by Nick Kolyohin
JERUSALEM, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- Israel is expected by 2022-2023 to be probably the first country in the world to depend fully on desalination plants to meet its population drinking water need.
Nowadays Israel is already producing around 600 million cubic meters of desalinated water equal to about 70-80 percent of the country's tap drinking water demand.
Israel is a leading country in using desalinated water, started in 2005 with a capacity of 20 million cubic meters, and since then, the amount increases every year.
Israel is practicing cutting-edge technology to produce high-quality drinking water out of the endless Mediterranean seawater, using a process called reverse osmosis.
Jacky Ben Yaish, the VP Engineering of Israeli water desalination company IDE Technologies, told Xinhua that "our technology enables us to desalinate the seawater at a low cost with low energy consumption but still to make very pure drinking water."
IDE Technologies desalinate 70 percent of Israeli consumption of artificial water and considers itself a leader in Israeli and worldwide desalination and water treatment market.
In Israel, IDE built three desalination plants and one of them is the biggest in the world. IDE as well exports their technology across the globe.
"We have desalination plants in China, the United States, Australia and much more countries. We will also desalinate sewage around the world in a high scale as climate change worsens," Ben Yaish said.
Although Israel has the technology, it is still not clear whether it will desalinate as well its sewage to pure drinkable water in the future. Nowadays Israel reuses all of its effluents primarily for agricultural irrigation.
Moshe Garazi, director of a regulation division at Israeli Water Authority said "it is a more sustainable and water saving solution to treat the water we already used anyway, and it is flowing in our sewage pipes."
Israel is the leading country in the world using 86 percent of its effluents, followed by Spain with only 17 percent, according to Israeli Water Authority.
Garazi said desalination of sewage has not started yet. "It will be challenging to convince the public to drink water from the sewage pipes."
Some water experts in Israel said as the population grows in the future, the arid country will have no choice but to desalinate the sewage as well.
Israel is located in one of the driest places in the world, where drinking water is in great shortage, and yet it succeeded in the last decade to overcome this obstacle by securing enough tap water for its population.
It took Israel almost 70 years since its establishment to be confident in having enough drinking water. It tried several ways to ensure a constant supply of water.
Over the years, Israel developed sophisticated irrigation techniques that saved a lot of water. It also convinced the population with media campaigns to use less water for private consumption.
However, it is the desalination solution that made it possible for the hot Mediterranean country to become rich in water.
Israel started to desalinate water in a small scale in the 1960s in the southern part of the country where the national tap water pipes did not reach.
Just in the last two decades, five massive desalination plants built throughout the country's Mediterranean coastline made the real change.
Meanwhile, the environmentalists are concerned with the pollution from the plants, as it is planned that in the next four to five years, another two big desalination factories will be built in Israel, with more expected in the future.
High energy consumption of the desalination factories causes air pollution. The process of desalination also produces side product of saline effluent discharged back to the sea.
Moreover, experts believe that there will be long-term health impact of artificial water stripped of all natural minerals.
Avner Adin, former chairman of Israeli Drinking Water Quality Committee, said in an interview with Xinhua that he realized the importance of evaluating the health impact of the desalinated water.
"We was the first in the world to establish criteria for safe desalinated water quality for drinking and to prevent pipe corrosion, and today all the desalination plants must comply with this regulation," Adin said.
One of the conclusions of the committee was that four essential minerals are lacking in the desalinated water, which are magnesium, iodine, fluorine, and calcium.
Today, only calcium is added back to the water in the process, while fluorine is not added because of financial reasons, and it is still controversial about the necessity of iodine and magnesium.
Lack of magnesium in the tap water is raising the highest concern among the public, and Israeli Ministry of Health is mulling over a pilot test of the possibility regarding artificial enrichment of magnesium in the desalinated water.
Yona Amitai, a professor at Bar Ilan University, also an expert in toxicology and public health, expressed deep concern about drinking desalinated seawater without magnesium.
"Magnesium is essential to people's health. It is responsible for more than 300 metabolic processes in our body, 20 percent of the magnesium intake should be consumed from the water and 80 percent from the food," said Amitai.
The professor said his research showed that the lack of certain minerals in the drinking water could raise the risk of heart attack, reporting an increase of heart diseases in places where people drink desalinated seawater.
The desalinated water lacking in minerals is partly used also in the Israeli agricultural irrigation, and it makes the magnesium shortage even greater, Amitai said.