Rainfall under half of yearly average

Water Authority chief tells cabinet severe lack of rain in past years has forced gov't into "water overdraft."

Water 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Water 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Far too little rain has fallen so far this year, and the prospects for making up the deficit are less than 20 percent, Prof. Uri Shani, head of the Water Authority, told the cabinet Sunday. Along with National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, Shani updated the cabinet on water resources and how the country was faring. He said there was every indication that the winter would, again, be especially dry. Only 100 mm. of rain have fallen on the Sea of Galilee - about 40% of the period's norm - and 50 mm. have fallen on the mountain aquifer, which is also only about 40% of the norm. The coastal aquifer had faired slightly better, he said, with rainfall at 100-120mm., or 60%-70% of the norm. He added that the three sources of the Jordan River had never been so low at the beginning of December. Shani said restrictions on watering public and private gardens would remain in force and that if a serious drought were to develop, watering would be entirely banned. The Water Authority recently said there would be no rationing of household water. Ben-Eliezer urged citizens to continue to conserve water, an effort he said had saved 70-100 million cu.m. of water since the summer, an amount roughly equal to the yearly output of the Ashkelon desalination plant. Regarding desalination, Shani said the bidding process for increasing the output at the existing plants there and at Palmahim was nearing completion. Moreover, companies had been invited to bid on a tender to build and operate a new plant at Nahal Sorek. The first victim in a water shortage is always agriculture, and according to Shani, this year would be no different, with 100 million cu.m. of fresh water being cut from the allotment for farmers. In addition, he said that despite a NIS 600 million allocation for developing sewage treatment plants and water reclamation projects, the state would be unable to reach its goal of recycling 100 million cu.m. of water in 2009. He added that 80 million cu.m. of treated water currently not being utilized would be used for irrigation by 2011. Agriculture Minister Shalom Simhon vigorously protested the water cutbacks and demanded that farmers be compensated for what would undoubtedly be a severe blow to their livelihood. Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On replied that as far as the Treasury was concerned, there would be no compensation. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ordered Simhon, Bar-On and Ben-Eliezer to sit down this week and come up with potential solutions. Meanwhile, Ben-Eliezer was to attend a one-day regional water conference on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea on Monday. The conference was organized by the governments of Jordan, Egypt and France, and countries from the Mediterranean basin and Europe were expected to attend. Cabinet ministers in attendance were also expected to sign a cooperation pact and discuss the planned Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project.