Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pray for rain

The water level of Lake Kinneret, the main open source of all water in Israel, today reached the lower red line. It is at its lowest level in 80 years, since measurements have been taken. It is still going down after 4 years of relative drought, and if it reaches the black line this summer, then water will have to be turned off in faucets throughout Israel, because at that level the water becomes polluted and the level of the lake is below the intake of the national water carrier that pumps it to the south. The other two main sources of water in Israel, the mountain and the coastal aquifers, are also both getting low and are subject to increased pollution, a situation that may soon become irreversible.
This dire state of affairs prompted the Water Authority of the Govt. to call a press conference on Monday and to issue an emergency warning. Everyone is instructed to avoid wasting water, there should be no washing of cars and unecessary watering of grass, etc. But, these are just advisory, the Govt. and the Water Board have no authority, so far, to make any water conservation measures mandatory. In any case, Israelis ignore these kind of warnings, their attitude is: "let the other guy worry about, I don't need to bother, there'll always be plenty of water!" The only practical measure the Govt. will take now is to double the cost of water for sprinklers and to add NIS 100m for education!
We were in the same situation in 2001, and precious little has been done by successive Govt.'s to improve the situation since then. Several years ago the Govt. took two decisions, first to trans-ship water from a large river in southern Turkey using tankers and/or large inflatable barges. A contract was signed several years ago, but they neglected to establish a port facility in Israel where the water could be off-loaded, so nothing ever happened. Second, they decided to build three water desalination plants, a technology in which Israel has world-class leadership. Note that all the water in Eilat comes from a desalination plant built more than 20 years ago. However, so far only two of the plants have been completed, one in Ashkelon and one in Ashdod. Athough the first one is fully operational, together they only produce about 5% of Israel's water needs. Now they have built another desalination plant near Hadera, but its "much too little, much too late." This dire situation was predicted many years ago. As the population rises and the economy increases, the use of water increases proportionately, but the sources remain the same. Ergo a shortage!
What shall we do? The practice of using brackish or waste water for agriculture has been criticized because it pollutes the land and the aquifers. Depending on the voluntary conservation of Israelis is a prescription for failure.
There are other suggestions that I can make: 1. Establish suction stations throughout Israel, where the sweat produced on people due to the heat can be sucked into a pipeline. 2. If the suction is turned up, the volume of liquid produced will be greater, and the population will be decreased at the same time. 3. Learn to drink urine (its apparently not so bad, some Hindus do this as a religious obligation). 4. Buy water instead of gasoline (although it won't run cars).
But, the best idea was suggested by an employee of the Water Board itself, "pray for rain." If that doesn't work there's always the back-up, the rain dance.


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