TORONTO — Hydrology is an area that has the scientific community’s attention, specifically regarding methods of water treatment, Brian Berkowitz says.
Even with the $400 billion that have been invested in water treatments, there are two questions we still need to ask ourselves, he said: first, do we know how to protect ourselves, and second, do we know what to look for?
A professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, Berkowitz said that since the hydrological cycle is a closed system – meaning there is no beginning or end to it – we are never in danger of completely running out of water, as there are always places where it can be accessed, besides obvious ones like lakes and rivers.
“The vast majority of the world’s water is underground, stored in the pores and cracks of rocks,” he said.
The key problem is water quality, he said. There are thousands of potentially hazardous contaminants that end up in our water supply as waste by-products, including industrial substances, agrochemicals, domestic products, heavy metals and biological elements. These products often don’t get broken down, making them difficult to manage, he said at a lecture on “Water, Energy and the Environment: Science and Sustainability,” sponsored by Weizmann Science Canada and the Israel Chamber of Commerce.
In the presentation at the Park Hyatt Hotel last month, Berkowitz referred to the give and take nature of the various water treatment methods used as a “zero-sum game… [that is] sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose,” he said.
In speaking of water and the environment with respect to water flow and precipitation, he illustrated in his presentation that Israel tries to incorporate a prevention and mediation technique that involves predicting contaminant transport patterns through lab analysis of water movement.
Several desalination methods have been tried with varying degrees of success. Hadera, a city in southern Israel, is home to the world’s largest desalination plant, built in 2005. Berkowitz said desalination, which involves the removal of salt and harmful minerals from water, is the best method of water treatment available today.
One desalination technique used is in-situ/ex-situ pump treatment, involving the excavation of water from wells for purification. This gets rid of chlorine molecules in the water so that the contaminants can degrade at a faster rate.
Other methods include the oxidation of industrial effluents, which “is considered extremely cost efficient… and yields excellent results”; air injection, which “causes significant reduction of hydraulic conductivity and volumetric fluid flow”; and Poleris carbon sequestration, which “turns carbon dioxide into rock.”
In a news report illustrating Israel’s leadership in this area, shown prior to Berkowitz’s presentation, American news broadcaster Dan Rather spoke of the booming Israeli scientific community. Israel has more scientists and researchers per capita than any other country in the world, Rather said, and since its inception in 1934, the Weizmann Institute of Science has earned over two hundred patents and $100 million dollars for discoveries involving hi-tech security and medicine.
Despite the progress that has been made, Berkowitz said that Israel “has no choice but to build more desalination plants.”