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Although the country is nearly two-thirds desert, Israel has enough water to sustain itself, thanks in part to its efforts in water conservation, reuse, and desalination. Photo by and © Vision Studio

When it comes to water, Israel is up against some serious challenges. The country is nearly two-thirds desert, and even those places where water exists, such as Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) and the headwaters of the Hermon River, are overtaxed, which could lead to a breakdown of what is known as Israel’s “water economy.” Needless to say, water is at the center of many disputes in the region with Israel and its neighboring countries.

Israel has accomplished a great deal in the areas of desalination and reuse of this precious resource.

Israel has accomplished a great deal in the areas of desalination and reuse (or “reclamation”) of this precious resource. The country reuses more than 80 percent of its wastewater for irrigation—the highest percentage in the world by far (the United States, for the record, reuses about 1 percent). But the company Mekorot is aiming even higher. Desalination, though long known as a vexingly expensive prospect, is now cheaper, cleaner, and more energy efficient, and it may offer one solution to Israel’s, and perhaps the world’s, water crisis.

In the past decade, Israel has opened four major desalination plants, and as of this writing, a fifth one is about to go into operation. 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. These advances are so transformative that many are calling this a water revolution.

Mekorot > 

The Global Challenge of Water: Desalination and Reuse

Miya field work.

Miya is a company dedicated to optimizing urban water networks—preventing water from being wasted through leaks in urban infrastructures. Miya was established by Shari Arison in 2008 as part of Arison Investments, with the vision of ensuring an abundance of fresh water through the efficient management of existing resources.

Shockingly, more than a third of the world’s drinking water is lost from municipal supply systems.

Shockingly, more than a third of the world’s drinking water is lost from municipal supply systems, mainly due to undetected underground leaks. The most sustainable and cost-effective way to prevent such losses is to improve the efficiency of urban water-distribution systems, with effective water-loss management. Working around the world, Miya collaborates with utility companies to significantly improve water efficiency, reducing energy consumption and lowering contamination and health risks, to benefit individuals, communities, and the environment.

Miya > 


Miya: Assuring an Abundance of Water

Netafim in the field. Photo courtesy Netafim


Nearly 70 percent of our planet’s fresh water goes toward farming and the cultivation of crops. Drip irrigation—the careful meting out of water to feed plants—is a way of using water more efficiently: directly nurturing crops without wasting a drop. Although the notion of drip irrigation is regularly associated with Israel, its roots run wide. And it is not a new concept: centuries ago, buried clay pots were filled with water, which would gradually seep into the surrounding earth and irrigate plant life. Modern drip irrigation was initiated in Afghanistan in the nineteenth century, when researchers experimented with using clay pipes to create underground systems that combined irrigation and drainage. Further developments were made in the early twentieth century in the United States and Germany, and after World War II Australian inventor Hannis Thill came up with the idea of using plastic piping to hold and distribute water.           

Drip irrigation is a way of using water more efficiently: directly nurturing crops without wasting a drop.

The idea was moved forward in Israel by Simcha Blass, inventor of an efficient plastic emitter, or “dripper”—now, instead of being released through holes that can easily be blocked by tiny particles, water is transmitted through larger and longer passageways and can be carefully regulated. In 1965, at Kibbutz Hatzerim near Be’er Sheva, a group of young idealists founded Netafim. They worked with Blass to develop and patent the first surface drip-irrigation emitter, which is now used around the world.

Learn more from Naty Barak, Netafim’s Chief of Sustainability, about Israel’s role in launching an irrigation technology that has revolutionized agriculture around the world.

Netafim >

Netafim in the field. Photo courtesy Netafim


Drip Irrigation and Netafim: Watering Plants Drop by Drop

Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability, Netafim. Photo courtesy Netafim

Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability at the pioneering company Netafim describes Israel’s role in launching an irrigation technology that has revolutionized agriculture around the world. 

A Startup in a Kibbutz

In Hebrew, we say that we’re talking to farmers ‘at eye level’: farmer to farmer.
— Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability, Netafim

When I was young, I was very idealistic. I moved from my home in Haifa to Kibbutz Hatzerim in 1964, along with a group of other young people. We were all farmers, but we weren’t having much success because of water shortage and the high salinity of the soil. The idea for Netafim came in 1965. We had been looking for an industry as a focal point, and we’d set up some guidelines for what we wanted. For one thing, we wanted it to be connected to agriculture. We needed something that would not require too much labor: the idea was to find work for fourteen kibbutz members.(Today we have nearly three thousand employees, all over the world.

Simcha Blass Has an Idea

It was Simcha Blass who moved the idea of drip irrigation forward. Once, Simcha saw a long row of trees that had obviously all been planted at the same time—and yet one of them was far bigger than the others. He was curious and went to see what the reason was. He discovered a water pipe that had a crack in it, and it was leaking near the tree, slowly, drop by drop. On the surface of the ground, there was just a limited circle that was a little bit wet, and the rest of the soil was dry. When he started digging, he saw that underground the wet area became wider, and that there were a lot of roots.

This gave him the idea. That was in the late 1930s. But he kept the idea in his head for years, until affordable plastic piping was introduced, and in the 1960s he started to do experiments in his backyard with the drip system. A few years later, a brilliant engineer developed the next generation of drippers for us. Today, the tiny plastic dripper has many functions built into it. It’s pressure-compensated, which means that it will always deliver exactly the same amount of water, regardless of distance from the water source; it’s self-cleaning; and it has all kinds of clog-prevention and non-leakage mechanisms.

  To give you an idea of what it all means: I’ve worked a lot in the Arava Desert. The rainfall there can sometimes be as little as twenty millimeters per year. But today it’s a rich agricultural area, largely because of drip irrigation.

Helping to Irrigate the World

Today, Netafim has thirteen manufacturing plants all over the world: in California, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, two plants in India (and we are thinking about a third one), three plants in Israel, one in Turkey—and so on. Wherever you have agriculture, you have drip irrigation. It helps in growing tea in Tanzania, sugarcane in the Philippines, potatoes in China, etcetera.

We’re involved—along with several other irrigation companies—in the Andhra Pradesh Micro Irrigation Project in India, helping farmers to enhance their crop yield and save water. We also donated drip-irrigation systems to a foundation in Oklahoma, and they in turn gave them to a military base in Afghanistan; now they are bringing Afghan farmers into the base to teach them how to use drip irrigation. 

On a smaller scale, we have developed what we call the “Family Drip System” for small farmers in developing countries. It’s gravity-based, so you don’t need electricity. All you need is to put a tank on an elevated stage, fill it with water, mix it with the right nutrients, open the valve and shut the valve—and it will irrigate five hundred square meters, which is a small farm for a family. Training is very important, of course. But if the farmers do it right, the increased yield is amazing, and the return on investment is in less than one year. We’ve distributed these in Kenya and elsewhere.

In reaching out to farmers in other places, we try to work collaboratively. We don’t say: “We came from Mount Sinai. We invented drip irrigation; do what we tell you and you’ll be successful.” That’s the wrong attitude. We say: “Listen, you have been growing tomatoes in this region for generations—you and your father and your grandfather—so you must know a lot about growing tomatoes. We know something about drip irrigation; we are working in the Arava with tomato growers . . . so let’s bring our skills together.” And whether we are talking to a Chinese farmer who has one tiny parcel of land, or a cotton-farm manager in Arizona who wears $2,000 lizard-skin boots, we talk to both of them the same way. We give them the same respect. In Hebrew, we say that we’re talking to farmers “at eye level”: farmer to farmer. 

Netafim >

Naty Barak of Netafim: “We Know Something About Drip Irrigation”