Posted by: EcoPeace Middle East | February 12, 2012

Making water conservation a way of life: Part 6: Agricultural Water Demand Management in Israel!

This is the sixth and last blog of a series of blogs, which explore issues of water demand management in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, looking at water saving options in the domestic and agricultural sector. This entry about agricultural water demand management in Israel was written by Josef Wenninger, FoEME intern at the Tel Aviv office.

Israel treats and reuses a higher percentage of wastewater than any country in the world and fares better than other developed countries in cost recovery in agricultural water pricing. Still, Israel has not fully adopted water demand management (WDM) as the governing paradigm for addressing water scarcity. The agricultural sector consumes the lion’s share of water in Israel, using over half (57%) of the country’s water resources, including over a third (37%) of freshwater. FoEME believes that the water economy as a whole must be based on preventing losses and reducing demand.

FoEME therefore calls for Israel to go further in adopting WDM techniques in all sectors – including agriculture. In FoEME‘s study of Best Practices in Agricultural Water Demand Management for Israel, FoEME found that over 690 million cubic meters (mcm) of freshwater per year could potentially be available for conservation efforts. Of this, over 500 mcm can potentially be conserved at costs less than the marginal cost of water, i.e., the cost of desalination. Much of these savings can be derived from implementing WDM policies.

One of these policies is adjusting water prices and quotas so that they reflect the real economic, social, and environmental costs of water supply. Just recently, the Knesset Finance Committee held a heated session in which water tariffs in the domestic sector were discussed. The major benefit for raising fresh water tariffs is that it encourages the maximum use of treated waste water for irrigated agriculture purposes. This policy will also encourage farmers to grow water-efficient crops such as olives and almonds rather than bananas and avocados. In addition, farmers who prove that they have adopted water-saving technologies should be subsidized. Also, the government should invest in irrigation control systems to detect leaks to minimize water losses.

At the same time, the state should subsidize the costs of treatment plants to lower the tariff for treated waste water for agriculture. In addition, many water reservoirs have high evaporation rates which lead to a considerable water loss. Covering the reservoirs will save tens of mcm a year. It can be done by means of solar panels or sheets which would generate electricity and return the investment costs.

Another aspect which should not be underestimated are the hidden costs arising from exporting agricultural products. Water is basically exported. Therefore, the current policy of encouraging exports of agricultural goods needs to be replaced with a policy that encourages the cultivation of water efficient varieties.

Through the implementation of these strategies, Israel will be able to achieve meaningful water savings that can be allocated where they are more socially and environmentally beneficial – to higher value economic sectors, to meeting its international agreements with its neighbors, and to rehabilitating its national and regional water resource.

– For more details check FoEME‘s Position Paper on Water for Agriculture in Israel in English or Hebrew and FoEME‘s Research Paper on Water for Agriculture in Israel (Hebrew).

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