A top-level Israeli delegation left Sunday for Turkey to negotiate the importation of fresh-water, amid growing concern that the level of Lake Tiberius (known to Israel as Kinneret) may not return to even the original red-line mark due to insufficient winter rain, reported the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
The delegation comprises representatives from Israel's water authority (Mekorot), ministries of finance, foreign and national infrastructure, said the Post.
Various options are to be discussed, including importing either 30 or 50 million cms yearly from Turkey under agreements that would be in force for five or 10 years, added the paper.
Mekorot, said the paper, is urging the government to speed up plans for a major seawater desalination plant alongside the electric corporation's (IEC) Ashdod power station.
The project has already been approved in principle by Prime Minister Ehud Barak, but the treasury has yet to give its go-ahead, the paper said.
Mekorot chairman, Uri Saguy, and director-general Amos Epstein maintain that by utilizing existing infrastructure and the water company's know-how, the desalination plant could be operational within 18-20 months.
They stressed that the project must move forward quickly in order to be on line by the summer of 2002, when the first imports of water from Turkey are expected.
"We are now expecting, according to the forecast [for the remainder of the winter] that we won't even reach the red-line mark [in the Kinneret and the underground reservoirs] because the levels are still a long way from that," Epstein told the Post.
"There's simply no other choice. We have to stop treading water and get on immediately with the task of establishing the Ashdod desalination plant, which I believe could begin to produce desalinated water for the country within 18-20 months."
Meanwhile, AFP reported Sunday that Iraq and Syria are to hold a meeting in Baghdad next week, to which Turkey is also invited, on an arrangement to share the waters of the Euphrates River.
Iraq's irrigation minister, Mahmud Diab al-Ahmad, quoted by Al-Ittihad newspaper, said the meeting would take place during a visit by his Syrian counterpart Taha al-Atrash, who is expected in Baghdad on January 27, AFP said.
"Turkey will also be invited to take part," Ahmad said, while noting, however, that Ankara had in the past boycotted such meetings.
But efforts to reach a three-way deal with Turkey, where the Euphrates originates, were not making headway because of Ankara's "intransigence," the Iraqi minister said.
Ankara rejects charges from Baghdad and Damascus that it is monopolizing the Euphrates and Tigris by building more than 20 dams.
Both rivers rise in Turkish mountains, and join together in southern Iraq before flowing into the Gulf -- Albawaba.com
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