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The Biblical Body of Water Print E-mail

By Jay Bushinsky
November 16, 2008

TEL AVIV | A dwindling water supply in the Sea of Galilee is pushing Israel to increase its use of desalination plants, with plans to expand two existing facilities and build two new ones by 2010.

The Biblical body of water is 16.2 feet below its lower "red line," which marks the point at which it is ecologically inadvisable to draw water, according to the Israeli Water Authority.

Yet Israel continues to draw water from Galilee, to drink and to irrigate crops, says Uri Shor, a water authority official.
 
"We have no choice," he said.
 
The parched region rarely gets any precipitation from late spring to early autumn.
 
Even if the fall and winter downpours of 2008 and 2009 respectively are heavy and frequent, experts say, fallen water levels in Galilee are likely to remain.
 
"This is the most serious crisis we have experienced since the state was founded 60 years ago," said Avner Adin of Hebrew University's agriculture faculty.
 
An internationally recognized expert in water as a natural resource and in the technological methods of increasing the life-sustaining fluid's availability, Mr. Adin has also conferred with Jordanians and Palestinians on ways to solve the shortage.
 
The most serious consequences are being experienced by the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where much of the water supply is controlled by Israel.
 
"People get running water once every two weeks," said Jamil Hamad, a veteran journalist, foreign correspondent and former editor of an Arabic-language newspaper.
 
He attributed the situation to "an infrastructure that is behind the times."
 
The pumps and pipes used to extract and convey water to the West Bank were installed by the Jordanians during their 19 years of rule over this region and by the British who preceded them
 
There was relatively little modernization since the Israeli conquest in June 1967, despite the steep increase in the number of inhabitants and water usage since then.
 
Israel agreed to help supply water to the Palestinians under the  Oslo Accords of 1993.
 
The U.S. Agency For International Development has allocated $50 million over a five-year period for water and sanitation projects that would benefit "needy communities."
 
Implementation is to be carried out by the American Near East Refugee Aid Organization (ANERA), a private group that plans to lay new pipes, repair existing ones and build new pumping stations.
 
"Its infrastructure dates back to 1972 and has rusty pipes and whose water leaks into the ground; we must repair the main line to assure adequate distribution," says Jamal el-Araf, the ANERA program's chief based in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
 
Zafrir Rinat, an environmentalist who writes for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz predicts that the country's date palm plantations will be reduced in size and may disappear altogether.
 
He also is pessimistic about the vast citrus groves that blanket the coastal plain and extend northward to the foothills of lower Galilee. His forecast is that they too will be reduced in size.
 
Israel has two large-scale plants, one at Ashkelon and the other at Palmahim, both on the Mediterranean coast.
 
The Ashkelon and Palmahim installations are based on the reverse osmosis system which produces potable water, but at a high cost.
 
Two new ones are under construction at Ashdod and Sorek, also on the Mediterranean seacoast, and are scheduled to go into operation by the end of next year.
 
The Ashkelon and Palmahim facilities also are due to be expanded so that by 2020 all of Israel's entire water requirement will be met, said Mr. Shor of the National Water Authority.
 
Mr. Adin welcomed the construction of the new desalination plants, but warned that the expansion may not be enough because of long term climate changes.
 
"We have been well aware of the climatic problems we face in this sub-tropical region and we developed technological methods to cope with it," he said.  "The problem is that we did not muster the requisite funding and appropriate management."
 
At present, 75 per cent of Israel's urban sewage is treated for reuse in agricultural irrigation.
 
"We are the world's leader in this effort," Mr. Adin said, noting that the runner-up, Spain, recycles only 12 percent of its urban sewage.
 
"But we can do even more."
 
 

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