The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea: Charismatic Megafauna in Israel’s Water Crisis

by Maskil on May 8, 2009

Sky News recently featured an insert regarding the state of the Sea of Galilee (AKA Kinneret or Tiberias). (I tend to stick with Sky;  nothing at all to do with Sky having the hottest women presenters of all the networks.)

First the Dead Sea and now the Sea of Galilee have become Israel’s “charismatic megafauna” when it comes to the water crisis it faces. Israel is extremely fortunate to have not one, but two such unique “species”. We shouldn’t make the mistake, however, of believing that these two alluring bodies of water can be saved in isolation, any more than the Giant Panda can be saved without sparing its habitat.

Elsewhere I’ve outlined a comprehensive layman’s agenda for addressing Israel’s water crisis, but I have no problem restating it here. For this piece, I’ve broken it down into Maintenance and Development activities:

Maintenance

Who could have predicted a sustained drought? The Israeli Water Authority needs to urgently update its projections and plans to factor in the impact of Climate Change (Global Scorching) and prolonged drought.

“Such a drought of five successive years – that’s something we never met,” Dr Doron Merkel told Sky News Online.

Perhaps, but surely after just 2 or 3 years something of a rethink would have been in order?

The demand side. Make strenuous efforts to reduce consumption. The current advertising campaign is a good start, but the strategy to reduce consumption needs to be both comprehensive and sustained and include elements such as pricing.

Reduce waste. This is somewhat different to the efforts to reduce consumption, and mainly involves getting all levels of society (national, municipal, household, etc.) to maintain and repair infrastructure, in order to limit water wastage to the absolute minimum. Mekorot’s pipelines must be in good order, and leaking tap washers must be replaced.

(On a recent trip to Israel (I love saying that; I don’t get out much) to attend CONNECTIONS 2009, the hostels we stayed at showed little evidence of the water crisis. Dual-flush toilets were there, but no water-saving shower heads or other consumer devices or appeals to use water sparingly. Even bath/basin plugs were a scarce commodity! The tourism/hospitality industry could play a key role in educating both visitors and the public about the need to save water.)

Reduce pollution. Both more and less significant water sources (from small streams through to the aquifers on which Israel rests (in many senses)) have been or are being lost to pollution. Drastic steps need to be taken to halt this trend and restore these sources to the supply side of this unequal equation.

Realign agriculture. The water crisis should not require that Israeli agriculture – Zionism’s first born – be treated as a sacrificial lamb. All stakeholders should commit themselves to transforming Israeli agriculture over the next 3 to 5 years at the latest, to wean it off its dangerous addiction to scarce, subsidised water. Much has already been done in this regard, but much still remains to be done.

Development

Climate Change. While Israel’s “contribution” to Climate Change is insignificant, there’s no reason why she should not strive to become a net “negative contributor” when it comes to greenhouse gasses. Israel should also continue and expand activities that mitigate the effects of Climate Change, e.g. large-scale afforestation.

Eat your own dog food. Israel is acknowledged as being in the forefront of water technology. Instead of simply exporting this knowhow, Israel itself needs to become the field trial or proving ground for its own R and D; the pilot site for technologies than can help her use less water, more efficiently and effectively. Israel needs to eat its own dog food as far as water-tech is concerned; a win-win situation for both vendors and society.

Desalination. Israel’s population and mainly Western lifestyle mean that water consumption is far in excess of the carrying capacity of the country. Even were all the items above to be checked, there would still be a deficit. The only way to address this deficit is through desalination of seawater. Everyone in Israel knows this, but activity is lagging far behind awareness. Government needs to become the facilitator, and not an obstacle when it comes to large scale efforts to desalinate seawater.

The Med-Kinneret Aqueduct. The much vaunted Red-Dead Canal may or may not save the Dead Sea from total extinction. It won’t do much for Israel’s water situation, however. Only my Med-Kinneret Aqueduct proposal has the potential to rehabilitate the entire Jordan (from the Kinneret to the Dead Sea), as well as topping up Israel’s overall water supply “pool”. This is the final piece in the puzzle and needs to be given a serious hearing before Israel commits to a different (potentially disastrous) canal project.

Links/Reading/Resources:

  1. Sea of Galilee – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  2. Charismatic megafauna – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  3. Nostalgia Sunday – Mekorot’s water portfolio | ISRAELITY

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