'More water for nature, conservation for residents'

Coterie of environmental organizations crafts its own vision of how the water economy should look by 2030.

March 17, 2010 06:51
3 minute read.
irrigation water 248.88

irrigation water 248.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

A coterie of environmental organizations led by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) has crafted its own vision of how the water economy should look by 2030.

In a new report released for publication on Wednesday morning, the organizations call for more effective enforcement and a change in the allocation of water resources.

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The policy paper, written by Rami Erez and environmental economist Gadi Rosental, was commissioned by SPNI after its annual conference last year, which focused on water.

Touching on every aspect of the water economy, the policies advocated by the paper mark a significant shift from current government policy.

The paper precedes the National Investigation Committee – Regarding the Water Crisis in Israel’s final report, which will be released next Wednesday, though there is no connection between the two reports.

Water is allocated to four sectors in Israel: households, agriculture, industry and nature. Unsurprisingly, given its authors, the new report argues for a much larger allocation for nature. Instead of the 7 million cubic meters of water per year, 180 million cu.m. should be allowed to flow through the country’s streams and waterways to save dying ecosystems that rely on them, wrote Rosental and Erez.

Allocations for agriculture should stay roughly the same, but should should replace even more of the fresh water it uses with treated sewage water. To that end, sewage must be treated to the highest levels. Similarly, while releasing treated waste water into streams at times is permissible, it should be treated to the highest levels first in such cases.

Industry, which uses the smallest portion out of the four sectors – 115 million cu.m. per year – would stay the same in 20 years, according to the document’s projections.

However, in the household sector, the report argued, water per person could be kept to conservative levels even without a drought to motivate people. Instead of rising again to 107 cu.m. per person, as was the case before the past five years of drought, it should be kept to 83 cu.m. per person. Just doing that could save 330 million cu.m. of water every year – the volume of three desalination plants.

In an apparent turnaround, the report conceded the necessity for desalination plants while pointing out that they did not meet sustainability criteria because of the massive amounts of polluting electricity they used. Many environmental groups have been arguing that the desalination plants would be unnecessary if the government utilized all available water resources, including polluted wells and the like. Desalination should be kept to 650 million cu.m. a year and no more, the report argued.

That tallies with the product from actual current government tenders for desalination plants, although the government did approve 750 million cu.m. a year by 2020.

The coalition also urged the Water Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry to utilize all of the enforcement mechanisms at its disposal to prevent the contamination of water sources. It recommended creating a court for water and environmental matters, similar to the family court system.

The report also recommended importing water to help balance the critical status of natural water resources. However, it said, a pilot project should be launched first to work out the kinks.

Importing water would work well for Gaza, and Israel should facilitate that transaction, according to the paper. Regarding regional allocations, Palestinians should receive no less than 60 cu.m. per person, and low water prices should be arranged so all Palestinians could receive that minimum. Israel should also enable Palestinian water projects and sewage treatment.

Regarding water prices for Israelis, the authors argued for a differentiated price for different socioeconomic sectors of society. They also contended that gray water recycling – reusing water to flush toilets and to water gardens – be permitted and regulated. The Health Ministry has warned that without proper treatment systems and inspections, too many bacteria would get through and pose a health hazard. The ministry is currently in the midst of a pilot project to use gray water in mikvaot.

The makeup of the Water Council, which oversees the Water Authority, should be tweaked as well, according to the report. Instead of the director-general of the Water Authority heading the council, a public persona with no other official government job should become council chairman.

In addition, the council should include more representatives of the public so water policy can be transparent. The report cited a lack of public participation as one of the failures of the Water Authority’s policy. The National Investigation Committee – Regarding the Water Crisis in Israel first made that allegation in its interim report.

Aside from SPNI, the group of environmental organizations that sponsored the policy paper includes the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (which released a report on sewage treatment in Israel last week), Zalul, Friends of the Earth Middle East, Green Course and Shomera.

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