Sunday, April 5, 2009

Water-wise Israel

Our March Israel visit helped focus our attention on water. We sailed on the Sea of Galilee. We swam in the Dead Sea. But we also became aware of how creatively Israel is managing its scarce water supply to sustain its status as an agricultural giant, even as a country sixty percent arid or semi-arid.

Water rights and water availability dominated many events in the lives of the biblical Hebrew patriarchs. Famines were generally caused by droughts. Abraham experienced a famine shortly after obeying God’s directive to “go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:10 NIV). For relief he journeyed to Egypt for a while. A generation later, (Genesis 26) his son Isaac also went south to the land of the Philistine King Abimelech for the same reason. Even after the famine was over and Isaac had become very wealthy, there were still struggles between Isaac’s servants and the herdsmen of Gerar over vital water wells.

Israel’s current water use practices have made the country virtually self-sustaining in food production. Moreover, it exports a large quantity of its agricultural products. Israel was the originator of water-saving drip irrigation systems decades ago. This technology is over 70% efficient, compared with only 40% efficiency for open irrigation spray systems. Recently they have created ultra-low flow computerized irrigation to deliver water directly to plant root zones with practically no loss of water. The country’s agriculture now produces twelve times the 1948 level when it returned to the status of nationhood for the first time in almost 2000 years.

The water recycling rate is 75%, six times larger than any other country. In spite of a growing population, water use is not increasing. There are 270 water technology companies in Israel. The world looks to this tiny nation for guidance in the area of water usage.

As we traveled the countryside we observed thousands of crop acres covered with plastic, netting, or glass. Conventional covered crops raised in soil have extended growing seasons, lowered ultra-violet ray damage, reduced pest damage, and higher quality. Even more advanced applications are known as CEA (Controlled Environment Agriculture). This includes hydroponics--raising vegetables in nutrient-rich water without soil. This method saves water, uses renewable energy, reduces pollution, and increases yields by 10 to 20 times.

Scripture tells us that Israel will “bud and blossom and fill all the world with fruit” (Isaiah 27:6), and “The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy” (Isaiah 35:1-2). Perhaps these are prophetic references to a millennial restoration. If so, the current “blossoming” is merely a preliminary warm-up.