While Israel is relying more and more on desalinated water, alarming data about groundwater contamination at 124 different sites throughout the country is emerging. What are the authorities doing to address the problem?
Almost without our noticing, the general public in Israel established the concept that the national desalination plant made Israel's natural water sources secondary in importance. However, this feeling does not change the fact that the groundwater and the Kinneret water are the only backup in the event of deactivation of the desalination facilities. The problem is that without control and restoration actions, it is possible that in many areas of Israel the use of these water sources will become impossible in the coming years.
at the annual conference The joint meeting of the Israeli Water Resources Association (ILA) and the Israeli Soil Science Association held recently in Acre, research, industry and government personnel discussed the state of water sources in Israel. The picture that has emerged describes a significant difficulty in raising the resources required to restore the water sources, not least because of the fact that the activity of the desalination plants has effectively made them only a marginal factor in the water supply chain.
the water the salted currently make up about 80 percent of the total water used by households and industries. By becoming such a significant source, the desalinated water replaced the Sea of Galilee and the groundwater as the country's fresh water reservoir. Despite this, and perhaps precisely because of this, the state of natural water in Israel is not alarming, to say the least.
alongside first signs of The salting of the Kinneret water, widespread contamination in the groundwater threaten this important water source. Without restoration of the natural water sources, the infections are expected to spread and lead to the shutdown of additional water production wells, beyond the dozens of wells that have already been closed in recent years.
The pollution is in numbers
The conference revealed intriguing data, some alarming, about the water situation in Israel. Thus, for example, it emerged that in 2016 domestic and industrial water consumption amounted to about one billion cubic meters. Of these, 542 came from the desalination plants, 271 from the mountain aquifer and 250 from the coastal aquifer. In this year, the Sea of Galilee supplied only about 2 percent of Israel's water.
It was also revealed at the conference that during the decades of activity of the defense industries, metal and surface treatment industries, chemical industries, fuel facilities, textiles and small industries, extensive contaminations were caused in the groundwater. Indeed, in recent years dozens of pollution centers have been discovered, most of them in the coastal aquifer. The volume of contaminated water in the aquifer as a result of the activity at those sites is estimated at about 2 billion cubic meters.
The most surprising and alarming statistic given at the water conference was that in Israel there are 124 sites with groundwater contamination. The total area of these sites is about 82 square kilometers, more than one and a half times the area of Tel Aviv. In these territories there are about 1.7 billion cubic meters of polluted water - Amount of water able to supply all the domestic consumption of the citizens of Israel for two years.
The pollutant cocktail found in these waters includes fuels, pesticides, heavy metals, explosives residues and industrial solvents (for example solvents used to remove oils). At 105 sites where contamination of the groundwater with fuel components was discovered, restoration operations are being carried out.
It also emerged at the conference that the defense industries are among the most polluting in Israel. During the years of their activity, extensive contamination was caused in the groundwater and soil in the various sites where they operated. The greatest pollution was caused in the area where the IAS plant operated in Ramat Hasharon. As part of its years of operation, thousands of tons of pollutants of various types seeped into the soil and groundwater. The most significant pollutant at the site is perchlorate, a substance used in the production process of rocket fuel. Studies link exposure Perchlorate and damage to the activity of the thyroid gland, which plays an important role in the development of fetuses, babies and children, and damage to it can cause developmental problems.
The maximum concentration recommended by the United States Environmental Protection Agency is 15 micrograms of perchlorate per liter of water (15 parts per billion). Concentrations of up to 850 micrograms per liter were measured in the Ramat Hasharon Industrial Area, which is 56 times the recommended threshold. The discovery of the contamination led to the closure of water wells in Ramat Hasharon and in northern Tel Aviv. Today, after the contaminated area has spread and reached the enormous dimensions of 16 square kilometers, it threatens water wells in Herzliya and other wells in the Tel Aviv area.
The aquifer restoration plan (underground water reservoir) in the area includes the pumping of huge amounts of water from the pollution centers at a rate of 600 cubic meters per hour - this through six boreholes and for many years. This plan is expected to stop the spread of the pollution stain and at a later stage even lead to its reduction. However, since the water contains pollutants that do not decompose naturally or through existing technologies that are used to remove pollutants such as fuels and common industrial pollutants, the development of a unique treatment system for this pollution is required. Indeed, recently the water authority was crowned with successPilot carried out by the Enviogen company in collaboration with "Shikhon Vabinui Maim", in which they managed to remove over 99 percent of the perchlorate from the pumped water.
According to the Water Authority's master plan, the coastal aquifer will supply 250 million cubic meters per year - about a quarter of the total annual consumption for households and industry. The problem is that 7 percent of the water available in the aquifer is contaminated, mainly as a result of the presence of industrial solvents, fuels, pesticides, metals, explosives, perchlorate, chlorides and nitrates. In Gush Dan the situation is worse: 78 percent of the volume of water available in the aquifer is contaminated.
The groups of pollutants that most affect the water quality in the coastal aquifer are the group of organic substances from industry (mainly industrial solvents) and the group of chlorides and nitrates that come from the fertilizers used in the agricultural fields and they cause salinization of the water sources. Fuel contamination also exists in dozens of locations. The total area contaminated by industrial materials and perchlorate is about 60 square kilometers.
Groundwater restoration is currently being carried out at 43 sites, of which 36 sites are contaminated with fuels and 7 more with industrial contamination.
Clean water in 2044?
In the coming year, tenders are expected to be published for the rehabilitation of the main pollution centers such as the IAS complex in Ramat Hasharon. The Water Authority estimates that in two years they will start building the full facility that will allow the start of the rehabilitation operation. The restoration process is expected to continue for no less than 25 years, but will we be able to drink from the wells in Ramat Hasharon in 2044? Not at all safe. According to Dr. Sharon Sagi Ben Moshe, director of the field of restoration of contaminated water sources at the Water Authority, the restoration target is determined according to the level of risk that the water poses to man and the environment, and the target concentrations are determined accordingly. Thus, for example, if it is decided that pumping from the wells in Ramat Hasharon will not be possible in the future as well, then the target maximum allowed concentration of the pollutants will be higher than if it is decided to pour them into the stream or use them for agricultural irrigation. Therefore, the rule does not require that the concentrations that will be reached in the future will allow the use of water as drinking water. According to her, "In an ideal world we would like to restore all the contaminated sites to the highest level, but in our world, the restoration is based on the risk posed by the pollution." That is, the huge cost of groundwater pollution remediation, especially when it comes to simplified and complex pollution, is the limiting factor. In the case of the Ramat Hasharon Industrial Complex, "real estate development of the complexes is the trigger for finding financing for the rehabilitation process", emphasizes Sagi Ben Moshe.
laundromat the white swan Known in the United States, but not necessarily because of the bright whiteness of the washed clothes that came out of her. The laundry's 30 years of activity resulted in the contamination of groundwater in an area of 3 square kilometers with TCE and PCE (trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene) pollutants, which belong to the group of volatile industrial organic solvent pollutants. The organic solvents are introduced in the washing process and they help in the process of cleaning the clothes and removing the stains. Often, they are even recycled after the squeezing process.
Pollution of the groundwater is mainly caused by leaks from the pipes or after the intentional discharge of the wastewater into the ground through drainage ponds - as was common in the past. The restoration of the site environment where the laundry operated was estimated at almost 20 million dollars and the location of the laundry close to a residential area required the installation of ventilation systems in dozens of buildings where measurable concentrations of the pollutants in the room air were found.
Similar to the White Swan Laundromat, groundwater contamination has been identified in no fewer than 4,000 dry cleaners in the United States, leading to the formation of a national plan to rehabilitate laundromat sites.
Hundreds of laundries used a variety of organic solvents defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as human carcinogens. Research carried out for the Water Authority By the "Ecolog Engineering" company, 440 laundries were tested in 16 major cities in Israel. The study found five sites with values that exceed the standard for the concentration of pollutants in the soil gases and two sites with deviations in the concentrations of pollutants in the groundwater.
While in the USA dry cleaning laundries are a very significant cause of ground water pollution, in Israel it seems to be a less serious problem. "We found contamination in several laundries, but not on a large scale," stressed Guy Reshef, senior head of the Water Quality Division at the Water Authority. One of the explanations for this is that laundries in Israel are usually small, so even if an infection does occur, it is usually local and small.
protect the water sources
Although the laundries did not cause significant pollution of the groundwater in Israel, as we have already seen, heavy industries can cause extensive pollution of the groundwater. In most of the water production wells in Gush Dan (78 percent according to the Water Authority) Industrial pollutants were found (Mostly these are organic solvents of the TCE and PCE types, and substances that were used to produce explosives). The widespread pollution resulted in 7 percent of all water in the coastal aquifer containing industrial pollutants.