As though Israel did not have enough to worry about, it now faces a major water crisis. For years experts have been warning that the increase in population and decrease in rainfall will combine to push water levels way down, and now it’s been announced that by year’s end, and maybe even by the end of the summer, the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main source of usable water, will for the first time dip down to the “black line,” below which water can no longer be pumped without causing irreversible ecological damage. The other main source of water for the country, the underground aquifers, are in even worse shape. The head of the water authority called it “the worst crisis since records started being kept 80 years ago.”
A number of solutions have been proposed over the years. Importing water from Turkey is one option, but it creates a strategic dependence on a Muslim country whose future relations with Israel might not be as good as they are today. Conservation is another, but there’s only so much you can conserve before you start hurting your economy–whether it be through raising water prices for domestic use, which disproportionately hurts the poor, or by raising prices for farmers, which also hurts the poor through increased food prices. The real answer is and will always be desalination, a process that is today expensive but can be made much cheaper in the long run through a serious investment in R&D–something Israelis are especially good at. If successful, Israel can solve its water issues and even begin exporting water to a deeply thirsty region.
The bottom line is that this crisis should never have happened: The signs have been there for years, and successive governments have failed to do much to prevent it. Maybe it’s unfair to dump this on Olmert’s record as well, yet it is hard to avoid the fact that this is happening on his watch — two full years after he entered office. When your head is in the sand for too long, you start to get thirsty.