Driving north yesterday I saw my first flock of storks for the season. A little early for spring I thought to myself, but early and late in relation to seasons in the last decade or so, are terms in flux. The storks were acting a little crazy – whirling around on invisible thermals, that were meant to give them a lift to higher stork cruising altitudes. Why crazy? Because it was already late for thermals, towards noon, and the storks were battling the cold winds inter spaced with a desert dust that had blown in from North Africa.
This winter, now in its last throes, has seen a better than average rainfall. For the first time in seven years the water level of the Sea of Galilee has risen over 2 meters – and is still rising. The riverbeds of the Galilee are flowing with water, the countryside, all the way down to the Northern Negev is covered in green vegetation. But the lushness and rising level of Israel’s only fresh water lake is an illusion. Water is scarce, and every year we are over pumping, over using and wasting more than even a good rain year can replace.
Desalination plants are in the works, and in the near future the amount of desalinated water available will double itself, even with the feet dragging of the boys at the Finance Ministry. But, until then, and even after that, we will not have enough water. Over pumping will continue, more and more of the natural springs feeding the riverbeds and open spaces will dry up, and the level of the Sea of Galilee will continue to fall to dangerous heights.
Water is being wasted in Israel because the delivery system is antiquated and a large percentage of the water is lost by seeping out of the rusty, leaking, and ancient pipes. Water is being wasted because as more open spaces get covered with cement, roofs and roads, the rainwater cannot seep into the ground, and flows into the sea. The Water Authority of Israel runs a campaign in the media that “Israel is drying up – we have to save water”. But it is not the households that are wasting water. It’s the authorities. The budgets that are not forthcoming to renew the infrastructure, and the development plans that do not figure out how to leave open spaces so that rain water can seep into the ground.
Just now, after the rain, nobody is talking about saving water. In the past the Finance Ministry delayed the building of desalination plants when there was a sudden rainy year. But, we have a problem, a severe water problem that won’t get better if we turn off the garden hose, and take shorter showers. It is a problem that has to be addressed with budgets for infrastructure and planning. The crazed storks can always fly away, to regions with more swamps and water – those without wings, don’t have that luxury.