The 700 Club with Pat Robertson

700 Club Special

Made in Israel: Water

By Gordon Robertson & Erin Zimmerman
The 700 Club

More than half of this country’s land is desert, and we have a severe water shortage,” states Naty Barak, CEO of Netafim.  “Moses led us to Israel, a country that has no oil, no water, not too good soil, and we had to make the best out of it.”

Thousands of years ago, Moses had to strike a rock to get water in the desert.
Today, Israelis are taking a slightly different approach, using both creativity and technology.

The Sea of Galilee

In Israel, the main sources of drinking water are the Sea of Galilee and two underground aquifers. If rainfall is short so is the nation’s water supply. In 1953, Israel started building the national water carrier, a system of pipelines, canals and reservoirs that carry water from the Sea of Galilee to the rest of Israel.

So, we didn’t have water?” opines Jonathan Medved, one of Israel’s leading high-tech venture capitalists. “We develop water technology. One of the things that Israel has excelled in is taking what some people would see as risk factors or as curses and turning them into blessings. From the time of Balaam, the Jewish people have somehow always been able to turn the curse into a blessing.”

The pipelines were a good start but Israel’s fresh water supply wasn’t enough to support a growing country. So Israelis started looking west to the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean Sea

For thousands of years, the Mediterranean Sea was the center of the ancient world, the crossroads between Europe, Asia and Africa. Now, it’s one of Israel’s greatest natural resources.

Israel is desalinating so much of its drinking water that the majority of our drinking water’s origin will be the Mediterranean Sea by the end of next year,” says Medved.

Today, Israel produces 450 million cubic meters of drinkable water a day. Through a process called “sea water reverse osmosis,” water can go from the ocean to the faucet in less than 90 minutes. The Israeli technology is now used in more than 400 plants in 40 countries around the world. And thanks to the Mediterranean, Israel may soon have something that was once unthinkable: a water surplus.

“In this country, we don’t have much water except that somehow by the end of this decade, Israel is going to become a net water exporter,” Medved points out.
 “On today’s news there was an item about Israel stepping up its export of water to Jordan, in order to supply water for the Syrian refugees who are fleeing into Jordan.”

While Israel produces drinking water from the sea, many farmers are getting water for their crops, literally, out of thin air.

God’s Dew

Ancient Israelites used stones to collect the dew every morning. Now an Israeli company is using plastic trays to do the same. The trays were developed by Tal-Ya Technologies which means “God’s dew” in Hebrew. These trays channel the dew straight into the roots of the plants. They also prevent weeds from growing between the plants and reduce water usage by up to 50 percent.

Israeli farmers have always made good use of their water but it wasn’t long before they realized that in order to survive, they also needed to start reusing it.

Recycling Water

“Today, Israel recycles 80 percent of its wastewater,” Medved explains. “The closest competitor is Spain, with 10 percent. “We recycle eight times more water than any other country on the planet.”

Israelis have developed a highly efficient way to purify waste water using ultraviolet light and specially bred bacteria to break down waste. This treated water is then used to irrigate crops.

If you use it for vegetables, then you like to clean it to the extent that you can almost drink it,” says Barak.  “If you drink it once or twice, nothing will happen to you, so it is treated to a very high degree.

Today, 60 percent of the water irrigating fields in Israel is produced water and not natural water. It is either brackish water or recycled, treated waste water. I’ll give you an example of our farm, here on the kibbutz. We grow jojoba and we use only sewage water, treated waste water, to irrigate our jojoba. This is done all over Israel.


Israel may be short on fresh water but the country’s Negev Desert is sitting on a virtual underground ocean: too salty to drink and too brackish to desalinate. So Israeli settlers found a new way to use it.

“You cannot really fight nature; the nature will fight you back,” quips Yoav Dagan, the CEO of Aqua Maof. “We found over the years that it is better to cooperate and to coordinate with what you’ve got,”
Dagan is one of a growing number of Israelis who have left the ocean to go fishing in the desert. They build ponds filled with the warm, salty water from underground which is ideal for raising saltwater fish like tilapia, sea bass and barramundi.

The place here is working without chemicals, without anything, it’s very healthy,” says Dagan. “It’s friendly for the environment, and it’s very good for us in the matter of the pocket – we are making good money and this is the bottom line.”

At this kibbutz in the Negev Desert, even the fish waste is put to use. Every week, the water in these tanks is replaced and pumped underground to irrigate the nearby olive grove. The fish waste in the water makes an ideal natural fertilizer.

Dagan points to an area on his farm and says, As you can see on the other side, the olives are growing around the farms, around the fish, and are doing well without edit any other chemicals, only by the nutrients of the fish.”

Israel has taken this idea to other countries struggling with water and food shortages.

We’ve been growing fish around the world in the last 20 years,” states Dagan.

We’re taking African villages and teaching them how to build fish farms,” says Medved. “If you look around Lake Victoria, the Nile perch were dying, and Israelis are going in to teach the farmers how to grow them in ponds, so they can actually continue to eat the Nile perch.”

Drip Irrigation

Over the years, Israelis also found new ways to use less water. And as always, they started in the desert.

“There’s a story of the Arava Desert,” Barak shares.  “Sometimes just 20 millimeters of rain annually falls in a very harsh climate. And still, thanks to drip irrigation, this became the vegetable barn of Israel. Sixty-five percent of vegetable exports out of Israel, mainly to Europe, is coming from the Arava.”

Today, even the driest parts of the desert are blooming, with help from a process called drip irrigation. The idea is older than the State of Israel itself.

“When the first settlers came here, young people came from the city, and they wanted to be farmers,” Barak says. “They came to kibbutz Hatzerim, and they faced many challenges: arid land, high salinity, and not enough water. There was even a time when they considered moving to another place, abandoning the place. But then, David Ben-Gurion came, who was a leader with a real vision. He said, ‘Guys, if you want to move, it’s ok – but further south not back to the north. We stayed, and we did some experiments, but still, we were struggling. Then we met the guy who invented drip irrigation.

That “guy” was an engineer named Simcha Blass. He got the idea for drip irrigation after seeing a tree that was larger than the others around it. After digging around the roots, he found it was being watered by a leak in an underground pipe.

So this gave him the idea,” recounts Barak. “But it took him some years, actually until plastic was introduced to start and make experiments with drippers that will emit water in small drops.  This is basically drip irrigation.

Blass met the farmers of kibbutz Hatzerim and together, they started a company called Netafim which means “drops of water” in Hebrew. Soon, they boosted their crop yield by 50 percent and used 40 percent less water to do it.

Drip irrigation saves a lot of water,” Barak explains. “You are producing more, getting more, yet not harming the environment.”

For almost half a century, the company has lived up to its slogan: “grow more with less.” Not just in Israel but in 110 countries around the world -- from sugar cane fields in the Philippines to tea plantations in Tanzania.

You know, India is now our #1 country,” Barak shares. “The results, looking at the yield increase, were amazing. Fifty percent of the farmers got an increase in yield between 25 and 50 percent. Another 25 percent of the farmers got an increase of up to 75 percent.”

Netafim even designed a system that works solely on gravity for places like Peru where remote mountain farmers don’t have electricity.

“The plant doesn’t know the difference,” Barak exclaims. The plant doesn’t know that you don’t have a $20,000 dollar computer behind the dripper. It works beautifully.

You know, every one is talking about water scarcity. Seventy percent of the water that we have available in the world is used for agriculture. If we saved only 15 percent in agriculture, we can more than double the available water for drinking and sanitation. In Hebrew we have a word which is called tikkun olam, which is fixing the world. This is basically what drip irrigation does. This is my personal goal and challenge.”

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