A lack of rainfall over the past few years has led to a serious water shortage in Israel, and some experts are warning of a crisis unless Israelis reduce their water consumption or water is imported en masse from Turkey.
Lake Tiberius and two underground reservoirs, one of which is in the Palestinian territories, are expected to meet Israeli demand until the end of the summer, but at a level that is 70 centimeters to one meter below the minimum threshold set by Mekorot, the national water company.
Under that level, the water could become too salty for consumption, said Moshe Friedman, an official in Israel's water commission.
And if the drought persists, Israel could be short 130 million cubic meters (170 million cubic yards) of water by next year.
"We risk finding ourselves in an unprecedented crisis situation," Friedman said.
Preparing for the worst, an Israeli delegation has been negotiating over the past few weeks with Turkey to import 50 million cubic meters of water using converted oil tankers. Under a draft contract, the water purchases could be eventually be increased to 100 million cubic meters a year.
"This option is temporary, before the opening of sea water desalination plants," Friedman said.
He said the deal has not gone through yet "because of the excessive price asked by the Turks."
If a contract is signed soon, the water will be carried to Ashdod, a port south of Tel Aviv, and sent through a pipeline that will be ready in 10 months.
Imported water costs between 80 and 90 US cents per cubic meter, compared with 50 to 70 cents for desalinized water, according to Mekorot.
Israel's water woes are not only a technical question, however, as the parliament is strongly influenced by the powerful lobbies from the kibbutzim, Israeli collective farms, and from the moshavim cooperative villages.
Agriculture takes up nearly 70 percent of the 1.2 billion cubic meters (1.6 billion cubic yards) of water Israel uses each year. Farmers have been asked to reduce their water use by 40 percent a year but so far have only lowered their use by three percent.
Agriculture's official quota for water use has gone down by five percent, while the price for a cubic meter has shot up by seven percent.
"If it's necessary, we'll impose cuts of 70 percent next year, unless our prayers are answered and we have a rainy winter," Infrastructure Minister Eli Souissa said.
The government is also mulling over a ban on lawn sprinklers and car washes - OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)