Drip, drip... drought

By year's end, Israel's Water Authority warns, all pumping in Lake Kinneret will have to cease.

tap water 88 (photo credit: )
tap water 88
(photo credit: )
By year's end, Israel's Water Authority warns, all pumping in Lake Kinneret will have to cease. That will mean turning off the taps on a third of the national water supply. This dire scenario is the inevitable outcome of the fact that four successive years of scant rainfall have depleted Israel's largest above-ground reservoir to such an extent that this week it is expected to drop beneath the "bottom red line." At this rate, moreover, the Kinneret's water level will, by October, have descended to what experts dub "the black line." At that point - when the Kinneret's surface falls to 215 meters below sea-level - irreversible damage from salination and toxic marine flora sets in. Never in the state's 60 years have Israel's water resources been as compromised. An indication of how bad things are is the decision to put up a makeshift dam to artificially deepen the pool near Mekorot's pumps to enable them to operate at all. Israel's ability to transfer 50 million cubic meters of water to Jordan, as per our peace treaty, depends on this construction. The picture elsewhere is hardly uplifting, either. Water quality in the Coastal Aquifer is fast deteriorating due to low rainfall and pollution from sewage and fertilizers, resulting in excessive levels of nitrates and chlorides. Moreover, intensified drilling causes seepage of sea-water into the aquifer. The Water Authority's Hydrological Service now recommends much reduced pumping. SOME 30 percent of Israel's dwindling water resources go to households and fully one-half to farming, which contributes only 6% of the GNP. Israel's prodigious agricultural exports - which do us proud - are, nevertheless, disconcertingly tantamount to exporting water. But agriculture isn't the villain, especially as it uses more recycled waste-water, unfit for drinking, than it does freshwater. The problem resides in the fact that Israel doesn't make use of what it so successfully markets to others: our remarkable hydro-technology. Desalination plants operate in Eilat, Palmahim and Ashkelon. A Hadera plant will join them next year, and Ashdod and Nahal Sorek are blueprinted for 2012. But all that is woefully behind schedule. Only three weeks ago, Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer implied that Israel's water problems have essentially been solved after the government's belated approved of his NIS 2b. program. It includes conservation and recycling projects (ostensibly already in effect) and reaching desalination targets that were to be met several years back. In fact, Israel should by now be desalinating 400m. cubic meters of water annually. Instead only 130m. are currently desalinated. Each year, the Finance Ministry gambles on rain and cuts back on long-term water supply solutions. The upshot is the dismal forecasts issued seasonally by the Water Authority, which to a desensitized public sound like the proverbial boy who cried wolf. There was no need to wait for fresh warnings. This past dry winter's reality was conclusive enough, and the drier summer we're now having should have surprised nobody. Action ought to have been taken months ago. Let's begin by applying quotas to households; excessive water use should be penalized. Quotas are also needed in commercial and agricultural use. Beyond disincentives for wastage, citizens should anyway feel obligated to conserve. Great lawns in our arid environment are probably a luxury that needs to be reconsidered. Municipalities need to use synthetic grass to replace flower beds at traffic roundabouts. Authorities must ensure that decorative fountains use recycled water. Esthetic alternatives to wasteful practices exist. They must be employed. The drip-irrigation technology that Israel has introduced so effectively abroad needs to be employed more comprehensively at home. Gardens should be watered only in the early morning and after dusk - not when the sun is beating down. There are ways to save around the house, where each minute in the shower is estimated to use another 20 liters and where a dripping faucet can lose as much as 60 liters daily. Washing one's car using a pail rather than a hose can also save 60 liters. Raising the alarm perennially won't fill the Kinneret. Things wouldn't be this bad now had more preemptive action been taken earlier and desalination accelerated. Successive governments have dropped the ball. Responsible citizenship demands that we help retrieve it.