Solving Israel’s water crisis
By Mark Mietkiewicz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer
On Shemini Atzeret, Jews around the world recited the beautiful Tefillat Geshem, the Prayer for Rain: “…for blessing and not for curse. For life and not for death. For plenty and not for scarcity (http://bit.ly/isrwat1).”
But scarce it is. Israel’s perennial water shortage made headlines a year ago when the country’s chief rabbis urged worshipers to pray and fast on behalf of rain (http://bit.ly/isrwat2).
After years of below average precipitation, Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) is more than three meters below the “red line,” the optimum water level of the lake. (It descends about a centimeter a day until the rains begin to fall.) Sinkholes have appeared on the shores of the Dead Sea, and a few years ago, there was talk of a ban on watering gardens in Israel (http://bit.ly/isrwat3).
In honor of Tu B’Shevat, here are some possible solutions to Israel’s water crisis.
Conservation: First, let’s look at how Israelis try to conserve what they do have. Israelis used only 338 cubic meters of water a year per person compared to 1,682 cubic meters in the U.S. and 1,494 cubic meters in Canada in 2000 (http://bit.ly/isrwat14).
But that isn’t good enough, considering the country’s limited resources. Israel’s conservation program wants to cut that number further in the agricultural, manufacturing and domestic sectors (http://bit.ly/isrwat15).
Taxation: In 2009, the Knesset approved a drought tax, a levy on excessive water geared to the number of occupants per household (http://bit.ly/isrwat16). Half a year later, Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the suspension of the tax.
National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau said the tax was actually a success because it raised awareness about conservation and that water consumption decreased by 15 percent over the previous summer (http://bit.ly/isrwat17).
Desalination: “Nuclear desalination plant will be ready by 1971” reads the headline in the Dec. 18, 1965, edition of The Jerusalem Post. “President Lyndon Johnson has assured Prime Minister Levi Eshkol of U.S. willingness to help finance the joint US-Israel nuclear desalination plant,” the article states (http://bit.ly/isrwat18).
The nuclear desalination plant never saw the light of day but Israel has made huge strides in the creation of potable water. As The Jerusalem Post recently noted, “the situation would be considerably worse now if three desalination plants — in Hadera, Ashkelon and Palmahim — weren’t already producing 300 million cubic meters of fresh water a year.”
When the Ashdod and Sorek facilities open next year, output will double and approach the volume of the country’s residential water use (http://bit.ly/isrwat19).
Wastewater treatment and reuse: The high cost of desalination can make it prohibitively expensive for agricultural use. Since many crops can tolerate water of lower quality, treated wastewater is seen as a source of water for irrigation. Israel recycles nearly 70 percent of its sewage water for agricultural use (http://bit.ly/isrwat20).
You can read more about this and other initiatives at The Stephen and Nancy Grand Water Research Institute based at the Technion in Haifa (http://bit.ly/isrwat21).
Importing Water: On again, off again talks between Israel and Turkey are off again. In 2004, the countries agreed to a 20-year proposal in which Turkey would ship water to meet three per cent of Israel’s needs.
That deal was scrapped in April 2006 (http://bit.ly/isrwat27). But the following month, the two countries were negotiating the construction of four underwater pipelines that would transfer water, electricity, natural gas and oil to Israel (http://bit.ly/isrwat23).
Following last year’s Gaza flotilla raid, Turkey’s minister of energy and natural resources said that there will be no new energy or water projects with Israel until relations between the two countries improve (http://bit.ly/isrwat24).
Modifying crops: Kibbutz Tzuba, in the Judean Hills west of Jerusalem, has a long history of farming fruit trees like apples and kiwis.
But the kibbutz has decided to switch from fruit trees to become an estate winery. “There are major water shortages. Because of that, we are forced to change what we grow,” kibbutz member Steven Sherman told The Jerusalem Post.
Apples need 3,000 cubic meters of water per acre per year. Kiwis need more than 4,000. But grapes need only 800, making them more economical and suitable to a country experiencing a long-term water shortage (http://bit.ly/isrwat25).
New technologies: An Israeli company, Tal-Ya Water Technologies, has developed a reusable plastic tray which squeezes dew from the air for watering crops. The plant sits on a special plastic tray that funnels dew and condensation to the plant’s roots.
The reclaimed dew can reduce the need to water crops by up to 50 percent. Jewish liturgy has long valued the importance of dew. Science is finally catching up (http://bit.ly/isrwat26).
Mark Mietkiewicz may be reached at email@example.com.