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Pray For Rain

Pray For Rain
By Shai Gefen

An interview with Dr. Chaim Gewirtzman of Hebrew University of Yerushalayim

Eretz Yisroel is in semi-arid land characterized by frequent years of drought. In the ‘80’s, for example, there were two hot cycles of three years each (in 1983-1985, the rains were 22% less than usual, and in 1988-1990, the rains were 30% less than usual). A more serious example is the six straight years of drought from 1957-1962, in which the average rainfall was 40% less in comparison to the year with the most rain.

How do we know this won’t happen again? If, ch’v, our prayers aren’t answered, 5761 will also be a year of drought and we will have to pump water from under the red line, both in the Kineret and the underground reservoirs. That will only supply municipal needs, and the farmers will have to have their water supply cut by 70-80%. If we don’t have a miracle and 5762 will also be hot, we will have irreversible damage done to our water sources, the significance of which we cannot estimate today.

* * *

What is the state of Eretz Yisroel’s water supply?

5759 was the year of the worst drought in the last hundred years! In most of the country, the amount of rainfall was only 45% compared to an average year. In April of 1999, even before the pumping season, the Kineret was three meters lower than it should be optimally. In other words, the water level of the Kineret was only one meter above the emergency red line.

Because of this lower water level, the water authority was instructed to provide water from reservoirs of well-water to those who supply the water to the consumers. Pumping from the Kineret was limited to suppliers who had no connection to alternate sources of water. But none of this helped. The evaporation during the summer heat as well as the pumping by the national pipeline led to a drop in water level to the red line. Today the level is 25 centimeters below the red line.

The nation’s emergency reservoirs of water have been emptied with nothing remaining. This is the state of our water supply, the likes of which we haven’t had since they began gathering hydrological data.

What is the main reason for this frightening lack of water?

In addition to the fact that there has been little rain, the wasting of water did not stop. The need to conserve water was mentioned every so often, but nothing was done to force conservation. People keep wasting water. It should be noted that the municipal authorities are interested in waste. They profit from increased water use in homes since they buy a cubic meter of water from Mekorot for 1.30 shekel and sell it for 4.00 shekel on average. Why should the struggling municipalities give up this source of income?

There is also tremendous waste on the part of the farmers, who consume 60% of the nation’s water.

But in 5760 the rains were better than in 5759.

Although more rain fell than the year before, it still isn’t enough. The water situation in Eretz Yisroel is worse than ever. Now they’re talking about bringing water from Turkey and they’re thinking of other ideas. We caused this intolerable situation that threatens the existence of the state because of the signing of political agreements with the Palestinians and Jordanians.

They’re talking about desalinating ocean water. Is that feasible?

Ironically, the State of Israel is not desalinating water. Even if the State of Israel gave the green light and would announce it is accepting bids on the building of desalinization plants, the work would take two or three years to complete.

Today they’re talking about importing water from Turkey, though we’re not ready for that either. You need to prepare a port and connect it to the national water supply through a giant pipe, and that kind of work takes a long time. Even if they base themselves at the oil port of Ashkelon and even if they expropriate the necessary lands on the grounds of emergency in order to lay the pipe, the work will take nearly a year to complete.

So all we can do is pray for rain?

You can’t rely on a miracle!

* * *

The water situation in Eretz Yisroel is terrible. Even the state of the official institutions charged with the responsibility of monitoring the drinking water is terrible. It’s been a long time now that they aren’t functioning. The Mekorot company with its glorious past – it established many water concerns throughout the country – is under constant threat by the union and is unable to be effective in its work.

The Tahal company, which served for decades as the national water advisory and helped many developing countries with their water supplies, is no longer involved on the national scene. The water authorities are busy with internal quarrels for years now. The academicians at the universities prefer doing research on foreign countries.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government in the past and the present has been unable to make decisions. The Ministry wants to make many reforms – among them raising the price of water, building desalinization plants, importing water from Turkey, cutting the water supply for agriculture, completing plants that will recycle sewer water – but they don’t do a thing.

What does the water problem have to do with political agreements?

In recent years, Eretz Yisroel has committed to providing tens of millions of cubic meters of water to the Palestinians and Jordanians, and it’s impossible to get out of it even during years of drought. These agreements were signed in 1991-1994. There was a lot of rain at that time. The atmosphere of the "new Middle East," the ridiculous self-confidence that we could produce unlimited water, and the severe degeneration of the professional and administrative agencies producing water, contributed to the signing of water agreements at Oslo. It’s doubtful that agreements such as these would have been signed during present water conditions.

It seems as though the public knows nothing about the water reservoirs in Yehuda-Shomron that are about to be given away to the Palestinians. What’s going on there?

The natural reservoir in Yehuda-Shomron is called Aquifer HaHar, and it’s the largest and most important reservoir of water in Eretz Yisroel. It provides 600 million cubic meters in an average year, which is a third of the total consumption.

The water of Aquifer HaHar is of the best quality in all Eretz Yisroel. It is divided into three subterranean basins. The western one is called Aquifer Yarkon-Taninim, and it supplies 360 million cubic meters a year; the northern one is called Aquifer Sh’chem-Gilboa, and it supplies 140 million cubic meters a year; the eastern one supplies 100 million cubic meters of water a year. The Aquifer Yarkon-Taninim is the biggest and most important and is the source for about two and a half million consumers who live in Yerushalayim, Tel Aviv, and most of the cities in the center of the country.

What were the Palestinians promised at Oslo?

At Oslo the amount of additional water which the Palestinians would get during the intermediate stages of the process was specified as a total of 28.6 million cubic meters a year. This amount is more than the 220 million cubic meters a year which was allowed the Palestinians in Yehuda-Shomron and Aza on the day the agreement was signed. Since then, Eretz Yisroel has come through on all its promises.

Which settlements were harmed as a result of the intermediate agreements?

The 7 bore-holes of Herodion and Shadma, which used to supply water to the settlements of Maaleh Adumim and Efrat, today supply water to Chevron and Beis Lechem. The Americans and Germans are presently completing drilling of four additional wells in the Herodion area for the Palestinians. Additional drilling has been done to reinforce the water supply for other cities (like in Ein Semia for Ramala, in Odla for Sh’chem, and Nachal Ginat for Jenin). In addition, dozens of villages were connected to the water supply that were never connected to the pipe; and new water lines set up for hundreds of other villages.

Israel also fulfilled its obligation in the Gaza strip and placed a water pipe from Kisufim to Chan-Yunes.

It’s a shocking contrast: the Israeli supply is a disaster while the Palestinian Authority is expanding its water use. It’s simply absurd.

What water agreements will be signed by Barak as part of the final agreement?

At Oslo, they wrote that the water rights of Palestinians on the West Bank would be discussed at the negotiations for a final agreement. In official publications of the Palestinian Authority, it says that their rights at the Aquifer HaHar are estimated at about 500 million cubic meters a year!

You can’t know what a withdrawal will bring in its wake. Their actions in Aza after the withdrawal can serve as an indication of what will happen in the future. After the I.D.F. retreated from Aza, they drilled – in opposition to their agreement – 500 new wells! Who knows how they will behave in another 5 or 10 years? And what will happen when tensions rise? Can we allow ourselves to gamble with the Aquifer Yarkon-Taninim?

Today there is already a need to take precautions to prevent excessive pumping by the Palestinians in the near and distant future. For this reason, there’s a need for exclusive Israeli control over the vital pumping areas.

You have to remember that if the Palestinians rule over the area of Beit-A’ohr and Beit Likia, the pumping in the Eilon fields (five bore-holes) and Modiin (four bore-holes) will be in danger. If they rule over the area of Kfar Naama and Dir-Amar, the pumping in the Yarkon fields (nine bore-holes) and Lud (31 bore-holes) will be affected. If they rule over the area of Dir-Esna and Bidia, the pumping in the fields of Rosh HaAyin (nine bore-holes) won’t be able to continue for many years. Today the Palestinians rule over the area of Kalkilia and Tol-Kerem, and Israel hardly pumps from there at all. If their rule expands in this area and extends north until Beka-El-Sharika, the pumping in the fields of Yad-Chana, Tira, Kakon, Shaar Menashe, and Maanit will be endangered.

What can you say to those who are involved in negotiating with the Palestinians?

You have to deal directly with the team responsible for negotiating with the Palestinians over a final agreement and tell them: When you go to draw up the permanent map with the Palestinians, protect the water reserves in Yehuda-Shomron, especially the strategic areas for water, which are so vital to us. Don’t let those yellow and brown spots (areas A and B) spread westward.

I say that in agreements with the Palestinians, Israel is endangering the water supplies for all Israelis. There is no doubt that the Palestinians will slowly pump all the water out of the Aquifer HaHar, and we won’t be able to pump from these places anymore. You have to remember that we’re talking about 37% of the water Eretz Yisroel uses. The withdrawal Eretz Yisroel plans from Yehuda-Shomron will not allow us to guard these water sources.

Do you know what’s happening in the negotiations?

No, I don’t. It’s all top-secret, but according to what was agreed to with the Jordanians at Oslo, I’m sure they will repeat the same mistake and abandon our water sources to the Palestinians. We have seen that at least when it comes to the water supply, Israel has not protected its vital interests. This is an indication of what is going on with all other topics under discussion at the negotiations.

What can we do?

We cannot rely on our leaders in matters so crucial such as our water supply. We must bring this information before the public and emphasize that the serious water problem we now have will get worse and become critical if Eretz Yisroel continues to forsake its water supply and hand it over to the Palestinian Authority.



It’s a shocking contrast: the Israeli supply is a disaster while the Palestinian Authority is expanding its water use. It’s simply absurd.





There is no doubt that the Palestinians will slowly pump all the water out of the Aquifer HaHar, and we won’t be able to pump from these places anymore...


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