'Water crisis as much about management as nature’

Expert says solutions should include increased water recycling and reuse as well as more effective pricing mechanisms.

A VIEW of the Jordan River in 2005 (R) 311  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A VIEW of the Jordan River in 2005 (R) 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The global water debacle is just as much a water management crisis as it is a naturally occurring issue, experts in the field agreed on Wednesday.
Water professionals had gathered to discuss the reasons behind the world’s ever-dwindling water supply on Wednesday afternoon during a panel discussion at Tel Aviv University prior to Israel’s first screening of the film Last Call at the Oasis.
Abrupt changes in the water cycle are occurring all over the world, with more precipitation, more evaporation and more river runoff globally, said Prof. James Famiglietti, director of the Hydrologic Modeling Center at the University of California – Irvine.
While such turns of events may “sound like a good thing,” Famiglietti explained.
“The reality is actually much more grim, featuring short, intense bursts of precipitation and floods alternating with droughts.”
In the meantime, groundwater levels all over the world are dropping dramatically.
“It’s both a real water crisis and a management crisis as well, on many levels,” he said.
“But part of it is the need to deal with this changing hydrology.”
Compiling data through his Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellite mission, Famiglietti has detected rampant declines in water masses all over the world.
“The picture that emerges is one of a very profound human fingerprint on the water landscape,” he said. “When you look at this map of water storage changes, water availability around the world, the thing that really pops up most is the groundwater depletion that is happening all over the world.”
This phenomenon includes both California and Israel, he said.
Agreeing with Famiglietti that the entire world is plagued by this alarming trend, Prof. Pinhas Alpert, head of Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies, connected the observations with what he called “the two GWs” – global warming and groundwater.
Both, he explained, are impacted by natural cyclical water changes and human management.
“What comes to my mind, I’m talking about the human fingerprint. We sometimes forget that both GWs are human fingerprints,” Alpert said.
“Global warming is a human fingerprint due to greenhouse gases, and the other is due to direct use of groundwater.”
In the eastern Mediterranean, issues of water management are particularly evident.
Israel is now more secure in this regard while the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Cyprus all suffer from a different situation, explained Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of Friends of the Earth Middle East.
The management issue has become so problematic in the PA that Bromberg said he takes pains to use the toilet before leaving for his organization’s Bethlehem office.
“There’s a 50-50 chance there will be water in the office,” he said. “Water scarcity around us is very much a reality.
And from our experience, management is a crucial issue.”
Likewise, he spoke about a school on the Jordanian side of the Jordan Valley that formerly received water only four out of six operating days per week because the authorities were prioritizing agriculture. This, however, led to a situation in which parents were not sending their female children to school two days a week.
“Today the school gets water,” Bromberg said. “It was a management issue, a policy issue of how to allocate priorities.”
While the experts all agreed that management failures are exacerbating the ongoing water crisis, they said there was not one sole solution to tackling this predicament.
“There is no one thing that we can do that will solve our crisis of scarcity and management – it really is a combination of many things,” Famiglietti said. “We simply cannot sustain a supply of naturally fresh water for moving forward, with our population growth and the groundwater depletion we are already experiencing.”
Some solutions, he explained, will include increased water recycling and reuse, as well as more effective pricing mechanisms.
Following the panel discussion, the audience viewed the Israeli premiere of the 2011 film Last Call at the Oasis, directed by Jessica Yu and featuring Erin Brokovich-Ellis.
Taking a detailed look at troubled water spots around the world, the film focuses particularly on areas around the United States that are facing either water depletion or water contamination problems.
Appearing throughout as an expert commentator is Famiglietti.
The movie’s conclusion, which looked at positive human steps toward water management, aired an interview with Bromberg and his colleagues at Friends of the Earth Middle East.
“The experience of [Friends of the Earth] comes to portray that things can be different and that the Middle East can be an example that, because of necessity, we can work together and see improvements on the ground,” Bromberg said.