Conservation efforts: Start with the small

Twenty years ago, children were brought up singing songs about saving water in kindergarten. What happened? Her face cracking, the actress warns TV viewers that "Israel is drying up." It is probably one of the scariest and most effective TV commercials ever launched. The Water Authority started running the conservation ad in the fall, and it has had a huge impact. Conservation efforts by the general populace can be surprisingly effective, the authority has found. Last summer, it launched a massive PR campaign, "Going from red to black," and then followed it up with the series of TV commercials and joint actions with educational television. Those activities have produced a 10 percent-15% drop in water consumption. That is about the size of one large desalination plant or about 100 million cu.m./yr. According to the authority's emergency plan presented to the national investigation committee on the water crisis, those efforts will continue and even intensify in light of the continuing scarce rainfall. The authority has said it would also be promoting water saving devices on faucets, but the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) contends that the authority actually torpedoed its proposed legislation to mandate such devices on all public buildings. The SPNI has also announced it would run a campaign to urge the public to save water. Twenty to 25 years ago, children were brought up singing songs about saving water in kindergarten. However, local organizations have found that children these days have little to no awareness that they should be saving water. Children are often a good target for conservation efforts because they then pester their parents and bring about behavioral changes. Watering public parks and gardens: 200 million cu.m./yr. Take a trip around the country and note how many public parks and gardens there are. Green practically shouts from every community. That has been a calculated choice by the government to allow people the illusion that they don't live in a desert climate. Admittedly, it does have many beneficial environmental properties as well. But the cost in terms of water is very high. Roughly a quarter of all fresh water allocated for "household" use goes to gardening - 200 million cu.m./yr. out of about 800 million comes out of sprinkler systems which keep parks and gardens from turning brown. Normally, that much water would be an acceptable price to pay to live in a green country rather than a drab and dull brown one. However, in a time of acute crisis, basic assumptions have to be revisited. Last year, the Water Authority appointed a committee to rethink the way gardening is handled. It is based on its recommendations that the authority recently did away with the discount on water for public gardening. Moreover, the authority is planning on putting separate meters in municipalities, kibbutzim and moshavim to monitor gardening, so that if it decides to prohibit it, it can check if the prohibition is being obeyed. The authority has already prohibited putting down new grass and watering parks and gardens from November to May. If the crisis continues, it is seriously considering letting the gardens wilt and the parks go brown to free up the water for drinking, cooking and bathing.