Is Israel's water crisis over?

Thursday, May 19, 2011 |  Ryan Jones

The former head of Israel's Water Authority surprised many of his countrymen on Wednesday when he said in a Channel 2 News interview that Israel's water crisis is over.

Before leaving the Water Authority to become a professor at Hebrew University four months ago, Dr. Uri Shani had been warning Israelis that the six previous years of drought had created such a severe shortage of water that harsh measures would likely be required this summer.

Changing course in his Channel 2 appearance, Shani stated, "I can say with caution that the water crisis has ended."

Israel experienced a large increase in rainfall this spring, but Shani said the main reason Israel's crisis has ended is accelerated work on numerous desalination plants along the Mediterranean Coast.

"The main reason is not the rain of course, it is the desalinization facilities that Israel is building at perhaps the greatest speed in the world," said Shani. "Also, the recent water conservation practices of Israel."

But figures released by the Water Authority showed that Shani's optimism may be premature.

While Israel did experience a fairly average winter in terms of rainfall, after six years of serious drought, the country still has a deficit of about one billion cubic meters of water.

And Israel's annual water needs far outpace even a good winter's rainfall.

The new desalination plants are expected to turn the tide in the struggle for water, but they are not yet operational. And if the coming year is particularly dry, the new desalination plants will be working overtime just to help Israel play catch-up.

In the meantime, Water Authority spokesman Uri Schor told The Jerusalem Post that Israel's main water reservoirs - the Sea of Galilee and the mountain aquifers - remain critically depleted.

"We will be under the red line this summer in all three main reserves," said Schor.

Despite seeing what he believes is light at the end of the tunnel, Shani warned Israelis that water prices will remain high for the foreseeable future.

"Water is expensive," he noted, remdinding Israelis that "we live in the desert."

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