Forecasts predict this winter will be the driest in 6 years

This year to be especially dry; drought levy or similar mechanism may have to be revived, Water Authority head warns at conference.

Yeroham water plant 311 (photo credit: Avri Kadmon, JNF)
Yeroham water plant 311
(photo credit: Avri Kadmon, JNF)
Forecasts for the first part of the coming winter are exceedingly grim, Water Authority head Prof. Uri Shani told the audience at the Water Corporations Conference in Airport City on Sunday.
“Right now, we could be looking at a harder year than any we’ve seen so far [in six years of drought]. Whoever thought that we were in dire straits last year but that that situation had passed from the world – it hasn’t,” Shani said.
According to him, the country had a hard time supplying its citizens with all of the water they needed last year.
“There were three things that reduced demand last year – public awareness campaigns, the water corporations’ efforts and the drought levy. If demand doesn’t drop and the winter is very bad, then we will have to bring the drought levy back in some form or other,” he warned.
The drought levy was an additional NIS 20 charge for every cubic meter of water used above a certain level. It was in effect for half of 2009 and then indefinitely frozen by the Knesset in December. When it was in effect, household water use dropped by 15 percent.
According to American and European forecasts for the first part of winter, this year could be worse than the previous six years, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor elaborated to The Jerusalem Post on the sidelines of the conference.
The forecasts only cover the first half of winter, so the outlook for the entire season is not clear, he said.
Rainfall last year hovered around average but the numbers from the previous five years were well below that mark.
Schor marveled that the country had managed to meet demand, calling it “almost a miracle.”
The Israeli water economy is very tightly managed compared to most in the world, he said. Most of Israel’s neighbors do not have continuous water supply all year round.
The Water Authority is distributing 2 million water saving devices for faucets that will save 25 million cubic meters of water a year. That’s the equivalent of a fifth of one of the large desalination plants. The authority is also continuing to run its ad campaigns featuring a woman cracking into pieces as the nation dries up.
However, the Water Authority and the government are counting on the desalination plants, which have begun to dot the coast, to stabilize the water situation.
“Right now, 40% of water to households comes from desalination plants,” Schor said. “By 2013, 70% will come from desalination plants.”
That buffer will allow the natural aquifers and Lake Kinneret to fill up again with at least part of the rain during plentiful years.
The aquifers and Lake Kinneret have reached dangerously low levels that just barely avoided contaminating the natural reservoirs irretrievably.
Shani added that one of the national priorities was to rehabilitate polluted water. Many wells and parts of the aquifers are very polluted.
At present, desalination plants in Hadera, Ashkelon and Palmahim are all pumping out potable water. Additional plants are planned for Sorek and Ashdod. The Ashdod plant has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between the Mekorot national water company and the Treasury. A Mekorot subsidiary will be building the Ashdod plant.
“Even when all the desalination plants are built, we’ll still need to be smart about our water and not go overboard – we live in the Middle East after all,” Schor said.