"The Master Of Water Policy and Development In Israel"
By Shmuel Kantor
Levi Eshkol was the master of water policy and development in Israel ever since the immigration of Jews to Israel started. He was responsible for the formulation of the targets of water supply projects, the country-wide strategy and the formulation of administration and management.
Levi Eshkol founded the Mekorot Water Company in January, 1937.
In those years of suffering in Palestine there were battles between the Arab and Jewish populations.
Ever since 1933 widespread immigration from Europe towards Palestine had started and new settlements were established in all regions of the country, most of them agriculture based.
To enable the rapid development of the settlements, regular and safe water supply was a must. Water supply projects were of urgent need in all parts of the country.
The need for the foundation of a water planning, construction and operation company was obvious.
The need for a central water supply company was proposed by Levi Eshkol after he observed the failures of local undertakings who operated in several regions where the need existed.
The idea arose in Eshkol’s head when he was on his way back from the 19th Zionist Congress. The idea of forming a nation-wide company - Mekorot - was not well accepted by the British Mandatory Administration, but the big need for water did make it possible to form the company owned by the Federation of Labor and the Jewish Agency. Levi Eshkol was the first director of the company and Mr. Blass was it’s first chief engineer.
Serving as the Minister of Agriculture in the early fifties, Levi Eshkol approved the establishment of the Tahal company which ever since has borne the responsibility for planning and design of water supply projects throughout the country.
The experience gained by the company in Israel made it possible for it to widen the scope of its operations in other engineering activities in Israel and abroad.
Eshkol took part in the planning activities and became the chairman of various planning committees whose task was to check and approve the water supply and sewage disposal systems.
Levi Eshkol was active in guiding the Israeli water supply undertaking and strategy ever since the foundation of Mekorot, as its first director general and later on in the frame of his duties in the Jewish Agency, as Minister of Finance and as Prime Minister.
Levi Eshkol took part in all the basic discussions regarding the strategy of the Israeli system. This includes, among others, the following points of decision:
(1) Basic data about the total water resources of the country were not known accurately enough at the time the countrywide planning was started. A wide range of estimates was presented. The decision to start planning, based on the lower figures (say 2 billion cu.m. per annum) and allow for additional water to be incorporated into the distribution system later on (say up to 4 billion cu.m. per annum) was taken by Levi Eshkol as a guiding principle.
(2) It was proposed and approved by Levi Eshkol to develop the water supply system, step by step, starting with a regional water supply project carrying water mainly in the west - east direction, then combine the regional project into a multi-regional system by conveyors in the direction north - south (Yarkon - Negev projects), and finally by combining all systems into one flexible system, guided by the main carrier coming from the Lake of Tiberias and meeting the Yarkon - Negev system near Tel Aviv.
(3) The activity, after the establishment of the State of Israel, should take place in all parts of the country, at the same time, to enable intensive activity in the new settlements planned for all over the country.
(4) The construction of the water system should be carried out with the aim of getting the best and longest lasting system (Eshkol stated: "The best money can buy."). · In his various activities and responsibilities Levi Eshkol was active in the promotion of industries to back up the development of water projects.
Accordingly, a water meters factory was built in Kibbutz Dalia in the Efraim Moun tains, a steel pipe factory started operation in the neighborhood of Ramla and a pre-stressed concrete factory started supplying pipes to the major projects.
The pre-stressed concrete factory was opened in 1951 to manufacture 30" and 48" pipes and since 1952 supplied 66" pipes for the Yarkon - Negev project. Later on (1956) 108" pipes were supplied for the main carrier from the Lake of Tiberias to the northern Negev.
Being eager to take the necessary steps to improve irrigation practices and save water, Levi Eshkol assisted in the promotion of new irrigation methods.
Among those activities Levi Eshkol was interested in the new idea of drip irrigation.
In 1963 he gave the go-ahead to order and finance a drip irrigation system for an orchard in the northern Negev, as a pilot project.
The success of the project, which enabled the saving of some 60% of water and increased the yield of the field, spread out and ever since the use of drip irrigation became familiar in Israel and overseas.
The first project constructed by Mekorot Water Co., on the initiation of Levi Eshkol, was the diversion of water from the Kefar Chasidim area (north of Haifa) to the settlements in the Israel Valley.
Levi Eshkol approached Dr. Rupin, Maurice Exter and A. Granot from the Jewish Agency and the Jewish National Fund, as well as representatives of the settlements in the Jezreel Valley, to construct the first Mekorot project.
With the help of P. Sapir and S. Blass, the drilling of the wells started immediately and proved to be successful.
This was the first undertaking of a regional project to extract water from wherever I was available and to carry it to areas where it was needed. The regional approach was later a guideline for many projects in Israel in areas where local water was not available. It therefore became possible to decide on initiating new agricultural settlements without any constraint due to water unavailability.
The new slogan was that water is to be carried to farmers, rather than for the farmers to be taken to the available water source.
In October, 1938, the Kishon project started the supply of water pumped from 11 wells in the Kefar Chasidim area as far as the Nahalal village and others.
Later on the Kishon project served the needs of Haifa following its requirements and expansion. In the year 1942 Mekorot, headed by Levi Eshkol, announced the supply of .5 million cu.m. to Haifa and the agricultural settlements in the western Jezreel Valley.
In October, 1942, Mr. Eshkol and his deputy, P. Sapir, claimed that the Kishon project is to be widened by additional wells in the Nazareth foothills and the sand dunes from Acre south.
Observing the development and the good results of the Kishon project, representatives of settlements in other areas of the country appealed to Levi Eshkol, as the director of Mekorot, to undertake the planning and supply of water in their areas. Some of those applying to Levi Eshkol to be included in his activities were settlers in the Beisan Valley. This valley included different springs as their water source. Part of the springs yielded salty water and ruined the agricultural land.
The Beisan Valley is 100 - 250 meters below sea level, suffers from a bad drainage system has a very dry climate, therefore, its need to regulate the springs, enable the use of water - winter and summer, under a well planned project, was a must. Levi Eshkol diverted his energy and management ability to a propose the best possible solution for the settlers in the valley, with the ability of Mekorot Water Company to carry out a well planned drainage and water systems in the Beisen Valley. After the completion of the project more than a dozen new settlements were built and the whole area became a well managed, productive and flourishing valley, while using the salty spring water for fish ponds.
One of the pioneering activities guided by Eshkol was the water supply to the Negev. After the establishment of the first three watchtowers (Gvulot, Bet Eshel, Revivim) in 1943, the search for water sources for this wide desert area was started.
After many failures in the desert area, fresh water was found in the sandy areas at Nir-Am. At that stage Levi Eshkol announced the possibility of building 24 new settlements which would get their water supplies from the northern edge of the Negev. This was based on the fact that the land needed was b ought by the Jewish National fund.
After collecting all the money needed and preparing the preliminary planning, L. Eshkol directed the immediate establishment of 14 new settlements in October, 1946, which included a water tank, wooden huts, all sanitary needs and a wire fence.
Some 160 km of 6" pipes were laid to supply water from the Nir-Am well field (and others) to the settlements.
Water supply to Jerusalem was always a big undertaking. The British Mandatory government constructed an 18" pipe from the Yarkon spring to supply water to Jerusalem. This project was interrupted by the Arabs during the disturbances of 1948.
An alternative solution was urgently needed. It was L. Eshkol, together with others, and the management of Mekorot, who took an immediate decision to build a new pipeline, 20 km in length, from a well in the area of Rehovot to Jerusalem.
Eshkol did whatever was necessary to finance the project and demanded strongly to finish construction urgently, evaluating the strong political effect of the renewal of the water supply to Jerusalem, bypassing all obstacles.
The project was called "HASHILOAH OPERATION", named after the spring mentioned in the Bible as a source of water for the City of Jerusalem. The project restarted water supply in 1950.
Levi Eshkol was the driving force behind the idea of diverting the springs of the Yarkon river to the Negev, using 66" - 70" concrete pipes, as far south as the southern Negev. This is a multi-regional project to divert the local spring water, and underground water resources, to the south at a rate of some 200 million cu.m per annum. The main idea behind this project can be defined by the following:
- Construct a pipeline running in the direction from north to south and thus collect all local groundwater developed in the coastal and the foothill aquifers in order to supply the needs of the northern Negev.
- Use large diameter modern concrete pipes as a daring undertaking in future construction of water works throughout the country.
- Prove the possibility of drilling wells in the vicinity of the spring to pump the yearly quantity of the spring, during summer time only, and thus fit best the foreseen needs.
In his speech at the opening of the project, in June 1955, Levi Eshkol praised the daring and willingness to take a risk and, above all, the success of the project, hinting at his own large share in this undertaking.
In the early sixties it was agreed that the gap between supply and demand should be studied and steps be taken to avoid water shortages.
L. Eshkol was the promoter of the idea to start desalination activities. Being, at that time, Minister of Finance, he promoted the inclusion of desalination in the future Israeli fresh water resources.
In 1964, as Prime Minister, L. Eshkol agreed with the President of the U.S. (L. Johnson) to work together in the direction of erecting large scale desalination plants.
In 1966 the planning of a dual purpose - electric power - water desalination plant was ready for implementation. The plant was later constructed as a pilot plant.
In 1943 several outstanding water supply projects were presented to a group of leaders, including L. Eshkol, for consideration. These included the following:
(1) Diversion of the springs in the Northern Galilee, which feed the Jordan River, southwards. L. Eshkol was the one to enable the financing for the planning and publication of the proposal.
(2) In 1944 the Laudermilk project was also considered as a possibility. This project included the diversion of Mediterranean sea water, through the Jezreel Valley to the Jordan Valley, to produce energy. The energy was to be used for the supply of the Jordan and Yarmuk rivers water to irrigate all the eastern slopes from Afula down to the Beisan, Harod and other areas.
The proposals mentioned above were very carefully considered by L. Eshkol and, as a result of extensive discussions, a thorough study was undertaken by American water experts who checked what would be the most promising master plan for the country.
Only the bright way of thinking of L. Eshkol made it possible to start thinking about the Israeli master plan in the frame of "Tennessee Valley Project on the Jordan" and later on shaped as a master scheme of supply from the Lake of Tiberias to the Negev.
Eshkol's humor -
Eshkol and Giladi used to ride a wagon hitched by two mules, to bring water from the Jordan river, in the early days of Degania. When they got tired of that they consulted with Simcha Blass, an engineer and a member of Degania. Together they "invented" an idea - they brought a pump and a pipe. This is how "Mekorot" was founded…...