An Evaluation of Water Issues Facing Israel

Daniel Weber, Ph.D, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The Dead Sea level is dropping by approximately 1 meter a year as Israel, Jordan and Syria are unsustainably redirecting the water that once flowed into the Dead Sea. In addition, the Dead Sea Chemical Factory on the Israeli side and its Jordanian equivalent are responsible for dropping the sea level by 25% due to the evaporation ponds that are used to extract the chemicals. Our science committee has evaluated a major article that appeared in the international edition of the Jerusalem Post that details the state of Israel's water sources.

On February 11, 2004, Daniel Ben-Tal, of the Jerusalem Post-International Edition wrote a story entitled "Rain Won't Wash Away Our Problems," which discusses Israel's water issues.Out of Israel's twenty-six streams and rivers, only two of them have pollution-free sections and only the Nahal Taninim is clean throughout, while the Jordan River is only free from pollution in its upper reaches above Lake Kinneret. In pre-state Israel, the Yarkon River, the major river in Tel Aviv, had 700 million cubic meters of unpolluted water flowing every year. Today, it is an open sewer.

Simple statistics demonstrate Israel's abuse of water resources. In 2003, Israel had an overdraft in its annual water consumption by 2 million cubic meters. Even with the last two years of incredible rainfall and snow pack, it still will take 5-7 years of heavy rains to replenish water levels to a healthy state. Furthermore, the Jewish National Fund estimates that at current usage rates, all available freshwater will only be able to supply home consumption for 10 years. Presently, farmers use 75% of the available water largely due to Israel's reliance on water-intensive crops such as citrus and cotton. Thus, exporting citrus fruits is equivalent to exporting water from Israel. [Reviewer's Note: About 60% of annual water consumption (1.9 Billion Cubic Meters) in Israel is for agriculture which provides less than 2% of Israel's GNP.]

As private home construction rises, people are increasing their consumption as they water their lawns. This fear stimulated Israel's Water Commissioner's desire to institute a 3-year ban on lawn watering two years ago.

One solution to combat water shortages is to increase pumping of key aquifers. Today, 40% of the wells in the central Dan region are not potable-presumably due to agricultural contamination from fertilizers and pesticides. Even when groundwater is treated, it is pumped to the sea rather than reused. It is much cheaper to dump groundwater in the ocean than treat and recharge an aquifer. Instead, Israel purchases water from Turkey to provide up to 3% of its needs.

Unfortunately, modern Israel's bureaucracy makes it difficult to solve this problem. Nine governmental agencies are involved in regulating water policy. This leads to confusion and low accountability. Furthermore, high farmer subsidies encourage wastefulness. Since the 1960's, farmers pay 35% below the rate of water assigned to households and industry. [Reviewer's note: This would be similar to the U.S. electric industry charging a lesser rate to customers with the greatest demand and encourages large-scale wastefulness.]

Clearly, an integrated plan is needed that will involve agrotechnology (use of recycled, brackish and flood water), non-conventional sources (reclaimed wastewater, interruption of runoff, artificial aquifer recharging), and cloud seeding to enhance rainfall. [Reviewer's note: cloud seeding has not proved itself worthwhile after years of experimentation throughout the world-including Israel.] Desalinization (the process of removing salt from water) has been touted as a savior, but the process requires high-energy consumption and the costs and concerns about disposing of the salt waste have slowed this technology's widespread use. For example: Since the eastern Mediterranean Sea is already quite salty, removing the salt or dumping salt waste into the Sea is problematic.

Many analysts agree that the next major Middle East War will be over water. [Reviewer's note: an excellent source of information on the abuse of water resources, including the entire Middle East, is Water: The Fate of our Most Precious Resource by Marq de Villiers, Mariner Books, 2000.] Political considerations may not allow Israel to control the underground water resources in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Over-pumping of the groundwater reserves has caused sea water to infiltrate and contaminate water purity.

As usual, conservation seems to be the best method to conserve our natural resources. Conservation seems to be the most effective and least expensive action towards immediate water conservation that will help Israel stretch a very limited resource.

Originally posted in "On Eagles' Wings" August 30th 2004

This content originated at Canfei

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