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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Don't be misled by three days of heavy rain. Experts say a water crisis is looming for Israel, and all of the country's efforts to save water may not be enough.
"We are close to the red lines. If the coming winter is even average, we will reach the red lines in all three water sources. If precipitation is like last year, which was a less than average year, we will be in serious trouble," Uri Shor of the Water Authority told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
"There are a billion cubic meters that haven't been replaced over the last four years. Two hundred million cubic meters last year alone. The Kinneret is 55 cm. lower than last year at this time," Shor said.
Israel consumes about 700m. cubic meters of pure drinking water a year.
The water level of the Kinneret Thursday was -212.63 meters, nearly four meters below the top red line and just a half meter from the bottom one.
David Wiesenthal, head of the water supply division at Mekorot, concurred. "Generally, in October and November the levels start to equalize, but this year it has only begun to equalize in the last few days," he told the Post.
Shor explained that "the demand for water is much larger than what we get naturally. The last three or four years were not good years, because the demand was higher than nature could provide."
And Wiesenthal said demand is predicted to rise even more this year. "Our estimates are that demand will increase by ten percent in households and 5% for agricultural use," he said.
While desalination plants are popping up at a good clip, even the extra 130m cubic meters of potable water they produce won't be enough to stave off the potential crisis, Shor said.
Wiesenthal did say, however, that the desalination plants would increase their production to combat at least part of the predicted shortfall.
The forecasts for rain this winter aren't encouraging. Shor said that this year's rainfall was expected to be at most average and maybe even below average.
"If we think there is going to be a crisis then we will have to start taking action," Shor said, "We might have to prevent people from watering their gardens to save water." The Water Authority has already launched an advertising campaign to encourage water conservation.
While Shor refused to say what other measures the Water Authority was considering, Prof. Alon Tal said the most likely first victim of crisis measures was agriculture.
"Agriculture will take a hit," he told the Post bluntly. "The household market has jumped incredibly. The population continues to grow and use more water," which understandably strains resources, he continued.
Tal, a water and environmental expert, was at a loss to suggest short term solutions that were not already being implemented. Israel is already one of the most advanced countries in the world when it comes to water management.
"We have efficient water delivery systems and the toughest toilet flush standards in the world. We also probably have the strictest urban water use laws," Tal said. Conservation laws are also incredibly strict, Tal added.
"In the longer range, the Water Authority is working to stabilize the water market and reduce reliance on natural sources," Shor said, with long-term policy placing emphasis on the building of desalination plants.
There are currently two desalination plants operational in Israel and another three expected to be on-line by 2013.
The plant in Ashkelon is the biggest of its kind in the world and produces 108m. cubic meters of water a year, Shor said. A smaller one in Palmahim produces 30m. cubic meters.
A plant near Hadera is set to open by 2009 with a capacity of 100m. cubic meters. Another two plants, one in Ashdod and another in Sorek, are expected to be ready by 2013.
Shor also noted that Israel already recycled 70 percent of its sewage for agricultural use.
"Agriculture needs less and less pure water. We are world leaders in this field," Shor said.
But Israel's expertise and technological innovation may not be enough to save the country from a water crisis.