By Zafrir Rinat

As governments and organizations marked World Water Day yesterday, a report commissioned by the state’s top agency responsible for water management pointed to an increase in Israel’s water conservation as well as an improvement in its water quality.

According to Mekorot, the better water quality has led to a one-third reduction in the level of chlorine. The national water company also reported that the public service announcements encouraging lower water consumption, combined with the recently enacted drought tax, have led to a 18.5 percent drop in water usage. The city of Netanya warranted special mention as the least wasteful in terms of consumption.

Chlorine is used as a disinfecting agent against bacteria in drinking water. As the quality of water decreases, the use of chlorine, a toxic chemical when ingested in large quantities, becomes more widespread. Chlorine also has an adverse effect on the taste of water.

Over the past two years, Mekorot began operating a central filtering facility for water that is pumped from Lake Kinneret. In addition, the water company has expanded its quality control apparatus. Mekorot officials said these efforts have resulted in improved water quality, thus enabling the company to reduce its reliance on chlorine. The company is hopeful that the increased use of desalinized water will yield a further drop in the use of chlorine.

The Water Authority yesterday presented figures which show that in 2008, the annual rate of water consumption per capita reached a record level of 110 cubic meters. After the media campaigns and drought tax raised public awareness of the issue, water consumption fell to 90 cubic meters per capita by the end of last year.

An analysis of water usage by cities showed that Netanya was the most frugal municipality. In 2008, the average Netanya resident consumed 102.8 cubic meters. By the end of 2009, consumption had plummeted 19 percent, to 82.9 cubic meters.

The Water Authority notes that despite the public’s aversion to paying the drought tax, 73 percent of consumers did not even reach the maximum consumption threshold before the tax came into effect. In addition, 14 percent of consumers exceeded the threshold yet did not exceed a level of water usage that cost them more than NIS 100.

Authority officials said they were concerned that the trend would be reversed if public pressure to repeal the drought tax pays off.

Meanwhile, a United Nations Environment Program-commissioned report stated yesterday that 900 million people worldwide do not have access to clean water.

The report, which is entitled “Sick Water”, presented figures which show that 1.8 million children under the age of five die every year due to unclean water. In addition, more than half of hospital beds around the world are occupied by people who fell ill following exposure to contaminated water.