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A national-level LCA of a water supply system in a Mediterranean semi-arid climate—Israel as a case study

Abstract

Purpose

Our aim is to assess the environmental impacts associated with the provision of tap water in Israel and adjacent regions. The main objective of this paper is to present the life cycle assessment (LCA) of the Israeli water supply system in order to evaluate and understand the sources of the largest impacts in the system and derive conclusions related to countries and regions with similar climate using similar water production technologies.

Methods

We defined the functional unit of our study to be 1 m3 of potable water distributed to the point-of-use. Our scope includes sub-systems’ operation and infrastructure construction and decommissioning. An LCI dataset of tap water was generated, and an LCA that covers the value chain of the country’s complex water supply system was conducted. The Israeli water supply system includes water abstraction and production from groundwater, surface water, brackish water, and seawater; water treatment; desalination; a national transmission system, which runs throughout the country; and distribution to the final consumer. The study comprises data collection for all components of the Israeli water system, resulting in the first national-level LCA of tap water. The life cycle inventory data comprises energy and chemical consumption, materials for infrastructure, and materials’ transportation.

Results and discussion

The processes with the main impacts in most of the environmental categories are the reverse-osmosis desalination of seawater and the long and energy-intensive transmission and distribution system. However, by changing the electricity mix to a cleaner one, the impacts of the water supply system are reduced even more than by reducing the share of desalination. In two impact categories (terrestrial ecotoxicity and mineral resource scarcity), the infrastructure is the major contributor to the total impact. Leakage of water throughout the system also has considerable impacts. As expected, freshwater use decreases with the increase of desalination, which uses seawater rather than depleting freshwater.

Conclusions

This LCA represents a region with limited freshwater supply that is dependent on desalination. Israel and adjoining regions in Golan and the West Bank are similar to an increasing number of regions and can be used as a proxy for tap water production in LCAs of products from these regions. High consumption of electricity for desalination is an important cause of the large impact scores of the Israeli water supply system. The high scores are due to using only a small fraction of clean primary fuels in the electricity grid.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by The Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University.

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Correspondence to Noa Meron.

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Responsible editor: Stephan Pfister

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Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

Regional’s map, with its national water supply system in 2012; Statistics of Israel water sector; Summary of the main LCI datasets in the Israeli water supply system; Israel’s water balance for the years 2011, 2012, 2015; Detailed impact results: impact scores over the years, impact scores with different water mixes, contribution of infrastructure vs. operation, impact scores of the sub-systems (desalination, freshwater production, and transmission and distribution), electricity impact scores, and uncertainty analysis. (DOCX 1981 kb) (DOCX 1981 kb)

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Meron, N., Blass, V. & Thoma, G. A national-level LCA of a water supply system in a Mediterranean semi-arid climate—Israel as a case study. Int J Life Cycle Assess 25, 1133–1144 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01753-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11367-020-01753-5

Keywords

  • Life cycle assessment
  • Water supply
  • Water treatment
  • Water distribution
  • Desalination