Thursday, March 12, 2009

Missing the Point: Turkish Water Exports to Israel

Israel is looking at a plan to import water from Turkey in the face of severe water shortages facing the country. The water import plans (on which much more interesting detail and history is provided here) which would be part of a larger strategy of finding other sources of water--such as recovering 'grey water' for agricultural use--is being closely scrutinized for two reasons.

First, the technology used to transport the water is uncertain. An Israeli invention, which is essentially a giant sleeve which can be filled with fresh water and towed through the sea (and which would likely be favored by the Israeli government because it's home-grown) is still considered unproven. The article is unclear as to why proven technology, like Medusa Bags are not being considered instead.

Secondly, Israeli officials are nervous about having to depend on a foreign state for water, especially one like Turkey, which whom recent political relations have been uneasy.

Both these considerations miss the point. Water imports are a band aid solution. Israel's per capita levels of water use fall somewhere above Europe but below North America. Israelis need to learn to be more careful with their use of water. Yes, it's true, climactic conditions in Israel which may require more water for agriculture than is needed in Europe is an important contribution to this disparity, but much of Canada, one of the largest per capita consumers of water in the world, and a country with plentiful precipitation is far worse than any place in Europe, so there must be other factors afoot. The conclusion is therefore that Israelis (well really, people in all developed countries) need to be even more judicious in their use of water. There is an environmental cost to water transfers and a false sense of security created by being able to just ship water in. More needs to be done on the consumption side to prevent inefficient solutions on the production side.


J. said...

I really wonder what makes the biggest difference for water conservation. Why do European countries have lower per capita levels of water use than Israel? My assumption would be that this is about the agricultural sector in Israel. Or is it about household water habits?

Charlie H. Ettinson said...

It's a good question and I don't know what the answer is. In fact, the best answer is that there's probably no single element. Off the cuff though, I'd hypothesize that a major factor is the amount of precipitation Europe receives in comparison to Israel. Natural rainfall can reduce, or eliminate the need for watering crops. In Israel, with very low levels of rainfall, agriculture requires artificial water supplies.

Climactic situations may also result in humans drinking less water (if they're cooler than those in more arid climates) and so on.