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The Environment in Israel:
Water Quality

By Shoshana Gabbay





Historic Overview


Landscape Conservation

Water Quality

Air Quality

Marine and Coastal Environment

Solid Waste

Hazardous Substances

Environmental Research

Toward a
Sustainable Future





Sewage water purification plant
Courtesy: Mekorot Israel National Water Co.

Preservation of the country's scant water sources may be the greatest challenge facing Israel, which entered the 21st century with one of its largest water overdrafts ever. The depletion of the country's main water sources is exacerbated by the deteriorating quality of water resources due to demographic, industrial and agricultural pressures and to overexploitation of the country's water reservoirs beyond the natural replenishment rate.


Both water resource development and consumption have grown rapidly since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Today, all feasible resources are exploited, including springs, groundwater reservoirs, aquifers and the Jordan River system. At the same time, as a result of accelerated population, industrial and agricultural growth, the coastal aquifer has been increasingly threatened by contamination from chemical and microbial pollutants, salination, nitrates, heavy metals, fuels and toxic organic compounds. Over the years, average chloride concentrations in the coastal aquifer have increased to 194 mg/liter, With an average rate of increase of 2.4 mg/liter per year. Nitrate concentrations have increased concomitantly due to intensive use of fertilizers in agriculture and due to the use of treated effluents for irrigation.


The Alexander River
Courtesy: Ministry of the

The combination of severe water shortage, contamination of water resources, densely populated urban areas and highly intensive irrigated agriculture, has made it essential to increase development of treated wastewater. Consequently, Israel has emerged as a world leader in recycling wastewater, with over 65% of the wastewater treated and reused for agricultural purposes in accordance with stringent permits issued by the Ministry of Health. National policy calls for the gradual replacement of freshwater allocations to agriculture by reclaimed effluents. It is estimated that effluents will constitute 40% of the water supplied to agriculture in 2005 and 50% in 2020.


Major efforts are currently being focused on upgrading effluent quality standards for different purposes. The objective is to treat 100% of the country's wastewater to a level enabling unrestricted irrigation in accordance with soil sensitivity and without risk to soil and water sources.


In recent years, efforts have focused on restoring the country's ailing rivers, which have either dried up or become sewage conduits as a result of industrial discharge, municipal sewage, overpumping or just general abuse. The road toward restoration was opened with the inauguration of a National River Administration in 1993 to oversee the restoration of the country's rivers. Twelve coastal rivers and two rivers in the eastern basin are currently undergoing restoration according to approved master plans, which include cleanups, soil conservation and landscape and park development. The results are evident in rivers throughout the country — whether the Alexander River where egg laying and basking areas were set aside for giant soft-shell turtles, or the Kishon River where dramatic improvements in water quality have occurred as evidenced by monitoring results.


After several consecutive years of drought and growing water scarcity, the government has begun to implement a comprehensive water management plan, based on such components as wastewater treatment and recovery, water conservation, seawater and brackish water desalination and remediation of contaminated wells. Plans for desalinating hundreds of millions of cubic meters of seawater are currently being implemented.