que bestialidad, as we used to say at the beach of the river Aguazu, Argentina, circa 1977.
Israel receives some 8,000 MCM per annum - million cubic meter/year (river inflow, rainfall, undergroung aquifer streams) - and it captures about 2 - 2,500 MCM of it. Domestic and industrial use is about 750 MCM (2002) and growing only 3 - 4 % per year. People consumes little water in Israel, about 100 liter per capita per annum, and the demand is growing slowly, because many of our people hail from desert countries like Yemen and Bahrain, and is being submitted to an intensive indoctrination to save water and none the less, because water is very expensive. The rest (2,000 - 750 = 1,250 MCM) is sent to irrigation. Since the price of the irrigation water is expensive (1.5 shekel/cu m) and rationed, farmers are using cheaper treated sewage, to the point that today some 70 - 80% of the water requirements of the agricultural sector is met by municipal wastewater treatment plants.
The chronic problem of Israeli water economy always had been the interannual variation of rainfall, meaning that most of the years the farmers were unable to absorb and buy all the water available, and there were excesses that had to be left to flow unused to the sea. This is the little dirty secret of Israeli water sector, that we dont like to talk about, because it would kill the unceasing propaganda we are emmitting that water is very scarce, and then, well no one will read this anyway, investment in the water sector would be cut and the high salaries of Israeli water engineers would be reduced. Dreizin used to say that we need excess capacity for the dry years, that appear with a frequency of one very 8 - 10 years, and if the people gets the impression that water is abundant then we, at the state institutions, would be unable to build the infrastructure required for a 100% probability supply. He is an impressive egomaniac, no doubt, a very dominant big headed gnome. He is about my age and I always envied him because he was what I would have liked to be and am not, a forceful personality, able to impose his views in a debate, at the top of his specialty and living a well ordered religious life, with many children and grandchildren.
Israel's water administration was dominated for a full generation by Meir Ben Meir, a "simple" farmer from the Emek and a strong character. He was trapped for years in the problem that to the public he had to emphatize the scarcity and vital importance of water, in order to receive development budgets, and on the other hand, he knew and had to act on the knowledge that normally Israel is well supplied and every year excess waters had to be allowed to flow into the Mediterranean.
In the year 1998 - 2000 there were three consecutive years of draught and the level of the Kineret lake fell 4 - 5 meters (the Lake is 900 meter deep). Our holy people chosen by God himself became absolutely convinced that it was going to be exterminated en masse and suffer thirst, they imagined concentration camp scenes of demacrated skeletons fighting for a drop of water, they speculated that bloody survival wars were inevitable with our neighbouring countries for the remaining water resources (University professors wrote learned researches and large books on the coming, unavoidable, regional, worldwide, cosmic conflict, Gog & Magog, Apocalypsis), the public histery was incredible.
The Water Administration where I worked was inundated by inventors who proposed to tow icebergs from the Artic, plastic floating squids from Turkey, commisioning oil tankers (I was the one that killed that idea, saying it could not be done, the oil remants would contaminate the drinking water), capturing water from sea breezes, evaporating water with sunshine, compressing seawater, freezing seawater and so on. Ben Meir, el macho, resisted heroically the public pressure, the media called him Enemy of the People of Israel, doing nothing when water was getting scarcer by the minute and conducing us to a Holocaust, worse than Hitler. He said next year it will rain and no worry, we have enough water reserves for several years. Nothing helped, the already weak nerves of the Israeli public cracked and Ben Meir was shamefully sacked and his contract unrenovated and sent back to his meshek in the malarious swamps of the Emek. A tall, young, blond and bland engineer by the name of Shimon Tal was brought in in his stead.
Ha! That was the opportunity of a lifetime for our deep-voiced gnome genius: where I saw nothing, he recognized and seized with no hesitation the instant, without losing a split second he organized meetings and regaled his audience with the most learned Aramaic quotations from the Talmud, creating from nothing the Israeli seawater desalination industry. The rest is history.
It is so that now, 4 - 5 years later, we enjoy in Israel an enormous overcapacity of seawater desalination and we are paying 250 million US dollar per year (in the Ashdod project only, and there are a dozen more!) to produce water that 90% of the time we dont need and we dont know what to do with it. Since electricity generation in Israel is based on coal and natural gas in the future, the rise in oil prices does not affect us - yet. Should energy prices increase in this country, we shall have a situation of French water company producing rivers of extrapure water and losing tremendous amounts of money, while the Israeli state, always respectful of its international contractual obligations, buys and pays and wonders what to do with it.
By the way, this winter is very cold and rainy. The Ashdod Desalination plant is operating at full capacity, pumping seawater through its spidery white membranes, adding white chalky CO3Ca to the chemically pure H2O and pumping it to the nearby Mekorot monster pumping station. And the crystalline water running into the black sea mixes with rainy tears of Shomer Israel, the People of Israel's Guardian in Heaven.