Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

14 Shevat 5761 - Febuary 7, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Water Crisis Worst in Nation's History
by Yated Ne'eman Staff

The nation is facing the most severe water crisis in its history and "even from before then," Water Commissioner Shimon Tal announced last week. The level of Lake Kinneret will continue to drop steeply this year to about 214.3 meters below sea level, more than a meter below the "red line" level where continued pumping jeopardizes water quality, according to recent forecasts by the national Mekorot Water Company. Lake Kinneret has received less than one-quarter of the normal influx up to this time of year.

Tal called upon the public to adopt stringent water-saving measures in light of the badly depleted state of Lake Kinneret and the main underground reservoirs: the Coastal and Mountain Aquifers.

Tal said the situation had been exacerbated by inadequate rainfall so far this winter and all efforts now have to be concentrated on conserving water, particularly in the urban sector.

For the first time since the establishment of the State, this year more water is expected to be supplied for domestic use than for agriculture, due to plans to cut fresh water quotas for farming by an average of 50 percent.

If Mekorot's projections prove true, Israel will be unable to transfer the water it owes to Jordan under its agreement with that country. The Degania pumping station which supplies this water cannot reach the lake if the level falls below minus 214 meters. The Water Commissioner met with Jordanian officials earlier in the week to discuss this issue as well as Jordan's concern over the spillage of treated sewage piped from Eilat from a reservoir in the Arava. Work has begun on modifications to the pumping station.

The annual forecast was revised because of an unusually dry January, when only 30 million cubic meters of water entered the lake. The January average over the last 30 years has been some 80 million cubic meters. January is almost always a critical month.

The situation could become even worse if a shortfall in Israel's aquifers forces Mekorot to pump more than the 235 million cubic meters it had planned to take from the Kinneret this year. As of mid-January, the level of the southern section of the Yarkon-Taninim aquifer was a full meter below where it was at this time last year. If the water level falls too far, saltwater could enter the aquifer and cause permanent damage.

Mekorot says that the only way to prevent a water shortfall is to immediately build another desalination plant near Ashdod to begin supplying water next year. Mekorot Director Amos Epstein called on the government to immediately approve Mekorot's issue of a tender for a 50 million cubic meter. seawater desalination plant at Ashdod. The proposed Ashdod plant would be in addition to a similar-sized project at Ashkelon and a smaller 15 million cubic meter production unit along the coast already authorized by the government.

Water Commissioner Shimon Tal is also pressing the government to approve the construction of two more desalination units, each capable of producing 50m. cubic meters.

In addition, new treatment plants must be set up to increase the use of waste water for irrigation. The amount of treated waste water used in Israel has remained virtually unchanged from 1993 to 1999, about 260 million cubic meters a year.

For the next month, Mekorot will stop pumping from the Kinneret into the National Water Carrier so that maintenance work can be carried out. Pumping had already been restricted to weekends only. During that time, water to the Haifa area will be provided from other sources.

Mekorot drew 145 million cubic meters of water less from the Kinneret last year than it did in 1999 because of its depleted state. Amounts may have to be cut further this year.

Last week, Turkey and Israel signed the first major commercial transaction on water in the Middle East.

Sources said the countries have agreed to a water purchase in a preliminary deal that foresees the sale of the Manavgat region's waters to Israel. Over the 10-year contract, Israel is to buy 50 million cubic meters of Turkish water annually.

Turkish water may also be sold to Palestinians and Jordanians in the future.

The Manavgat River's water, 80 km. east of the Mediterranean resort city Anatolia, is to be transported to Israel's Ashkelon port by ship. Operation is expected to begin in May.

The only problem in finalization of the deal is reportedly the price per cubic meter. Turkey is asking 23 cents per cubic meter, but Israeli officials would prefer a price in the 15-16 cents range, so that total costs will be between 60 and 70 cents: the cost of desalination in Israel.

Israel usually needs around two billion cubic meters of water annually. Thus, the deal will supply 5 percent of its needs.

Water experts are predicting a severe shortage in 2001 if alternative sources are not found.


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