Reversal undermines Water Authority’s reduction of home water consumption in face of country’s long dry spell
Zafrir Rinat | May 1, 2018 | 2:46 AM

A decade after the Water Authority managed to bring about a significant drop in household water usage in Israel, its achievement has eroded and during the past two years household water usage has gone up nearly 10 percent. This emerges from a strategic plan to cope with drought years recently formulated by the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry and which it soon plans to submit to the cabinet to be approved as a government resolution.

The plan was drawn up because of the serious situation of Israel’s water sector. After five straight years of low precipitation, the level of Lake Kinneret is 38 centimeters below the lower red line before the summer even begins and the amount of water flowing in the Dan springs (the largest in the Middle East) is at an all-time low. The plan is supposed to deal with drought periods during the years 2018-2030. Along with increasing water production through desalination, the plan calls to renew activities to encourage saving water.

According to the Infrastructure Ministry and the Water Authority, over the past two years household water consumption has gone up by more than 40 million cubic meters annually, a 10 percent increase. During the previous decade the Water Authority had conducted a massive publicity campaign to encourage water conservation that included the distribution of water-saving accessories for the home. The result was a 10 percent decline in water consumption.

The ministry says the increase in water usage cannot be explained solely by Israel’s relatively rapid population growth. It stems, inter alia, from a drop in efficient use of water on the assumption that desalination makes water conservation less necessary. The plan also states that the effect of the increase in water tariffs in 2010 has faded and the drop in water prices last year was another disincentive to save water.

The new plan proposes a 10 million shekel ($2.8 million) campaign to encourage water conservation. The Water Authority can, through existing regulations, limit municipal watering during certain hours of the day or impose restrictions on washing vehicles. But concrete steps have yet to be taken and most of the resources will be invested in public campaigns, which have proven successful in the past.

As for desalination facilities, the plan calls for a special effort to build a desalination plant in the Western Galilee, an area defined as “cut off” from water, since its supply is based on local sources without backing from the national water carrier. Residents, however, have objected to the construction of a desalination plant near communities, which has delayed construction of such a facility.

The ministry is thus proposing to build a plant that will produce 100 million cubic meters annually in the area of the Shraga Military Base in the Western Galilee. The draft resolution states that the construction of the facility should be advanced quickly through the planning process by the National Infrastructure Committee. It also states that the Defense Ministry should be instructed to fast-track the necessary solutions in coordination with the Ministry of Finance and the Water Authority to be able to build the facility at the Shraga base.

Another proposal intended to expand the water supply is expected to generate opposition from environmental officials; it asks the Health Ministry to consider easing the regulations governing the drilling of wells near infrastructure lines, including fuel pipelines. At present, the ministry forbids the drilling of wells within a certain distance from infrastructure lines, for fear of leaks that would pollute the water. The draft resolution states that drilling will be allowed at shorter distances, on condition that protective measures are taken to prevent leaks from the infrastructure lines.