South African Food Security Delegation Learns about Water Management in Israel

Sunday, November 11, 2018 4:56 PM

“Israel has reached a level where 90% of the water used for agricultural irrigation is derived from domestic sewage." - Yoav Menashe, IDE

On its third day in Israel, the delegation from South Africa focused on water resources and learned, among other things, Israeli methods and technologies for desalination, recycling of sewage, and water reservoirs.
Water management was the theme of the third day of the South African delegation’s 4-day KKL-JNF trip to Israel. On the agenda were items such as desalination technology, wastewater recycling, reservoirs, and various techniques to help communities thrive in a water-scarce environment. This topic was of particular interest for the participants because South Africa is currently experiencing severe water shortages. Cape Town, one of South Africa’s largest cities with some 4 million people, has reached crises level and is about to run out of water completely.
During a tour at the Hadera desalination plant, the visitors met KKL-JNF Development and Project Director Yossi Schreiber, who is a water and environmental engineer. Schreiber presented the group with an overview of Israel’s water situation. He told them that at present the country needs approximately 2.2 million cubic meters of water per year but manages to produce only 2 million cubic meters annually from a host of sources such as natural resources, brackish water desalination, seawater desalination, harvested stormwater, and purified wastewater.
“And with all those sources and resources we still have a deficit of almost 250 thousand cubic meters per year. However, two new desalination plants are in the pipeline to add to the five plants that are already in operation. When they kick in, we will have a bigger water supply than what we expect to need.” 
Yoav Menashe of Israel Desalination Engineering (IDE) - the company that built and operates the Hadera desalination plant and most of the others around the country - said that it is clear today that desalination is the answer to water shortages around the world.
“The technology is cheap and the facilities are quick to erect and begin operation. Our company has built over 400 desalination plants in more than 40 countries around the world.”
The visitors were amazed to hear that the Hadera plant was erected in just two years from start to completion and that the water produced is cheap in price.
Menashe went on to explain that IDE is also a world leader in wastewater treatment technology.
“Israel has reached a level where 90% of the water used for agricultural irrigation is derived from domestic sewage. The water is collected and purified to a standard that makes it almost potable, but is only used for agriculture. Recycling wastewater has a great environmental impact too because the sewage is then not disposed of in the sea or in underground aquifers, but is rather funneled to a safe place for treatment and recycling.”
The South Africans were interested in understanding how the government and the private sector interact to provide such a crucial national service.
“The water supply and water services in South Africa”, they said, “are under total government control”.
Menashe gave a detailed explanation of the cooperation between all the parties including the government, private companies, KKL-JNF, and the various municipalities, that all joined hands to make the endeavor possible. He said: “Without the cooperation and goodwill of each and every partner, nothing would have been achieved.”
FTFA Director Chris Wild pondered whether such cooperation would be possible back in his country given what he explained was a tightly centralized system of governance.
The visit to the nearby wastewater treatment plant at Kibbutz Maayan Zvi was a logical and welcome continuation of that discussion. On-site, the visitors saw two reservoirs with a combined capacity of some 1 million cubic meters. One pool is used for separating the solids in the sewage, and the other for treating the water. South Africa delegation leader Isla Feldman said that she was amazed that there was no smell in the area whatsoever, given the source of the water, and was pleased to see that pelicans were happy to wallow in the ponds.
Infrastructure Head Lotem Neuman said that the sewage arrives from the nearby towns such as Zichron Yaakov and Hadera in special pipes. “The treatment takes about 60 days. We have constant onsite testing to make sure that the recycled water is of high quality.  The processed water is then fed through designated pipes to the farmers’ fields for irrigation.”
Roni Yizraeli, who is a farmer from Kibbutz Nachshonim and a user of recycled wastewater, said that there are stringent rules and laws in place to ensure that people will not consume recycled water thinking it is ordinary tap water.
“We have a system of color-coded pipes. Pink is for recycled water and blue is for regular potable water. The pipes cannot be laid next to each other; they have to be installed separately in different places and must be clearly marked. We are forbidden to connect sprinklers to pink pipes. Recycled water can only be fed to the plants by way of drip irrigation. There are no taps connected to the pink pipes for the unsuspecting passersby to fill their water bottles.”
At the end of his talk, Yizraeli revealed to his guests that his late mother was an immigrant to Israel from South Africa in the 1960’s.
“In those days no one imagined that there would ever be a water shortage there.”

Want to see more Israeli innovation for water and agriculture with the SA food security delegation? Read on!