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