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ISRAEL WATER CRISIS FACTS & FIGURES
- There are two major reasons that Israel’s water shortage has reached such extreme proportions—drought and over-consumption—and each problem exacerbates the other.
- During the last decade, Israel experienced an unprecedented series of diminished annual rainfalls. The extended drought cycle has caused a dramatic dwindling of Israel’s fresh water supply.
- Currently, Israel's water resources yield 449 billion gallons each year, but population growth and a general increase in the standard of living have boosted annual consumption to 580 billion gallons. With an annual deficit of 131 billion gallons of water, Israel is over-consuming its water resources by 25 percent. This means that the water levels of Lake Kinneret and the mountain and coastal aquifers (Israel’s only sources of fresh water) have been lowered with serious detriment to water quality and the destruction of ecosystems.
- While Israel’s Winter 2003 was unusually rainy and the country saw more precipitation than it had in over a decade, the coastal and mountain aquifers were not as well replenished as Lake Kinneret. In October 2003 the level of the Kinneret was almost 10 feet higher than it was at the same time last year, but to compensate for the meagerness of the two aquifers, the Kinneret is being even more heavily pumped to supply Israel with the majority of its water needs. The Kinneret is now 6 ? feet below its upper red line level—which means that Israel’s most significant source of fresh water has an 89 billion gallon annual deficit. Moreover, experts predict that the global warming trend coupled with the natural aridity prevalent to the region will persist and even two dry years will suffice to take Israel back to a crisis-level shortage of water.
- Sixty percent of Israel’s fresh water goes to the agricultural sector—down from 72 percent. While current quotas have reduced agricultural consumption of water resources, they have also put many farmers out of business. Dropping agricultural consumption even further would mean, among a host of other consequences, the inability to sustain communities in the Negev, Arava and Galilee, and thus the loss of Israel’s future land reserves.
- In August 2002 Israel signed an agreement with Turkey wherein Turkey will ship 13.2 billion gallons of water to Israel annually, about 3 percent of its water supply. It will take two years for the agreement to go into effect. While this agreement was politically important for Israel in terms of developing their relationship with a Moslem country and the only other democracy in the Middle East, it is not an economically advantageous arrangement for Israel. Israel will pay Turkey approximately three times what it would cost them for the same amount of recycled water and about twice that of desalinated water. At best, this agreement will replace the 13.2 billion gallons of water that Israel supplies to Jordan as part of their 1994 peace agreement.
- Israel’s long-term plan for supplying water over the next 40 years is concentrated on increasing the quantity and uses of recycled water. While Winter 2003’s rains helped improve matters, the gap between Israel’s natural resources and annual consumption of water is constantly widening. Desalinized water will also play a vital role in closing that gap, however it is more expensive than recycled water and can also be recycled, thereby making efforts that focus on recycling water all the more valuable.
- Jewish National Fund foresaw the significance of the water issue and began allocating resources to build reservoirs beginning in the late 1980s. Thanks to the contributions of JNF supporters, more than 180 reservoirs and dams were built, and provide for the water supply of 1.2 million people. JNF has committed to building another 75 reservoirs over the next five years.
- The important role of JNF reservoirs was demonstrated visibly as they filled completely with the abundant rains of Winter 2003. Without the reservoirs capturing and harnessing the water for the future, the majority of the precipitation would have been totally lost as it eventually washed into the sea.
- JNF reservoirs hold large quantities of recycled wastewater and collect flood and runoff water. By using recycled water for agriculture, fresh water is saved for human consumption. JNF’s research on the uses of recycled water, as well as the continued building of reservoirs all over the country, are an immediate solution to alleviating Israel’s water predicament and are an integral part of its plans for supplying water over the long term.
- JNF is also involved in working to rehabilitate Israel’s rivers. As the coordinating body in the effort to restore rivers, JNF together with Israel’s Ministry of the Environment manages a highly intricate network of partners and authorities. In 1993, JNF along with the Ministry of the Environment created the River Rehabilitation Authority that is the umbrella authority of over 15 governmental, non-profit and research bodies concerned with river health. River restoration includes channel regulation to conduct floodwaters, reduction programs in the quantity of waste and raising the purification level to a suitable baseline for fish breeding and selective irrigation. Over a dozen streams have already benefited from JNF’s efforts, including the Ein Harod River bordering the Jezreel Valley and the Alexander River near Netanyah. Currently, JNF is embarking on a major joint program to rehabilitate the Yarkon River running through Israel’s largest population center.