Despite Winter Rainfall, Drought Prevails

Israel is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in its history, according to an analysis of last winter's rainfall and the current condition of water reservoirs that was presented to the government on Sunday. The analysis was undertaken by the the national water company Mekorot and the hydrological service of the Water Authority. During Sunday's meeting, officials deliberated on plans to develop water resources and authorized the establishment of the largest water desalination plant in Israel, to be erected near Palmahim.

According to an estimating tool known as the drought meter, last winter is part of a continuing, six-year period of drought. Statistics show that this is the longest and most severe drought period recorded here since the 1920s. Data on drought have been collected since 1915; all in all, Israel has hitherto suffered eight such periods.

The drought meter is based on data from four meteorological stations which measure the amount of precipitation. At Kfar Giladi, Mikveh Israel and Jerusalem, statistics point to the current year as a drought year. In contrast, at the Acre station there was a break in drought conditions last winter.

Researchers also measured the flow of water in the upper Jordan River (before it spills into Lake Kinneret ) and found that it was greater than last year. Nevertheless, when comparing this year's statistics to the average winter flow between 1936 and 2010, this year is still considered relatively arid. In the current drought, the accumulated shortfall of water in the upper Jordan River is equal to the amount that flows there on average in two seasons. At the Mikveh Israel station near Holon the accumulated shortfall reached 544 mm. of rain, slightly more than the overall average annual rainfall in the area.

The significance of these statistics is that an entire year's average rainfall has been lost.

The drought statistics convinced the government on Sunday to support projects such as the desalination plant at Palmahim, which will be able to supply 16 percent of Israel's drinking water. The decision was made despite the opposition of environmental organizations, who warned of the possible detrimental effects on health. The Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V'Din ) called on government officials not to approve the plan because the effects of such a large amount of desalinated water on human health have not yet been sufficiently examined.

The IUED says that treated water lacks vital components such as magnesium. It also recalled the recommendation of a government investigatory committee on water to limit desalination facilities because of their effects on the environment. In the case of Palmahim, the plant is to be built in the heart of a unique landscape of sand dunes that are of ecological and aesthetic importance.