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OM in the News: Sustainability Technology Defeats an Old Foe–Drought

May 31, 2015
Desalination plants in Israel are marked in red

Desalination plants in Israel are marked in red

As California and other western areas of the U.S. grapple with an extreme drought, a revolution has taken place in Israel, reports The New York Times (May 30, 2015). A major national effort to desalinate Mediterranean seawater and to recycle wastewater has provided the desert nation with enough water for all its needs, even during severe droughts. More than 50% of the water for Israeli households, agriculture and industry is now artificially produced. Six years ago, Israelis were told to cut their shower time by 2 minutes. Washing cars with hoses was outlawed and those few wealthy enough to absorb the cost of maintaining a lawn were permitted to water it only at night. “We were in a situation where we were very, very close to someone opening a tap somewhere in the country and no water would come out,” said a Water Authority spokesman.

The turnaround came with a 7-year drought, one of the most severe to hit modern Israel, that began in 2005 and peaked in 2009. The country’s main natural water sources — the Sea of Galilee and the mountain and coastal aquifers — were severely depleted, threatening a potentially irreversible deterioration of the water quality. Desalination emerged as one focus of the government’s efforts, with 5 major plants going into operation or opening soon. Together, they will produce a total of more than 130 billion gallons of potable water a year, with a goal of 200 billion gallons by 2020.

Israel has, in the meantime, become the world leader in recycling and reusing wastewater for agriculture. It treats 86% of its domestic wastewater and recycles it for agricultural use — about 55% of the total water used for agriculture. Spain is second to Israel, recycling 17% of its effluent, while the United States recycles just 1%. Wiser use of water has also helped, and led to a reduction in household consumption of 18%. Water Authority representatives actually went house to house offering to fit free devices on shower heads and taps that inject air into the water stream, saving 1/3 of the water used while still giving the impression of a strong flow.

 Classroom discussion questions:

1. In what other nations is resource sustainability a major issue?

2. What can manufacturing firms do to conserve water?



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