For many years mishaps have plagued the handling of Israel's water resources; soon they will be discussed in a state commission's report. One of the biggest issues is a lack of conservation, despite the television commercials in which celebrities and artists, their faces peeling, have been telling us about the importance of conserving water so Lake Kinneret won't dry up.
Israel has taught its citizens that they can use as much electricity as they want because the state will build more power plants. It encouraged them to buy more cars because the state will provide enough fuel and roads. And the state didn't consider it important enough to make a special effort and ask people to conserve water; it will simply build big and expensive desalination plants that will allow foreign companies to make more money by taking advantage of our ingrained wastefulness.
Even though the last five winters have produced little rain, household water consumption continued to rise significantly between 2005 and 2007. It surpassed even the population's growth rate. Our water shortage today amounts to some 2 billion cubic meters, and our water resources face a real danger.
The Water Authority had many good plans and intentions, but not the means to restrict water use. It devised a master plan for conserving water, but that was neither approved nor budgeted. Nor has a budget been allocated to a plan that would have helped finance recycling water at sports centers, swimming pools and other facilities.
Confusion and uncertainty about Israel's water-conservation policy continue to reign. After the Water Authority's repeated announcements that we must water our gardens less, another mechanism was found to encourage conservation: raising the price of water used for irrigation.
With no persistent guiding hand or sufficient means, it seems the Water Authority can at best run a campaign to curb increasing water consumption. But countries suffering shortages like Israel need to cut back consumption by at least 20 percent. Some countries have already achieved this goal.
The sad conclusion is that the few people in the Water Authority who tried to promote conservation cannot change a system accustomed to relying on technology and the help of the private sector.
When the people in this system finally realized that we are in the midst of a water crisis, they promoted and budgeted more big and expensive desalination plants. These facilities are important, but they can't replace significant and long-term conservation.
Had Israel enforced a water-conservation regime including the extensive use of water-conservation equipment, proper pricing for home and agricultural use, recycling and prudent limitations on irrigation, the water shortage would be much smaller today. The Kinneret wouldn't have dried up so fast and our dependence on expensive and energy-guzzling facilities would be smaller.
As the World Wild Fund for Nature says in its recent report on global desalination, societies need a new attitude to water, not new water supply.
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