'More water for nature, conservation for residents'

Coterie of environmental organizations crafts its own vision of how the water economy should look by 2030.

A coterie of environmental organizations led by the Society for theProtection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) has crafted its own vision of howthe water economy should look by 2030.
In a new reportreleased for publication on Wednesday morning, the organizations callfor more effective enforcement and a change in the allocation of waterresources.
The policy paper, written by Rami Erez andenvironmental economist Gadi Rosental, was commissioned by SPNI afterits annual conference last year, which focused on water.
Touchingon every aspect of the water economy, the policies advocated by thepaper mark a significant shift from current government policy.
Thepaper precedes the National Investigation Committee – Regarding theWater Crisis in Israel’s final report, which will be released nextWednesday, though there is no connection between the two reports.
Wateris allocated to four sectors in Israel: households, agriculture,industry and nature. Unsurprisingly, given its authors, the new reportargues for a much larger allocation for nature. Instead of the 7million cubic meters of water per year, 180 million cu.m. should beallowed to flow through the country’s streams and waterways to savedying ecosystems that rely on them, wrote Rosental and Erez.
Allocationsfor agriculture should stay roughly the same, but should should replaceeven more of the fresh water it uses with treated sewage water. To thatend, sewage must be treated to the highest levels. Similarly, whilereleasing treated waste water into streams at times is permissible, itshould be treated to the highest levels first in such cases.
Industry,which uses the smallest portion out of the four sectors – 115 millioncu.m. per year – would stay the same in 20 years, according to thedocument’s projections.
However, in the household sector, thereport argued, water per person could be kept to conservative levelseven without a drought to motivate people. Instead of rising again to107 cu.m. per person, as was the case before the past five years ofdrought, it should be kept to 83 cu.m. per person. Just doing thatcould save 330 million cu.m. of water every year – the volume of threedesalination plants.
In an apparent turnaround, the reportconceded the necessity for desalination plants while pointing out thatthey did not meet sustainability criteria because of the massiveamounts of polluting electricity they used. Many environmental groupshave been arguing that the desalination plants would be unnecessary ifthe government utilized all available water resources, includingpolluted wells and the like. Desalination should be kept to 650 millioncu.m. a year and no more, the report argued.
That tallies withthe product from actual current government tenders for desalinationplants, although the government did approve 750 million cu.m. a year by2020.
The coalition also urged the Water Authority and theEnvironmental Protection Ministry to utilize all of the enforcementmechanisms at its disposal to prevent the contamination of watersources. It recommended creating a court for water and environmentalmatters, similar to the family court system.
The report alsorecommended importing water to help balance the critical status ofnatural water resources. However, it said, a pilot project should belaunched first to work out the kinks.
Importing water wouldwork well for Gaza, and Israel should facilitate that transaction,according to the paper. Regarding regional allocations, Palestiniansshould receive no less than 60 cu.m. per person, and low water pricesshould be arranged so all Palestinians could receive that minimum.Israel should also enable Palestinian water projects and sewagetreatment.
Regarding water prices for Israelis, the authorsargued for a differentiated price for different socioeconomic sectorsof society. They also contended that gray water recycling – reusingwater to flush toilets and to water gardens – be permitted andregulated. The Health Ministry has warned that without proper treatmentsystems and inspections, too many bacteria would get through and pose ahealth hazard. The ministry is currently in the midst of a pilotproject to use gray water in mikvaot.
The makeup of the WaterCouncil, which oversees the Water Authority, should be tweaked as well,according to the report. Instead of the director-general of the WaterAuthority heading the council, a public persona with no other officialgovernment job should become council chairman.
In addition, the council should include more representatives of thepublic so water policy can be transparent. The report cited a lack ofpublic participation as one of the failures of the Water Authority’spolicy. The National Investigation Committee – Regarding the WaterCrisis in Israel first made that allegation in its interim report.
Asidefrom SPNI, the group of environmental organizations that sponsored thepolicy paper includes the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (whichreleased a report on sewage treatment in Israel last week), Zalul,Friends of the Earth Middle East, Green Course and Shomera.