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Israeli, Palestinian Water Supply Running Dry Tuesday, July 11, 2000 By Deborah Camiel

JERUSALEM  While Israelis and Palestinians talk peace at U.S. President Bill Clinton's lush Camp David retreat, their water supply back home is going down the drain, an Israeli expert said on Tuesday.

"After several years of drought, there simply isn't water, and according to all the measurements the situation is getting worse," said Yossi Bar-On, deputy director of infrastructure for Israel's Environment Ministry.

"(Israeli and Palestinian leaders) can talk about refugees and so on, but without water there will be no quality of life for anyone," Bar-On told Reuters.

Environmental experts say Israel has only itself to blame if its taps run dry in a few months, as Environment Minister Dalia Itzik cautioned on Monday.

All three of Israel's main water sources  the Sea of Galilee, a coastal aquifer and a mountain aquifer shared with the Palestinians  are dangerously depleted, Bar-On said.

But the issue is not only one of quantity.

"We are now in a situation where those three sources are empty, that is they have gotten to the red lines past which there is a danger they will be irremediably contaminated by salt deposits," a spokeswoman in Bar-On's office said.

Israelis developed a taste for water as they pursued a Zionist dream of "making the desert bloom." But the influx of nearly a million immigrants in the past decade and a culture of swimming pools, suburban gardens and two showers a day may soon bring the desert back.

"We will get very quickly to the desertification of Israel," Bar-On said when asked what would happen if 2001 proved to be a year of low or even average rainfall.

His office is begging Israelis to quit their guzzling.

A campaign launched on bus banners, national radio and television urges: "We must save water, we must."

Spilling Water Like Spilling Blood

Below-average rainfall since 1992 and increased consumption mean that water has come to the top of the list of issues yet to be solved in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

And both sides will soon find that spilling water is almost akin to spilling blood in the arid Middle East.

Israel's B'Tselem human rights group said individual Palestinians get 30 percent less water than the 100 litres (22 gallons) a day recommended by the World Health Organisation, while Israelis each use an average of 348 litres (77 gallons) a day.

In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, Palestinian municipalities provide water on a rotating basis or residents buy water from trucks at prices far beyond most of their means.

Israeli water officials say they do more than fulfil their obligation to provide water to the Palestinians according to the 1993 breakthrough Oslo interim agreement.

They say the Palestinians misallocate water and pollute it by overpumping, mishandling sewage and damaging aquifers by drilling wells.

Palestinians charge that Israel controls their water access and unfairly withholds it from them.

"Their situation is much worse because they draw water from certain parts of the mountain aquifer, and they get a lot less of it per person" Bar-On said.

Israel has sent delegations to Turkey to negotiate costly water imports, but no deal has been completed. Other options such as building large desalination plants, rehabilitating polluted wells, conserving water and treating sewage are years away from relieving the crisis.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 11, 2000


Tuesday, July 11 2000 12:41 8 Tammuz 5760


Itzik: Drinking water may run out in 3-4 months By David Rudge

EILAT (July 11) - Drinking water may cease to run from taps in three or four months' time, Environment Minister Dalia Itzik warned yesterday.

Itzik spoke to reporters during a visit to Mekorot's seawater desalination plant in Eilat, before her return late that afternoon to the Knesset to help Prime Minister Ehud Barak's government defeat a no-confidence motion.

"...Within three or four months, and especially [next year], if there is a drought this winter... we [might]...have no water in the taps, or what there is will be undrinkable," said Itzik.

She pledged to press Finance Minister Avraham Shochat to approve plans to allow Mekorot to issue tenders for the country's first major sea water desalination plant.

Itzik is to meet with Shochat today in what was scheduled to be a meeting of the Ministerial Economic Committee. Instead, she said, it would be a ministerial meeting, with the absence of half the ministers.

Itzik was referring to former Agriculture Minister Haim Oron, who resigned recently with the rest of Meretz's ministers and National Infrastructure Minister Eli Suissa, who resigned Sunday night along with the other Shas Ministers.

Suissa was to have participated in yesterday's visit to the Eilat plant but cancelled due to his party's resignation.

Mekorot Director-General Amos Epstein said Mekorot had all the experience and knowledge needed to issue and handle tenders for the proposed desalination plant near Ashkelon.

He promised that tenders could be issued within a week, a bidder chosen by November, and the plant operational within 20 months.

Epstein said that Shochat's and the Treasury's proposal to issue an international tender could delay the project for up to five years.

Newly-appointed Water Commission-er Shimon Tal said it was imperative to begin work as soon as possible on establishing a desalination unit, which would initially produce 50 million cubic meters of fresh water a year.

He also warned that in the event of less than average rainfall this winter, agricultural water quotas would have to be cut to virtually zero.

Epstein did not rule out importing water from Turkey, but stressed that this would be an emergency measure until the desalination units came on line.

The Ministerial Economics Commit-tee at its meeting today will also decide on other measures for obtaining more water, including desalinating brackish water from disused and new wells and connecting sewage treatment plants to the national network so that the recycled water can be used for irrigation.

The committee will also decide whether to implement emergency regulations banning the use of hoses to wash cars and fining violators.

-- Martin Thompson (, July 11, 2000.

I remember reading last year that the water aquafiers would not with stand the date changes. When everyone was worried about the oil output and getting it to suppliers, the mideast was worrying not about their oil, but their water supply.

-- Ruth Angell (, July 11, 2000.

Monday, July 31, 2000 Water crisis deepens, Kinneret red line to drop

By Amiram Cohen Ha'aretz Correspondent

Water Commissioner Shimon Tal yesterday ordered Mekorot, the state water utility, to pump beyond the Kinneret's "bottom red line" of minus 213 meters, reflecting a worsening of the nation's water crisis. Lowering the level will allow Mekorot to pump an additional 80 - 100 million cubic meters from the lake.

The new order states that up until February 2, 2001, the minimal water level, beyond which pumping is forbidden, will be minus 214 meters and that the use of water from the Kinneret will be adjusted accordingly.

Last year, former water commissioner Meir Ben-Meir allowed Mekorot to lower the red line to minus 213.3 meters. The actual level reached was slightly higher - minus 213.28.

In light of the decision to lower the red line, the Kinneret's Operations Committee, headed by Tal, is to convene today to set out new pumping policies for the nation's main reservoir. Tal told Ha'aretz yesterday he does not foresee a risk of increased salinity accompanying the stepped-up pumping. But he said potential dangers to water quality and to the lake's biological equilibrium must be taken into account.

Tal added that the new red line would cause a faster exchange of water between the Kinneret's upper and lower levels, which could lead to certain substances moving from the lower levels upward. But, he said, water authorities had no alternative because the dangers involved in excess pumping from coastal and mountain aquifers were greater than those tied to excess pumping from the Kinneret. mador=14&datee=07/31/00&id=87335

-- Martin Thompson (, July 31, 2000.

High temperatures bring Kinneret below red line By David Rudge

HAIFA (August 1) - Lake Kinneret's level will drop below the original red line mark within the next few days.

The level has fallen faster than expected due to this month's exceptionally high temperatures.

But the Meteorological Service had brighter news regarding the record- breaking heat wave.

Duty forecaster Uri Batz said the weather is expected to return to normal by the end of the week, following Sunday's record highs of 45 degrees centigrade in Beit She'an and Eilat, 41 in Jerusalem, 42 in the Jordan Valley, and 34-35 and over 60% humidity along the coast.

Yesterday was slightly cooler, with 38 degrees in Jerusalem - still 8- 10 degrees above the seasonal average - and 32-33 degrees in Tel Aviv and Haifa, where humidity rose to nearly 70 percent.

The heat is expected to ease further and winds to pick up on Wednesday and Thursday.

In an Israel Radio interview yesterday, Batz said Sunday's temperatures were the highest for July in 100 years. "We were only 0.8 degrees away from the all-time record in Jerusalem [41.08 degrees] ... in 1888," said Batz.

The marked increase in water consumption, primarily in the urban sector, corresponded with a rise in power consumption which, according to Israel Electric Corporation's statistics, reached a record high of 7,850 megawatts at 2:15 p.m. Sunday, leaving the country with no power reserves.

The extreme heat also increased water loss by evaporation from Lake Kinneret to around one cm. per day, compared to slightly less during an average summer.

Water Commissioner Shimon Tal signed new regulations earlier this week to lower the Kinneret red line from 213 to 214 meters below sea level, to enable Mekorot to continue pumping water from the lake after water levels hit the -213 mark, probably towards the end of this week.

"We hope... to contain the situation so that the level does not reach the new minimum line of 214 m. below sea level by the end of November or beginning of December, when the winter rains usually begin," Tal told The Jerusalem Post yesterday.

The special water management committee, comprised of hydrologists, representatives of the Water Commissioner's Office, Mekorot and other experts, convened yesterday to discuss managing water resources in light of the severe shortage.

Tal noted that the committee would try to balance the situation between the country's three main water resources - Lake Kinneret and the two underground reservoirs, the mountain (Yarkon Taninim) and coastal aquifers.

"We are constantly examining... the entire network to see from which resource we can draw more water to meet requirements while minimizing the potential damage," said Tal. "At the moment, the balance is primarily between the Kinneret and Yarkon Taninim. We expect to breach the red lines there [Yarkon Taninim] by the end of the year, even though there has been a very slight improvement in the situation recently compared to our original assessments."

In the meantime, the Knesset Health Committee yesterday approved a series of measures to increase monitoring of drinking water and to introduce new regulations for reducing nitrates and other substances in fresh water supplies.

The argument between the Health Ministry and the Treasury, however, over what the former sees as a need for a NIS 100 million filtration plant for the National Water Carrier remains unresolved.

-- Martin Thompson (, August 02, 2000.

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