Israel Facing Worst Water Crisis in More Than 100 Years
November 19, 2008<br />
Four consecutive years of drought, increased consumption stemming from population growth, and what some are calling mismanagement have contributed to the worst water crisis in Israel’s history.
Israel’s three main water sources – the Sea of Galilee and the mountain and coastal aquifers – are almost empty, Uri Schor, spokesman for Israel’s Water Authority,
The Sea of Galilee alone is nearly 18 feet below its full level. “This is the worst crisis there ever was [since measurements were taken],” Schor said.
The crisis may be particularly acute next summer, if this winter doesn’t bring a lot of rain. Israel’s rainfall comes only during the winter months. The rest of the year is dry.
Israel is now trying to cut down on water demand, Schor said. The Water Authority has launched an advertising campaign urging Israelis to conserve water, and it already has cut potable water supplies to agriculture.
A large part of the water used by agriculture is recycled wastewater, Shaul Arlosoroff, a water resources management consultant, told CNSNews.com.
In fact, Israel is renowned for its water recycling expertise. On Monday, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm signed a water technologies partnership agreement with Israel, making Michigan the first U.S. state to do so.
The joint declaration establishes a working group between the two states to focus on “energy efficiency and innovative technology” that will improve water quality and increase water re-use.
“As one-fifth of the Earth’s freshwater supply, the Great Lakes are a world-class natural resource and an essential part of our economic transformation,” said Michigan Lieutenant Governor John D. Cherry, Jr., immediate past chairman of the Great Lakes Commission.
“Partnering with Israel on technologies to protect and preserve our water will help not only to ensure that we are good stewards of this resource but will also help to create jobs here in Michigan.”
Critics say Israel’s water supply has been mismanaged. They say the government should have built more desalination plants years ago.
Israel has two large water desalination plants, and a third is expected to come online next year. Several more plants are planned. By 2020, Israel should be able to desalinate some 750 million cubic meters annually – the amount currently used by the Israeli public.
Schor argues that if Israel had sunk the money into desalination plants years ago, and there would not have been a shortfall in rain causing drought, the Israeli public might have complained that the money should have gone to other projects.
The water shortage is not unique to Israel. Jordan’s problem is said to be even worse, and the Palestinians are demanding that Israel give them more water.
Israel gives the Palestinians a fixed quota of water, regardless of population growth. The Palestinians are allotted about one-quarter to one-fifth of what Israelis use, said Dr. Marwan Haddad from the College of Engineering at An-Najah University in the West Bank city of Nablus.
Palestinians are not allowed to drill wells or develop water-related projects unless they get permission from Israel, Haddad told CNSNews.com.
Haddad complained that Israel has settled hundreds of thousands of Jewish people in the West Bank. While they have continuous water supply, Palestinian cities receive water only three to four hours a week, and must store it in large tanks on rooftops, he said.
Arlosoroff said that water consumption around the world is directly linked to the GDP. So Palestinians with an annual GDP of $1,000 per capita cannot expect to use what Israelis use at $27,000 per capita.
The issue of water here is so critical that it features in peace agreements.
Israel agreed to give a certain amount of water to Jordan annually as part of the 1994 Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty. Water is one of six final status issues on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process agenda along with Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, security, Israeli settlements and borders.
Arlosoroff believes the water dispute, although complicated, could be easier to solve than any of the other final status issues.
International organizations that give aid to the Palestinians have helped to alleviate some of the problems.
The U.S. Agency for International Development inaugurated a $45 million water supply project in Hebron last month, which was intended to significantly improve the quality and distribution of drinking water to about 550,000 Palestinians in the southern West Bank.
According to USAID’s Web site, it has provided $734 million to the Water Resources and Infrastructure activities of the Palestinians since 1993. They are working to rehabilitate deteriorated water networks, replace old water pumps, and repair badly deteriorated sewage systems.
In many places, raw sewage has been discharged directly into dry riverbeds causing health problems and contaminating aquifers, USAID says.
According to Schor, Palestinians currently use only potable water for all of their agriculture. If they could recycle their wastewater, it would increase their water supply by 30 to 40 percent, he said.
If Israel does not have a rainy winter this year the government will have to ban all lawn-watering, both public and private, next summer. Otherwise, people won’t have water coming out of the tap, Schor said.
In the meantime, he said, the best thing to do is “pray and pray a lot” for a very rainy winter.