Dribbling away our water

Australia's experience in conserving water should be a model for Israel.

kinneret 224.88 (photo credit: Jonathan Beck)
kinneret 224.88
(photo credit: Jonathan Beck)
Melbourne, Australia is an attractive city, but on a recent visit, it was impossible not to notice that in the public parks, what passes for grass was brown and shriveled. So were the lawns of private homes, where many residents have replaced grass with gravel or bark shavings or nothing. Due to a drought now in its 10th year, strict water restrictions are in effect and a "no watering" policy is in effect. That's doesn't mean "no watering on certain days of the week" or "no watering with hoses." It means "no watering." Period. "I don't water the plants in the garden at all," explained my niece. "What grows, grows. What doesn't, doesn't." The effect was, oddly, not that bad, with hardy indigenous plants if not flourishing, at least surviving. Driving from the airport back in Israel, I noticed water-hungry summer petunias and begonias massed in planters around traffic circles. Some of the drippers had sprung leaks, and fresh water puddled around them. In Park Raanana, the artificial lake - complete with gondola - gleamed in the sunshine. Anyone would think we lived in Switzerland. Yet Israel's water quality continues to deteriorate due to the increased salinity of the coastal aquifer, industrial, sewage and agricultural pollution. The level of the Kinneret, our main source of fresh water, is steadily declining, after successive winters of below-average rainfall. Plans for desalination plants and importing water from Turkey are all very well, but meanwhile, our water-profligate population continues to splash out. Feeble slogans like "Think about every drop" have no practical effect since people generally only inconvenience themselves if there are penalties for doing so, and there are no effective penalties, unlike in Australia, where inspectors issue stiff fines for wasting water. IN FACT, many of Australia's water conservation measures are worthy of emulating. Water restrictions, for example, are a way of life. Different areas of Australia impose water restrictions, according to clearly defined stages, depending on the seriousness of the situation locally. These stages range from stage l - moderate restrictions - to stage 7 - major restrictions. In Queensland, for example, stage 1 restrictions mean that sprinklers can only be used three days a week at limited times, hoses can only be used in gardens three days a week at certain times, pools can only be topped up at certain times, cars and windows can only be washed with hoses or buckets and no hard surfaces can be washed at all. These restrictions gradually increase until at stage 7, no outdoor water use is allowed at all without a special permit. THE CARROT is used as often as the stick. National, provincial and local governments offer cash incentives for using water-efficient products such as rain water and grey water tanks and additional incentives for collecting this water for toilets or washing machines. There are also incentives for purchasing efficient shower heads (which are sometimes given to householders free) and dual flush toilets. The National Water Conservation Board uses a star system to grade household appliances such as dishwashers and shower heads for water conservation and an efficient public relations effort informs the public of such facts as that three star rated shower-heads use up to nine liters of water per minute, compared to 15-20 liters for regular shower-heads. At the very least, these measures can instill a sense of urgency and awareness in the public, something we clearly lack. As the Kinneret approaches the "red line," it is past time to get serious about water conservation. Slogans are fine - but tough measures are better. The writer is a former member of The Jerusalem Post editorial staff.