August 21, 2009
Water crisis worsens
Government imposes a levy on excessive use.
Yafeh Ne'eman, one of the founders of Moshav Korazim, which overlooks the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, used to operate a tree nursery on her property. She had to close it down a couple of years ago, she said, because "it was taking too much water." Now she runs a bed and breakfast, or a szimmer, as they are called in Israel.
Ne'eman's yard is still full of plants and trees, however.
"This year, most of them are barely surviving, as I water them only when absolutely necessary," she said. "Every year, our household is allotted less and less water from the Rosh Pina municipality. This year, we got allotted 20 percent less than last year."
Ne'eman has a private pool on her property for use by her guests – one of about 15 private pools on the moshav – and the guest rooms have Jacuzzi tubs. With temperatures often around 40 degrees Celsius near the Kinneret in the summertime, a swimming pool is almost a necessity, but, in 2009, Israelis are having to come to grips with the worst water shortage in years.
Access to water is what made the first Jewish pioneers who originated from Romania decide to settle in Rosh Pina.
"The pioneers settled in Rosh Pina because they made a mistake," explained Tehila, the owner of a family hotel in the city. "They thought there was a river and they could make their living from fishing, but when they arrived, they realized that the wadi [river bed] was dry in the summer and [they] couldn't fish. If Baron Rothschild hadn't begun to fund the yishuv [settlement], the pioneers wouldn't have been able to survive."
While there has been a major water crisis going on for the last five years in Israel, this year, with low rainfall, the Kinneret, Israel's main drinking source, has hit its lowest level ever recorded.
"Yesterday, I went fishing in the Kinneret, or what's left of it," said Benny Livneh, another moshavnik from Korazim. "I was there for hours, but didn't catch anything. There just aren't as many fish as there used to be."
"Many Israelis haven't yet internalized the message that they have to cut back on water usage," said Hodiel Ben Anat, an elementary school teacher at Ramat Korazim, who recycles water used in her gardening. "Living near the Kinneret, we can see the effects of the water drought. I think Israelis who live in the north are more aware of the fact that there is an acute water shortage and that we have to start conserving more."
To encourage water conservation, Israel's Water Authority has implemented "an excessive use levy," which came into effect July 15. It imposes a surcharge on every cubic metre of water used over a certain level: every household up to four people will get 30 cubic metres of water per two months. The slogan is "From now on wasting water has a price!''
The levy is most likely to affect upper-class areas north of Tel-Aviv, such as Kfar Shmaryahu and Savion, where average household water consumption is well over the national average. The Water Authority hopes that a really high water bill will cause heavy users to rethink their water use for the good of their pocketbooks. Water commissioner Uri Shani has announced that the levy is meant to encourage people to save water, rather than bring in more revenues for the state.
The mere fact of the levy has created increased awareness of the issue. Over coffee on Netanya's beach, Israelis can be heard discussing what, if anything, they will do to cut down on water use so as to avoid the levy. At Sironit Beach, the municipality of Netanya is operating only one – not three – taps for showering off after swimming in the Mediterranean. More people standing in line to shower off has resulted in people taking shorter showers and the tap is never left running.
Liat Aryeh, who lived in Winnipeg as a Jewish Agency shlicha (representative) for the now-defunct Winnipeg Zionist Initiative, said that she isn't going to put grass in the yard of the home she and her husband have recently built on Moshav Kadima. "It's going to take a lot of water to green up the yard, and we can wait," she said.
As the levy has been brought in, some critics charge that Israel is at fault for not building enough desalination plants – the political will to build desalination plants evaporated during years of abundant rainfall. But others maintain that, even if there were more desalination plants, the country should have been waging a more aggressive educational awareness campaign to conserve water a long time ago.
As Manitoba and the Jewish National Fund prepare for the second Manitoba-Israel Water Symposium, scheduled to take place in January 2010 in Israel, Israelis, more than ever, will be keenly aware of the urgent need to find solutions to the country's water crisis.
Rhonda Spivak is a freelance writer and the editor of Winnipeg's Jewish Post and News.