In 1993, Israel’s water consumption stood at 1,679 (MCM), as opposed to 1,541 MCM in the previous year. Agricultural consumption increased by 10.2%, from 940.5 MCM in 1992 to 1,035.5 MCM in 1993; industrial demand grew by 3.7% from 102.7 to 106.5 MCM; and domestic use rose by 12% from 498 to 536 MCM.
Israel’s primary consumer of water is agriculture. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, water allocations to agriculture stood at about 1,200 MCM annually, about 75% of total consumption. Drought- enforced reductions in allocations to the agricultural sector are responsible for much of the drop in consumption in recent years.
Domestic and municipal uses account for just under a quarter of total use while industry accounts for less than 7% of consumption. Consumption is expected to continue to rise due to growth in population and economic output.
Water resource development and consumption have grown rapidly since the establishment of the State in 1948. Today, all feasible resources are exploited, including springs, groundwater reservoirs, aquifers and the Jordan River system. Pumping from Lake Kinneret cannot be augmented without the risk of increased salinity due to saline springs on the lake bottom or without adversely affecting water quality by creating an unbalanced growth of algae. Coastal rivers have been drained to the point of nonexistence, due to the tapping of their water at source in order to integrate them into the national network. Finally, withdrawal of water exceeding the natural recharge rate in Israel’s coastal aquifer has led to the intrusion of seawater and brines; Israel’s inland aquifer, a deeper, karstic limestone system, has also been penetrated, although to a lesser degree, by saline water.
Shortage of water is reflected in Israel’s per capita water potential about 330 cubic meters per annum, among the lowest in the world. As the quality of effluents improves, more reclaimed water will be diverted for agricultural use while freshwater will be directed toward urban and industrial use. By the year 2000, total water consumption is expected to reach 2,025 MCM 1,470 MCM freshwater, 160 MCM saline water and 395 MCM effluents.
In view of water scarcity, Israel must increase water use efficiency and stimulate greater conservation. This may be achieved through more realistic water pricing, education and information, technical assistance and financial incentives or disincentives.
In the agricultural sector, substantial savings have been achieved through technological improvements in irrigation methods, including micro- sprinklers, drip irrigation and computerized and automated control systems. Israeli agricultural research has led to the introduction of crops requiring a minimal amount of water, or able to thrive on brackish water without diminished yield.
Israel is a world leader in the development of drip irrigation, a technique by which relatively small amounts of water are delivered directly to the roots of growing plants by means of perforated plastic piping. When the flow of water is controlled by sensors linked to central computers, efficiencies (the proportion of water that reaches the roots) can reach 95%. Drip and other forms of micro-irrigation reduce water use by one-third or more, depending upon the crop. Despite high capital costs for installation, nearly half of all irrigated land in Israel is now under micro-irrigation. These techniques have the further advantage of reducing adverse environmental impacts associated with continuous irrigation. Drip irrigation can avoid or reduce salination trends and, by enabling farmers to deliver precise quantities of chemical fertilizers directly to the plants, can also reduce fertilizer contamination of soils and groundwater.
In the domestic sector, low-flow household faucets and low and variable-flow toilets have cut water use. Municipalities have increased efforts to improve the water system itself: reducing pressure, maintaining valves and repairing leaks. Water-saving devices are now required in all new buildings in Israel; throughout the country, municipalities are initiating improved watering techniques for public lawns and gardens and have expedited the replacement and maintenance of pipes to prevent leaks and explosions. Xeroscaping, the use of water-saving plants in landscaping, has also been introduced. A notable example is Jerusalem which has cut its water use by about 10% in recent years. Water consumption in 1992 returned to 1986 levels despite a 20% increase in population.
In the industrial sector, techniques such as process metering, mapping of pipes, pressure reductions and heat recovery have yielded savings. Water is conserved by the recirculation of cooling water and steam, pressure reducers, and reuse of treated industrial wastewater. Despite the accelerated growth in industrial activity in Israel, industrial use of water has not increased substantially.
A highly successful public education campaign has been undertaken, especially during the drought-ridden years. Citizens are encouraged to use water-saving devices, repair leaking faucets and report leaks in the public sector under the motto "Every Drop Counts." Water conservation is also integrated into the school curriculum, ensuring that Israeli youth grow up with both an awareness of the problem and the knowledge and tools needed to conserve this scarce resource. Data show that at the height of the water conservation campaign, in 1990/1, average per capita consumption in the municipal sector was significantly reduced. When the information campaign dwindled, after two rain-laden seasons, consumption began to rise again. Urban water consumption decreased from 85 cubic meters per capita per year to 70 cubic meters between 1989 to 1991; domestic water consumption was reduced from 60 cubic meters per capita per year to just above 50 cubic meters.