It’s not every day that an environmental reporter buys a six-pack of bottled mineral water to take a shower.
The municipality of Rehovot had warned its inhabitants about a week in advance that citywide water outages would occur between 10 p.m. Saturday night and 6 a.m. Sunday morning. Disgruntled but deferential, residents dutifully filled up old bottles with water in preparation, as a municipal vehicle armed with a loudspeaker made rounds throughout the city just before the clock struck 10.
The Rehovot municipality, through its newly independent water corporation Habeer Hashlishit and the Netivei Ayalon company, announced that it would be shutting off the water during these hours in order to duplicate the city’s principal water pipeline and connect it to the Mekorot national water company’s main line. The news was delivered to individual residential mailboxes in the form of a shiny, colorful flier.
With a population of about 138,000, Rehovot is located about 30 km. south of Tel Aviv, and is home to both the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Hebrew University’s agricultural campus, as well as an expansive hi-tech district and the Kaplan Medical Center.
Calculating the fairly minimal number of diaper changes, toilet flushes and resultant hand washes that would occur during the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. window, my husband and I had filled up three 1.5-liter bottles that were waiting to be recycled, as well as the Brita in the fridge, and figured we’d be fine.
But as 7:30 a.m. rolled around and the faucets were still barren, the municipality updated its Facebook page saying that “two water line connections were completed with success.” Yet work was continuing on a third line, with “water expected to return gradually between 8 and 9 a.m.”
While not ideal, an hour or two delay in Israeli infrastructure projects is far from surprising, so I headed to the gym for my morning workout regardless. Diaper changes, teeth brushing and other general sanitation necessities had left us with only about one pre-filled water bottle, but I was fairly confident that I would be able to shower by the time I got home.
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Unfortunately, my instinct was wrong. Despite another Facebook update from the municipality telling residents at about 9 a.m. that all work had concluded and that water flow would soon resume, household supplies were still nonexistent for the next couple of hours.
With no choice but to shower if I wanted to breastfeed our son, I ultimately decided to buy the six-pack, and ended up using half of the bottles to clean myself.
While my part of Rehovot was lucky enough to receive running water once again at about 11 a.m. – only five hours late – other areas remained dry far later into the day.
Hundreds of irate commenters took to Facebook, complaining about Rehovot’s relatively high arnona (property tax) bills, accusing the city of “smelling like a public bathroom” and even blaming the municipality for a newfound inability to use the toilet.
Tali Dayan Shor, who was home with her two daughters in the southern neighborhood of Rehovot Hahadasha, still had no water by early afternoon. Shor told The Jerusalem Post
that she called the city for an update on the situation, only to learn that the pump to her building had been dismantled as a result of the flow resumption – a problem that the municipality blamed on her building, she said. Because the city would not take responsibility, the issue would only be able to be solved once the building supervisor arrived home, Shor explained.
Since she was saving the family’s water reserve for food and emergencies, washing hands and laundry was next to impossible, she related.
“I saved water for food, to wash bottles,” Shor said. “They said [the outage] would be until a specific hour, to 6 a.m.; then they said 9 a.m.; then at 9 a.m., they said 10 a.m.”
At the other side of Rehovot, Florence Broder Tuizer, who lives in Rehovot’s northwestern Hahollandit neighborhood and works in hi-tech, called the situation “totally ridiculous.”
“I had to brush my teeth with a bottle of water and couldn’t even wash my face properly,” she said. “I had to wait until I got work. Once again, paying high arnona for another Rehovot failure.”
Describing her neighborhood as “basically neglected by the municipality,” Tuizer slammed the city’s urban planning programs. In particular, she said that the city has neither opened an interchange in her area as promised, nor repaired an alternative road that is dotted with dangerous speed bumps and lacks shoulders.
Mirit Kanevsky Hemo, a 28-year-old quality assurance engineer and student, has essentially been living in Rehovot her entire life. Like Tuizer, she considered Sunday’s event just one in a long list of problems that the city faces.
“What happened today is just another thing that they were supposed to do and it wasn’t done suitably,” Hemo told the Post
, stressing how high arnona bills are in Rehovot. “They build new neighborhoods, but the infrastructure is not good enough.”
Hemo criticized the city for failing to answer its emergency operating service that morning, stressing that with this issue and with others – such as garbage in the streets and parking problems – residents simply “have no one to turn to.”
“To disconnect people for more than 12 hours [from water] is simply irresponsible,” she said.
“You need to go to the bathroom or take a shower – it’s a basic thing, we are paying for it,” Hemo continued, noting that she brushed her teeth with bottled water.
“It’s summer vacation and there are so many people with kids at home,” she added. “The timing was just absurd a time when so many people are at home.”
In response to the situation, a midday statement from the city explained that the works to upgrade the system and connect the city’s main line to Mekorot had occurred overnight and during the morning.
“The work was successfully completely and now the water supply is being renewed to residents,” the statement continued.
While apologizing for any inconvenience, the city emphasized its efforts over the past week to keep residents updated through fliers, social media and municipal patrol cars.
“At around 9 a.m., the valves were opened and the water supply was resumed,” the statement said. “Water flow to home faucets will be gradual, and with the refilling of the reservoirs, you will be able enjoy an uninterrupted and proper water supply.”
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