Israel will boost desalination to fight a five-year drought

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Five years into a drought that has left its natural water sources at their lowest in a century, Israel plans to build two new desalination plants and expand its pipelines to ease stress on farmers and the environment.

The lack of rainfall has overtaxed Israel’s desalination and waste-water treatment plants, choking its most fertile regions in the north of the country and bringing calls for government action.

“The shortage of natural water is the worst that has been measured in about 100 years and is bringing water sources in the north to an unprecedented low point,” Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday.

The water ministry announced a plan to build two more desalination plants to reinforce the five built along the Mediterranean coast over the past 13 years. It did not include their price, but similar facilities in Israel have cost about $400 million.

It will also expand the country’s water grid, cut back on pumping from natural springs to rehabilitate rivers that have dried up, and possibly even pump large amounts of water into the ailing Sea of Galilee, technically a lake near the border with Syria that is Israel’s main freshwater source.

In the Middle East, one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change, water is also the subject of wider tensions. Intense pressure on already scarce water resources could lead to an increase in migration and the risk of conflict, the World Bank has warned.

Steinitz said he will bring the plan to the government for approval in the coming weeks.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, editing by Larry King