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Israel announces construction of desalination plants as water shortage worsens
The Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) With water dwindling in Israel's aquifers and the Sea of Galilee, the government said Tuesday it plans to build three new plants to make Mediterranean seawater drinkable. But with a 30 percent water shortfall this year, some water experts warn that it might be too late and steps should have been taken years ago.
Water commissioner Shimon Tal said construction will begin this summer on three desalination plants along Israel's coast. Israel also wants to begin importing fresh water from Turkey next year.
Tal told a news conference that the water crisis is Israel's worst, and if consumption is not reduced, "we'll have irreversible processes. It will affect our water supply in the future."
Tal blamed political fights over farmers' water allocations for the situation Israel now faces. He said he hoped the new plan will balance water production with consumption within three years.
In the meantime, he said, "we'll have to live hand to mouth."
Israel has one desalination plant, in Eilat, a Red Sea resort town at the tip of the southern desert. The small project, however, serves the needs of just 20,000 people.
The first two plants Israel wants to build are not set to be completed before 2004 and will meet only 5 percent of the annual demand.
To make up for the water shortfall Israel, is over-pumping water reserves and trying to reduce consumption.
The government this year reduced water allocation to farmers by 50 percent, said water commission spokeswoman Yael Shoham. But critics point out that farmers use less water than they are allocated, so the actual cuts are smaller.
Eran Feitelson, a water expert at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, said Israel's failure to manage scarce water resources after the current drought began in 1998 has left fresh water reserves depleted.
At the biblical Sea of Galilee, Israel's main fresh water source, the water has already dipped to the lowest level at which water pumps can operate, he said.
The other main sources of water, a coastal and mountain aquifer, are also badly depleted, and with overpumping there is the risk that salt will seep into the water.
Nearly 10 months of Israeli-Palestinian fighting has ended cooperation between the sides on a number of issues, complicating efforts to end the water crisis, Tal said.
-- Martin Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org), July 24, 2001
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.
-- Martin Thompson (email@example.com), July 24, 2001.