Cablegate: Embassy Tel Aviv

DE RUEHTV #0242/01 0301407
P 301407Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

Ref: 07 Tel Aviv 1698

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Israel and PA areas have received less than
two-thirds the average rainfall for this period during the 2007-2008
rainy season, and may face greater water scarcity than ever before.
The fourth consecutive year of poor rains will leave natural sources
of water unreplenished. The Jordan River, Lake Kinneret (Sea of
Galilee), and underground aquifers are already pumped beyond their
sustainable limits. Water recycling and desalination hold promise,
but imply tremendous investment in water and energy infrastructure.
Tight water supplies are likely to heighten political tensions with
the PA and Jordan in the coming year. This is a joint Embassy and
ConGen Jerusalem cable. End Summary.

Natural Water Sources Few

2. (SBU) That Israel is short of water is 3000-year-old news, but
rarely in the modern state's history has the situation appeared so
bleak. Over the past three years the region has experienced below
average rainfall during its annual rainy season, November through
March. This year Israel's official meteorological service has
recorded an average of 70.5 percent of normal rainfall in coastal
regions, 60 percent of normal rainfall at inland reporting stations,
and only 51.2 percent of normal at Jordan Rift Valley sites. This
sums to only 60.7 percent of average normal rainfall to date this
season. Total recharge for Lake Kinneret recorded at the end of
last year's rainy season was about the same 60 percent (reftel).

3. (U) Below average rains have left Lake Kinneret, the source of 30
percent of Israel's fresh water, at -212.54 meters below sea level,
while its normal range is between -209 and -213 meters. This
reading is only 50 centimeters (17 inches) above the redline level,
the lowest point at which Mekorot, Israel's national water utility,
can draw from the lake in view of hydrologic and functional
concerns. The pipeline drawing on the Lake has been closed since
early January.

4. (SBU) Alternative natural sources of water are also at low
levels, both from years of low rainfall and from over-pumping. The
four aquifers and the small natural springs west of the Jordan River
supply nearly half of the Palestinian water supply, and the other
half is purchased from Israel. Mekorot draws 36 percent of its
water from these same aquifers. At the December 2007 Trilateral
Water Working Group, convening Israeli Water Authority (IWA) and
Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) managers under USG chairmanship,
PWA officials stated that over 3000 illegal wells were operating in
the West Bank and Gaza. The Gaza aquifer, they noted, is
particularly over-pumped and polluted, with salinity increasing as
nearby seawater seeps into the diminishing freshwater table.
Currently, the PWA estimates that 30 percent of Gaza residents lack
potable drinking water.

5. (SBU) The Jordan River is one of the principal sources for water
for Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, and in addition to natural
springs, supplies 34 percent of Israel's supply. The Jordan has
already been heavily tapped, and its course below Lake Kinneret has
become little more than a dry river bed except for where
semi-treated wastewater or industrial effluent is pumped into the
channel. Long-standing PA demands to reallocate the River's waters
above and below Lake Kinneret by diminishing Israel's share have yet
to be negotiated. Calls to reduce tapping the Jordan River in order
to restore that valley's natural ecology and halt the shrinking of
the Dead Sea will receive even less action until fundamental human
subsistence needs are assured. The best Israel can expect from the
Jordan River in coming years will be the volume it presently draws,
and that is uncertain.

Non-Natural Water Sources

6. (SBU) Israel's two chief non-natural water sources are recycling
and desalination. Israel already records the highest level of water
treatment and reuse in the world; The IWA claims that over 70
percent of first-use water from the densely populated band including
Tel Aviv is reused. This treated "gray water" is sent onward for
industrial and agricultural purposes. The high reuse rate
effectively doubles the volume of water recycled, greatly increasing
the impact of each cubic meter of natural-source water. While
further investments in recycling water will yield benefits, it
becomes a high cost source in sparsely populated areas or when
industrial pollutants must be separated out.

7. (SBU) This leaves the desalination option. Desalination remains
the GOI's hope for addressing the country's long-term water
shortage. Israel is a global leader in desalination technology, and

TEL AVIV 00000242 002 OF 002

Mekorot has 31 desalination plants operating in Israel. GOI
Minister of Infrastructure Binyamin Ben Eliezer has approved plans
to nearly quadruple existing desalination capacity, from 124 million
cubic meters annually to nearly 500 mcm. Major expansions of
facilities in Ashkelon, Hadera and Palmachim are planned, and new
installations in Rishon Le Zion and Ashdod will be built. This
additional capacity will not be brought on-line until 2012 and
after, however.

The Energy-Water Connection

8. (SBU) Desalinated water is expensive, however, costing up to
three or four times naturally-sourced water. Desalination
technology filters sea water through multiple layers of filtering
fibers at very high pressures (up to 40 atmospheres), or distills
seawater through electrolysis or heat. Either system requires large
amounts of energy. There is a transformation nexus between energy
and water; creating water requires energy, and effective use of
water can help save energy. As demonstrated by oil-rich Persian
Gulf states, a large investment of energy can yield as much water as
desired. Israel has deep resources of neither energy nor water,
however. Israel's present installed capacity of 10,800 megawatts is
generated by coal (63 percent), natural gas (20 percent), diesel (15
percent) and the balance from alternative sources such as wind,
biomass, and solar. Israel currently uses about 6 percent of its
total generated electricity for moving water around the country;
including the bill for desalination plants, Mekorot is already the
largest single electricity consumer in Israel. Greater water
recycling will increase this amount. Producing more desalinated
water implies both more investment in new generating capacity, and
potentially greater expense for the imported fuel sources this

9. (U) Solar energy is the favored alternative energy source in
Israel. Despite announcing a national objective of 2 percent of
Israel's electricity generated by alternative sources by 2007, the
first solar-generated electric plant in the country is only now
entering the bidding stage, having been delayed years by
bureaucratic logjams over land allocation and bidding procedures.
Minister Eliezer stated on January 23 that Israel should commit
itself to supplying 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources
by 2020.

In Lieu of Conclusions

10. (SBU) Weather forecasters are not expecting the amount of rain
due in the coming two months to compensate for years of substandard
precipitation. Predictions are for normal to lighter than normal
rains. Barring divine intervention - not to be ruled out in this
region - the following circumstances may prevail:

-- Over-pumping of aquifers will continue west of the Jordan River,
leading to deteriorating water quality in Israel and PA areas.

-- Pressure on Israel to share its desalination capacity with
neighboring PA areas will increase. This was already seen at the
December Trilateral Water Working Group.

-- Public demands to address the water shortage will increase into
the summer, particularly in PA areas; tensions in Gaza will rise

-- Water resource allocation issues will increase in importance in
the Annapolis Process working groups.

-- Given the lead-time needed to bring any new freshwater generating
capacity on-line in the region, from either natural or man-made
sources, these tensions will have to be managed and short-term
solutions sought, such as major public conservation campaigns.

-- Solving regional water scarcity will have long-term implications
on regional power generation plans, given the water-energy nexus.

-- Private sector and NGOs will likely propose quick-fix solutions
(waterbag technology, tanker-ships, pipelines), but these are costly
and mostly untested solutions.


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