Pollution looms at key water sources

Water Authority warns of worst crisis in a decade, urges cutbacks, Kinneret pumping may be stopped

Kinneret 298.88 (photo credit: Jonathan Beck)
Kinneret 298.88
(photo credit: Jonathan Beck)
Israel's natural water sources will drop so dangerously low by the end of this year that there is a major risk of some of them becoming irretrievably polluted and thus unusable, according to the shocking new forecast from the Water Authority. "We will definitely fall below the bottom red lines in all three main water sources this year," Water Authority spokesman Uri Shor told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday after the Authority revealed that Israel is facing its most severe water crisis in the past decade. Israel's three main natural water sources are Lake Kinneret, the mountain aquifer and the coastal aquifer. There are also two desalination plants currently at full production; three more are being built, but even the first of these won't be completed until the end of 2009. The risk of pollution is acute at the two aquifers, Shor said, where "falling below the red lines means there is a significant chance the water will become polluted. In the aquifers, that means saltwater mixing with the fresh water." "By the end of the summer, [the water level may be so low that] we may not be able to pump water out of Lake Kinneret at all," he continued. Until the next desalination plant begins working, "we are at the mercy of the heavens." However, experts say it is not only up to the heavens, and that much can be done by the humans on the ground to use water more efficiently, squander less, and raise awareness of the gravity of the problem. The Water Authority has reduced the supply of potable water to farmers by 50 percent, and more cuts will follow if the crisis continues. "Save the water" campaigns have been launched, and others are in the pipeline. Shor said the authority might tighten restrictions on watering gardens, both public and private; prohibit the planting of new gardens and drastically raise water prices for nonessential use. Thus, if next year is as bad as this one, Israel might begin losing some of its greenery, as gardens start drying up for lack of water, Shor said. "We don't like looking at a brown country. We like the gardens, the colorful agriculture, but that may start to disappear by next year," he said. Everyone can do his or her part to help save the country's water resources, Shor said. "If everyone conserved just 10% of their water, that would equal one large desalination plant," he said. For example, he suggested cutting a 10-minute shower in half. Itzik Cohen, head of agribusiness for the Moshav Movement, said this week that an additional 180 million cubic meters of waste water could be treated and used for agriculture per year if the proper facilities were constructed. He also said that over the last decade farmers had cut their fresh water usage in half through Israeli know-how and long-term investment. Meanwhile, the Israeli Water Association held its annual conference on Wednesday, focusing on topics ranging from technical aspects of water purification to legal issues. An entire panel was devoted to save-water campaigns around the country. The strategy, as outlined in the presenters' abstracts, targets household use. Studies have shown that families can conserve as much as 20% of their water, according to Yaakov Lev, head of the Water Authority's water conservation promotion branch. While some campaigns began over a year ago, such as a water conservation program in the North, the one in the South is just getting started. An integral part of every campaign is training children to start conserving water. The recent cold spell and the lack of water have hit fruit growers very hard, causing an estimated NIS 400 million in damages, the Fruit Growers Association said. The association announced recently that it would be putting together a team to evaluate the future of fruit growing in Israel.