Powered by WebAds

Friday, March 21, 2008

Is Israel's water crisis coming to a head?

Nearly a year ago, I blogged a YNet article in which the bottom line was that Israel's water resources are insufficient even if we don't give an inch of land to the 'Palestinians' or the Syrians. And if we do give land to the 'Palestinians' or the Syrians, it will only be worse.
This means that even without yielding a single liter of water to any Arab entity, Israel still requires the construction of an additional three to five similar plants – the biggest in the world – to achieve "sustainable management" of the existing hydro-resources i.e. to prevent their over-exploitation and accelerated salting and pollution due to excess extraction.

This is clearly not the appropriate framework for a detailed professional analysis of Israeli hydrology, so it will suffice to draw attention to two hydrological facts that are not in contention: (a) Whatever the de jure provisions of any future peace treaty may be, evacuation (even a partial one) of Judea, Samaria and the Golan, will transfer the de facto control over about one billion(!) cubic meters of water to Arab hands; (b) Whoever controls these areas can create – whether through purposeful malice or unintended incompetence - a situation whereby these quantities of water will be denied to the Israeli consumer.
With warm temperatures hitting this weekend (temperatures are expected to hit 29 degrees Celsius today and 31 tomorrow), the winter rains are likely finished for the season. Unfortunately, we did not have enough rain this winter, and if the water levels run too low, the aquifers that supply our water may be irreversibly polluted. The existing desalination facilities are insufficient. We have a major problem that could potentially hit full force as soon as this summer.
"We will definitely fall below the bottom red lines in all three main water sources this year," Water Authority spokesman Uri Shor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday after the Authority revealed that Israel is facing its most severe water crisis in the past decade.

Israel's three main natural water sources are Lake Kinneret [Sea of Galilee. CiJ], the mountain aquifer and the coastal aquifer. There are also two desalination plants currently at full production; three more are being built, but even the first of these won't be completed until the end of 2009.

The risk of pollution is acute at the two aquifers, Shor said, where "falling below the red lines means there is a significant chance the water will become polluted. In the aquifers, that means saltwater mixing with the fresh water."

"By the end of the summer, [the water level may be so low that] we may not be able to pump water out of Lake Kinneret at all," he continued. Until the next desalination plant begins working, "we are at the mercy of the heavens."
Before we go further, I want to point out that the 'mountain aquifer' is largely in Samaria and that the sources for Lake Kinneret are in the Golan Heights and even further north in Lebanon and Syria where the local governments have attempted to divert the water sources away from us. Giving land to the Syrians and the 'Palestinians' has serious implications for our water supply. That's why various Israeli governments started - too late - to build desalination plants. Additionally, parts of the mountain aquifer are already severely polluted due to over-pumping that has taken place since the 'Palestinian Authority' gained control of much of Judea and Samaria in 1994.

The remainder of the article deals with water conservation, most of which is directed at individuals. Individuals are not the largest water users, and while it would help the situation if individuals used 10-20% less water that's probably a proverbial drop in the bucket (For example, the article cited above talks about cutting shower time from ten minutes to five. In our house, we turn the water off except while getting wet and rinsing, and most of our shower times are already closer to five minutes than to ten). The bigger question is saving water in agriculture and it's one that is so politically charged that no government has dared to touch it until now.

The problem has two aspects. First, Israel has always feared that it would be cut off from the rest of the world and therefore it raises crops that are water intensive that could be imported from elsewhere. One example of this is cotton. There is a large cotton field along Highway 1 (which as it happens is not being planted this year due to the Sabbatical year). Cotton is an extremely water-intensive crop that we would do much better by importing. Yet the government refuses to allow more produce imports into the country. In a year in which many people who observe the (Shmitta) Sabbatical year are seeking to restrict their diets to non-Israeli grown vegetables (or at least to non-Jewish grown vegetables from Israel), the government has sought to restrict the import of vegetables every step of the way.

The larger problem is that farming communities - Kibbutzim and Moshavim - played a significant role in building up the country. Because of that, agriculture here is something of a sacred cow which continues to be favored politically to this day. It will take a determined government (especially the finance ministry) to make any cuts in the benefits that farming receives here without significant economic costs in terms of 'compensation.'

Given that Israel's economy is far more dependent on high tech than it is on agriculture, what we really need is a re-evaluation of the country's farming policies that reflects today's realities rather than those of the 1940's. But don't hold your breath waiting for this government to do it.


At 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure the money put into Road 6 and Jerusalem's light rail, to name 2 of so many such projects, was more important.


Post a Comment

<< Home