Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Drowning in Drought

I have never really been a big fan of the water. Maybe it’s because when I was young some kid held me under the water at the swim club, a scarring experience no doubt, (what would Freud have to say about that!), or maybe something else. But I don’t particularly like to go swimming. And the beach, forget it. Sand everywhere that follows you home in your hair, shoes, etc. Filthy salty water. Who needs it? The only exception is swimming on a very hot summer day with my kids. That’s refreshing and fun. And since I know that my attitude toward swimming is not healthy, and that I have a responsibility to teach my kids to swim, I get over it and take the plunge. Most of the time. This week, however, filling up my kids’ outdoor wading pool was not only exciting, but it was even emotional. In Israel we got what we have been praying for the past months. Rain. And lots of it. Given the grave situation that was being painted for us going into the spring and summer, talk of the most severe water shortage here ever, the rain was a welcome and very needed gift. In the past months I have been drilling into my kids’ heads about not wasting water. Not a day goes by without some suggestion as to how to save, or at least not to waste, this precious resource. The kids understand that without water, life cannot exist, and our life as we live it cannot be possible. I put the wading pool out in the front of the house to capture as much rain as possible. I am guessing it has as much as 50 gallons. It’s dirty, murky and not anything we’d want to swim in. But when the rain stops, there will be water left to water our six fruit trees and grape vine. The lawn can die, that’s not the end of the world. But the fruit trees that we planted with our own hands and are now just coming to the time that we can eat from them, we can’t let them die. It’s Israel. A tree is not just a tree. But we also can’t waste the water. So this is my partial answer, even more than what it does to save water, it is important in what it teaches my kids about how to be responsible Israelis. Another neighbor put a 500 liter tank on top of his house to catch rain water for use in the garden too. The rains this week increased the level of the Kineret, Israeli’s main source of fresh water, by about 8 inches. That’s really quite a lot. More than 50 inches of snow on the Hermon in the Golan have an important impact too because when the snows melt, run-off will also make its way into the Kineret. Maybe another 8 inches. Maybe more. But as exciting and emotional as this all really is, the sum of all the prior rains this winter was only 11 inches. Before the recent storm, the Kineret was just 34 inches above the Black Line, the level at which ground contamination may force a halt to pumping of water into the national water carrier. Basically, the closing of Israel’s primary water source. From another perspective, the Red Line, the minimum desirable level of the Kineret, is 46 inches above the current level. That means we need another six good storms, at least, just to get to the minimum desirable level. And to fill the Kineret, the level needs to rise more than another 5 meters or almost 200 inches, not factoring in usage and evaporation in the interim. As much as I hope that the Kineret may fill up this season, I also hope that the government will finally expedite plans to build desalination plants and other projects that will give us more water when we need it. As much as the lack of water is a severe threat, the government’s mismanaging of this for years is criminal and needs to stop. It’s not just that living in Israel we have to be more responsible and careful with water. There’s a personal awareness of the scarcity of this resource, and how water connects us to the Land. When we pray for rain here, it’s not the same as it was in the US, praying for rain over there. It’s here, in our front yard, our back yard and everywhere around us. Its very close and personal. While I have lived in many places where droughts have occurred, in Israel it’s a regular event. We’re grateful for the rain and hope and pray it will continue. But we have to be responsible about not wasting water, and conserving it every little bit that we can. I miss the carefree days of leisure and taking a nice long, hot shower. But if my sacrificing and conserving just a little helps just a little, and helps others – especially my kids –Israelis and tourists alike to do so as well, while I can’t make the rain, I can hope that we won’t waste water or take it for granted. And through a personal awareness and commitment not to waste water, maybe collectively we can add just a bit that will help us get through the dry months from this spring until when the next rains begin.