Israel goes "from Red Line to Black" as the water crisis worsens

It is not an exaggeration to say that the rate of water depletion from the Kinneret is alarming.

January 11, 2010 15:31
Israel goes "from Red Line to Black" as the water crisis worsens

Machanayim 224-88. (photo credit: )


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On 20th July the water level in the Kinneret reached the frightening level of 213.65 meters below sea level. Four days previously the level stood at -213.12 another 4.5 centimeters had been depleted from the Kinneret, whose shores have already receded by tens and even hundreds of meters since last winter due to the lack of rainfall in recent years and last winter's drought. It is not an exaggeration to say that the rate of water depletion from the Kinneret is alarming. At the present rate the water level in the Kinneret will reach -214.80 by December of this year. When it reaches this point - the level known as the "black line" - it will no longer be possible to pump water from the Kinneret, and the pumps of the national aquifer - the country's major lifeline - will no longer work. The Israeli public is accustomed to hearing about the water level in the Kinneret. Reports are broadcast frequently throughout the rainy season and even more during the dry summer days. These reports make use of terminology derived from the water authority who established the forbidden and permitted limits for pumping water from the Kinneret. "Red lines" - during ever-decreasing years of abundant rainfall - were set at the maximum level above which the Jordan River dam must be opened to allow water to flow freely into the Dead Sea. The lower red line is the line that marks the minimal water level permitting pumping in normal years. This summer the concept of the black line was coined - which constitutes the most dangerous position in light of the regime of water consumption in Israel. The average annual gap between available drinking water and actual consumption is presently 100 million cubic meters per year. Each winter of insufficient rainfall only increases the gap. Utilization of the natural sources is increasing and the sources themselves have suffered irreversible damages. Many wells on the coastal plain now contain salt water due to penetration of salinated ground water from the direction of the Mediterranean. Dozens of other wells are showing an increase in the percentage of chlorides in the water. In addition, the industry of water purification and filters for home use is growing and population growth continues. The findings have pointed to a crisis for years which has reached a peak today because of global changes in climate. Israel is still far behind in developing alternative water sources, mainly in the area of desalination. The most significant ray of hope in the area of the Israeli water economy is the increased recycling of purified sewage water for agricultural use. KKL-JNF has made significant impact in this area. Approximately 30% of the drinking water produced each year is consumed by home users while agriculture requires 64% of the available water. Methods of agricultural cultivation in Israel are constantly being modernized or becoming more innovative and Israel has become an international leader in developing water-saving technology in agriculture. During the past few decades, many agricultural branches have begun using purified waste water from urban sewage systems rather than drinking water. The data regarding the use of purified waste water for agriculture in Israel show that 45% of all water used in agriculture is purified water that reaches the fields through special supply systems throughout the country. This system includes a network of 200 water reservoirs established by KKL-JNF with the help of its friends worldwide. The water from these reservoirs is waste water from cities and communities throughout the country that was previously allowed to flow out to sea. Today these reservoirs provide purified water for irrigating orchards and crops from the Galilee to the Negev desert. Aside from the significant contribution to ecology, this water is also extremely valuable to Israel's decreasing water economy. Increasing population growth together with the rise in the standard of living has caused a continuous increase in the consumption of water in the urban sector. A significant part of this water is recycled for reuse at a much lower cost than the cost of drinking water or desalinated water. Utilizing this water saves the Israeli economy approximately 300 million shekels, which are contributed to the Israeli economy by KKL-JNF reservoirs. The overall volume of the 200 existing reservoirs permit more than 150 million cubic meters of water to be stored each year - an amount sufficient to irrigate more than 400,000 dunam of field crops and orchards. These reserves enable proper regulation of the agricultural system and offer a means of production for agriculture in the peripheries. Efi Stenzler, KKL-JNF World Chairman, is justifiably proud of these accomplishments and urges all factors who deal with recycling water to continue to make progress as rapidly as possible. "We have committed ourselves to utilize the vast experience in preserving and rehabilitating the water economy, that KKL-JNF has accumulated over the decades - not only through building additional reservoirs for agriculture but also for developing projects for draining land and preventing excess salination of land designated for agriculture." According to Gershon Avni, KKL-JNF Land Development Authority director, it will be another ten years of developing water reservoirs before KKL-JNF can keep up with the entire expanse of purified water required for agriculture. "KKL-JNF supports eight agricultural research stations in the periphery. These stations are developing methods for treating soil and proper irrigation methods. Israeli agriculture requires abut 500 million cubic meters of water each year. We therefore need another ten years of establishing reservoirs for storing recycled water." To date there are another eight reservoirs countrywide, waiting for further funds, in various stages of construction or operation in various areas of agriculture. The Israeli Land Authority recently allotted plots for six additional reservoirs, which go into planning and building stages with KKL-JNF resources. The Nahal Og reservoir located in the plains of Jericho is part of a chain of reservoirs that have been rightfully described as "the lowest reservoirs on Earth." It was established before the sources of funding were obtained in order to irrigate agricultural areas in the northern Dead Sea using purified waste water. The water in the reservoir comes from Ma'aleh Adumim in east Jerusalem, Anatot, and the Mishor Adumim Industrial area. The Naama reservoir, presently being constructed to the north, with a capacity of 700,000 cubic meters, will absorb some of the water piped to the Og reservoir, which has a capacity of "only" 1.5 million cubic meters. The Naama reservoir water will be used to irrigate the lush date orchards in the central and south Jordan valley communities and both reservoirs will be added to three existing ones established below sea level in the northern and central Arava. The Arava reservoirs utilize only floodwaters from the mountains of the Negev that reach them intermittently or - like last winter - not at all. The Tel Yitzhak reservoir, established the Sharon in central Israel has a capacity of 1.5 million cubic meters of waste water that will be treated at a large purification facility nearby. The waste water comes from factories and communities in the Hof Hasharon Regional Council and the Drom Hasharon Regional Council and will go towards irrigating fields and orchards of the surrounding communities. A reservoir that absorbs purified waste water from Hazor Haglilit, Rosh Pina and some of the neighborhoods in Safed has been built near Rosh Pina whose water is purified and then diverted for irrigating the fruit orchards in the area of Rosh Pina. This reservoir had been added to the Mahanayim reservoir nearby creating a total capacity of 800,000 cubic meters and making an important contribution towards preventing pollution of the Kinneret since they contain purified sewage water, much of which would previously have reached the rivers that drain into the Kinneret. On the cliffs of Ramat HaGolan, above the Jordan Valley is the Tzur reservoir, with a capacity of 450,000 cubic meters of purified waste water from Katzrin and military bases in the Golan Heights. It serves as a source of irrigation water for fruit orchards in the southeast area of the Kinneret that are irrigated by dripper or low volume sprinklers that do not wet the branches or the fruits themselves. The most significant reservoir in the entire project is undoubtedly the Sarona Reservoir in the lower Galilee, which is the 200th reservoir in the unfinished list of KKL-JNF reservoirs and joins a series of others in the lower Galilee. This reservoir will be one of the largest in the country and will have a total capacity of 3.2 million cubic meters of purified waste water from Nazareth Elite, Tiberias, Kfar Tavor and other local communities. Approximately seven million cubic meters of water will pass through the reservoir to be used for irrigating orchards in the Yavne'el valley, Ramat Sirin, and lower Galilee. This area does not receive a lot of rainfall and in recent years the shortage of water for agriculture has actually prevented intensive agriculture in the area. The last of these in the reservoir series is the Alonim reservoir, which absorbs purified waste water from the expanding Jewish and Arab communities in the lower Galilee and diverts the water back to agriculture in those communities. If we add to the list the reservoirs that are about to be built in the eastern part of Lachish for the agricultural settlements of the Gush Katif evacuees, we see that KKL-JNF has preceded the Israeli government in forecasting the future needs of Israel and its farmers, all of whom are residents of the periphery. KKL-JNF has been freeing valuable drinking water for Israel's increasing population by supplying high-quality purified waste water for agriculture. This, however, is not sufficient, and the State of Israel now finds itself leaving the "red lines" of the Kinneret behind and proceeding to the "black line" - below which the entire country can expect irreversible damage. A nation-wide advertising campaign calling citizens to save water entitled "From Red to Black" has already been launched, and many families are adopting various methods for saving water in their homes due to both increasing prices and awareness that water is liable to be used up when the sources dry up. Public awareness has been expressed in the number of approaches that have been made to the media by people who have observed instances of water being wasted by local authorities and institutions by watering gardens in the street or in institutions. Complaints about irrigating gardens during the day have become a routine. A government emergency plan calls for the establishment of desalination facilities over the length of the Mediterranean seafront. The changes in weather in the Eastern Mediterranean and in Israel have made this task one of prime importance. It is clear that the huge investment of resources and effort made by KKL-JNF in establishing the purified water reservoirs has been of equal importance. Every cubic meter of water in these reservoirs means one less cubic meter of clean water that is pumped from the Kinneret, and allotting it to agriculture in Israel and to the amount of drinking water available for the entire population. For more information, please visit our website at or e-mail Sponsored content

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