Water, Water Everywhere, Is There Enough to Drink?
By Mark H. Levine and Aryeh Dean Cohen
Published: Shevat 5762, January 2002
Omer, Meiram, Yaniv, and Efrat have watched the water level in the Kinneret drop dramatically during the past ten years. There are about 326 million cubic miles of water sloshing around on spaceship Earth, and yet more and more people aboard our planet are struggling to find enough water to live. How is that possible?
- First, 97% of the water on Earth cannot be used without treatment. Untreated ocean water is too salty for drinking, farming, or manufacturing. Fresh water, on the other hand, makes up only a small percentage of the water on Earth, and most of it is locked away in icy glaciers. Even so, there is enough fresh water in lakes, rivers, springs, and aquifers (pronounced ak-wa-firs)- pools of underground water- to meet everyone's needs.
- Unfortunately, the world's fresh water is not evenly distributed. This is the second cause of what may soon be a global water crisis. Some countries (like India, which receives more than 400 inches of rain a year) get more than enough rain to refill lakes, rivers, and aquifers. Other countries- like Israel, which is suffering its worst drought in recorded history- are parched (very dry).
- The third reason for water shortages is human behavior. We don't manage our water resources properly. The Torah commands us "to till the earth and tend it" (l'avdah ul'shamrah). In other words, God created the Earth and then placed it in our custody to manage it wisely.
But wasteful habits and senseless water pollution have caused dangerous shortages around the world. "Israel could run out of water by 2012," Ronald Lauder, president of the Jewish National Fund, told newspaper reporters last year. "And that's assuming there's no [additional] major drought." If there were, he cautioned, "that date gets closer to 2007 or 2005."
For Meiram Ben-Moshe, Yaniv Carmi, Efrat Kykov, and Omer Black, students at the Kidmat Kinneret Regional School, Lauder's gloomy forecast is not an exaggeration. They live alongside the shores of the Yam Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), Israel's main source of fresh water. They have watched it disappear slowly. "We used to swim all the time," says Meiram, gazing at the faint water-lines that show how much the water level has dropped. "The drop-off is so sharp and dangerous that we rarely go in now.""Once you finally get to it," says Efrat sadly, "there is no Yam Kinneret- it's only a puddle." Their friend Omer sees the difference when he skims along the surface on his water scooter, while Yaniv has noticed far fewer fish. "We have less of our St. Peter's fish to trade with other fisheries because ours lay fewer eggs now that the water is shallower," he explains.
The Kinneret usually provides Israel with 111 billion gallons of fresh water each year. Today it is at its lowest point in 150 years: only 23 billion gallons can be withdrawn this year. Looking across the lake toward the city of Tiberias, Meiram is only half kidding when she says, "Things have gotten so bad, we're thinking about planning a trip to Tiberias- on foot."
The drought is not the only culprit to blame for Israel's water emergency. Shaul Arlosoroff, who is responsible for managing water resources in Israel, is disturbed by how much water is wasted. Arlosoroff estimates that almost half of the water that Israeli households use is flushed down the toilet. By recycling that water, and saving the water lost from leaky pipes and long showers, Mr. Arlosoroff thinks Israel could save 27 billion gallons of water each year. He has challenged citizens to conserve water wherever possible.
Teenage Brainpower Helps Stop Waste
Everyone in Israel has responded to the crisis. Families sprinkle unused tap water on brown lawns, cars stay dirty longer, and farmers have eliminated certain crops. Israeli teenagers have also become involved. They recognize that the earth belongs to God, and that they are simply caretakers responsible for preserving it for future generations. They take to heart the warning in Kohelet Rabbah: If we don't preserve God's world, "no one will come along to set it right again."
"We decided to solve the problem by recycling some of the water from the average Israeli bathroom," explained Tomer Montilia, 13, of Habanim School in Lod. Aided by Sahar Jamil and her classmates from the Farm for Agricultural Education, the Jewish and Israeli Arab students built a system that filters household water through a series of containers, holding plants, and activated charcoal. The process purifies the water so it can be reused. "What we did was important because we contributed to water conservation, while making new friends and promoting co-existence," says Sahar.
Shiran Seligmann and her classmates at the Rene Cassin Middle School in Jerusalem decided to save water from being wasted during showers. "We designed a way for shower water to flow into a big tank where it can be cleaned and used again in the toilet or elsewhere," she explained. Another invention that prevents waste was created by kids in Petah Tikvah. They designed a system that reuses the water from stadium bathrooms to irrigate the playing field.
An ancient Middle Eastern curse taunted the enemy to "drink from the sea." Modern Israel is turning that curse into a blessing. As a world leader in desalination (removing salt from seawater), Israel has recently pioneered a new process to purify seawater. Instead of heating the seawater to separate the salt, the new procedure uses synthetic filters. This method is cheaper and quicker than the thermal system. Two large plants are planned for Ashkelon and Ashdod (Israeli cities along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea). The plant at Ashkelon will be the world's largest desalination facility. When the plants are completed, they will provide 83 million gallons of usable water every day and will be an important part of the solution to Israel's water dilemma.
Mr. Uri Saguey, the chairman of Israel's state controlled water company, is optimistic about solving the water shortage. "There are two factors here," he says confidently. "One is God, who brings whatever rain [that falls]. In the past few years that's been a little disappointing. The other is whatever water sources we can develop ourselves."
--Like a fragile drop of delicious water, the Earth sparkles against the unending blackness of outer space. Our planet is home to 6 billion human beings and perhaps 100 million other species of living organisms, all of which need water to survive.
--Twenty percent of the rainfall ends up in the sea, where it cannot be used.
--The Jewish National Fund is working to capture, conserve, and recycle water. During the past 10 years, JNF projects have added 5% to Israel's water resources by:
- Building dams to capture fresh water.
- Recyling 50% of the sewage water to irrigate nonfood and industrial crops.
- Creating 100 new reservoirs to store floodwaters and recycled water.
- Cleaning up Israel's rivers and streams.