Keeping Israel Green

There hasn't been anything like it in Israel since the wicked Antiochus. Next Friday, after Independence Day, a new decree will descend on the people of Israel: We will be forbidden to water gardens.

There hasn't been anything like it in Israel since the wicked Antiochus. Next Friday, after Independence Day, a new decree will descend on the people of Israel: We will be forbidden to water gardens.

That's what the newspaper headlines say, though it's not entirely accurate. The gardens will not be dried out. The Water Authority wanted that, in the middle of February, but since then rain has fallen and improved the situation, so only the watering of private lawns will be prohibited. Watering garden plants will be allowed, including trees and potted plants. That is, the catastrophe has been downgrading to a mere disaster.

If the regulations are enforced (and there's a big question mark on this), we can save about 20 million cubic liters this summer. The Water Authority, however, has only six inspectors to catch people watering their lawns. And anyway, how is it possible to prove that a lawn has been watered? Maybe the tree next to it was watered, and the lawn was an incidental beneficiary?

And what will happen to cities' public lawns? The Water Authority wanted to dry them out as well, but the local authorities made a fuss and rescinded the evil decree. The local authorities will receive a quota of 20 million cubic liters instead of the 45 million they received a year ago. This will have to suffice for all kinds of plants, but it will not be enough. So it appears that this year our intersections and parks will be more brown.

In recent months the Water Authority has been on a campaign to save water called "Israel is drying up." It appears the campaign will succeed. People care. They are conserving more water. In addition, the Water Authority has raised the price of water, and the "special rate" for watering a garden has gone up tens of percentage points. The result: conservation of 75 million cubic liters.

Maybe it would be better to take other steps besides a sweeping prohibition on watering home lawns; for example, a special fee on especially high water use at home. Drying out lawns, after all, affects the quality of life, and there are other ways of saving water.

Does everyone know that flushing the toilet accounts for about one-third of all domestic water use? We can flush with a lighter touch to let out only a tiny amount of water.

Before finding this proposal shocking, let's remember that when there was a water problem in Britain, the prime minister at the time, Tony Blair, said that in his home they didn't flush after every small use. If he can do it, why shouldn't we?

A long time ago it was customary to wash yourself in an economical way. You would step into the shower and soon turn off the water, lather up, and turn on the water again and rinse off. Nowadays, just try instituting this at home and your family will rebel and say impossible. But it's possible.

These changes would save more than drying out the lawns, and they can be instilled via an effective campaign. We have, after all, done away with the once-common practice of washing the car using a garden hose.

Until a few years ago it was possible to blame the farmers for the water shortage. Not only did they get water at half the price paid by households (and this is still the case), they received a huge annual quota of about a billion cubic meters. They then grew water-intensive crops, which they exported to Europe, instead of concentrating on sun-intensive crops as befits a semi-arid country.

In recent years, however, the agriculture lobby has understood there are limits to its irresponsibility, and it has begun to gradually reduce water quotas. These are being replaced by so-called gray water, saline water and floodwater. This year, for example, the farmers are getting only 354 million cubic meters of "white" water - one-third of what they received 10 years ago.

A water shortage is developing in the entire world. The problem is worse in Israel, especially because the population is growing and living standards are rising. The natural water supply is dwindling after a series of drought years, a short rainy season and the salinization and pollution of the groundwater.

Though it's possible to desalinate seawater, building the installations requires time. Therefore the solution for the crisis is conserving at home and equalizing the price of water for agriculture with the price for households, which will spur additional savings in agriculture.

If we do this we won't need to dry out our lawns any longer. The Antiochian decrees will be rescinded.