Cablegate: Embassy Tel Aviv

DE RUEHTV #0678/01 0841105
P 241105Z MAR 08




EPA FOR International

E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJ: Water and Waste: A Challenge to Israeli Policy

Ref: (A) Tel Aviv 242 (B) Tel Aviv 613

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The Israeli-West Bank water crisis continues to
deepen, with new data confirming the need for difficult choices.
Knesset hearings have questioned government management of Israel's
water sector. Media debate continues on which users - consumers or
agro-industry - will be cut back. The situation is aggravated by
reports claiming that illegal waste dumping is polluting the shared
Israeli and PA aquifers. Comment: the strong linkage between water
and waste problems may merit addressing them in tandem in the
Annapolis Process multilateral working groups. End Summary.

Water Worries Increase
2. (SBU) The Israeli government and media are starting to focus on
the critical relationship between water and waste. Living within
the confines of the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, between
Lebanon's mountains and the Gulf of Aqaba, are 12 million people in
a water-stressed environment. As noted refs A and B, several years
of substandard rainfall and over-pumping of groundwater resources
have led to critically short freshwater supplies and an increasing
risk of salinization of the natural water sources shared by Israelis
and Palestinians. In early March the director of the Palestinian
Water Authority, Fadel Qawash, discussing the water situation in the
Gaza Strip, said the results of over-pumping are already evident.
Three-quarters of the water being pumped in Gaza from the Gaza
aquifer now has a saline level higher than that permitted for
drinking water.

3. (U) On March 18 the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee
held discussions on the water crisis. Members of Knesset (MKs)
leveled criticism at the government for delaying funding for two new
desalination plants that were approved in 2000 but still not begun
by 2006. Israel Water Authority (IWA) Director Uri Shani responded
that the rains that year were sufficient and the Ministry of Finance
therefore decided it could save the 2 billion NIS cost to the
budget. Israel's total supply of freshwater is 984 million cubic
meters (mcm) per year, of which 832 is natural water and 152 mcm is
desalinated water. Shani noted further that Lake Kinneret, Israel's
chief freshwater reservoir, was expected to fall below the red-line
level of minus 213.00 meters (below sea level) by July, at which
point it is undesirable to withdraw water as it risks salinization
of the groundwater resources, growth of duckweed, and would have
other negative ecological impacts. Shani predicts that the Lake
will fall to the black-line level of minus 214.40 meters by December
2008. At this level, it will no longer be possible to pump water
since the pumps themselves will be above the water line.

4. (SBU) Shani noted the annual amount of usable water in Israel has
decreased over the past 16 years by 164 mcm, from 1.34 billion cubic
meters to 1.175 billion cubic meters. (Note: the usable water
calculation counts fresh and treated wastewater distribution.)
Global warming is partly to blame, but so is greater pollution,
which has rendered some water unusable for recycling options.
Although plans target increasing the desalinated water supply to 550
mcm by 2012, the IWA representative said there is little that they
can do immediately to increase supply. Controlling demand is the
only option. Defenders of the agricultural sector told the Knesset
that their sector has already made great strides in efficiency, and
that it is now time for consumers to learn to conserve.

An Alternative View
5. (SBU) Other analysts of the water situation take a more critical
view of the efforts of the agricultural sector. German
hydrogeologist Clemens Messerschmid declared in Haaretz (Left of
center daily, circ.75,000) on March 7 that there is plenty of water;
the problem is mal-distribution. Berlin receives less rain than
Jerusalem, he observes, 550 milimeters vs 554 milimeters, and
geologically Israel and the West Bank are ideally suited for water
storage in aquifers. (Comment: Clemens' logic is specious, in that
Berlin need not rely on local rainfall as a major freshwater source
as does Israel; major rivers provide water in Germany. Nor is
evaporation a major issue in Germany. End Comment.) Clemens notes
that agriculture uses a greater percentage of water than consumers
do, yet has shrunk to provide only 2 percent of Israel's GDP. It is
illogical for Israel to produce water-intensive crops like bananas,
melons, and cut flowers for export to the well-watered European
market. Clemens also believes that Israel uses regional water
supplies disproportionately, exacerbating the scarcity of water in
the PA areas. The IWA acknowledges that agriculture uses 450 mcm of
freshwater per year - on top of all the treated wastewater. Most
analysts agree, nonetheless, that Israeli consumers have shown
little restraint. Shani said per capita water consumption in 2007

TEL AVIV 00000678 002 OF 002

grew from 106 to 108 cubic meters, and that water use in Israel is
growing by 4 percent annually.

The Waste Factor
6. (SBU) Israeli media have recently highlighted the country's
growing problems with waste disposal, and the impact waste is having
on water supplies. As noted Ref B, debris from construction,
demolition and excavation (so called C,D & E waste) now outpaces
standard municipal trash by weight, the result of a major building
boom during the past five years of strong economic growth. Haaretz
reports that much of this C,D & E waste is being trucked to
unregistered landfills in the West Bank, and the GOI is turning a
blind eye to the practice. In fact, legal disposal options are few
and expensive: no regulated, approved C, D & E landfill exists in
Israel's northern region, and only one exists in Eastern Galilee.
The Ministry of Environmental Protection approved on March 4 the
establishment of a new landfill at Gush Halav to service the
northern region and avoid the costly transport to southern Israel.

7. (SBU) Whether dumped in Israel or the West Bank, the net impact
on water is the same. C,D & E waste may be filled with asbestos
debris, toxic paints, heavy metals, and inorganic pollutants that
leach into the soil and seep into ground water. Given the shared
aquifers, the environmental impact of waste disposal practices on
either side of the Green Line will ultimately affect the other
party. A Haaretz editorial declared that the waste problem "should
serve as a test case for the joint treatment by Israel and the
Palestinians of environmental problems, including the pollution of
groundwater by unpurified wastewater and insufficient infrastructure
of disposal sites for household waste." As ref A reported, Israel
is already starting to treat Hebron-generated effluent which flows
out of the West Bank. A two-year study (funded partly by the
Embassy's MERC program) of the Basor River flowing from Hebron to
the Gaza Strip found it full of both municipal waste and industrial
toxins from Palestinian stone and leather industries. Israel has
built a treatment plant to handle the waste, but the report
estimates over 45 percent of the pollutants seep into ground water
before the river reaches the plant.

8. (SBU) The USG is already closely engaged with Israel and the PA
on water management issues through the Trilateral Water Working
Group established in 1996, after Oslo. In the context of the
Annapolis Process working groups addressing water and infrastructure
(among other) issues, consideration should be given to establishing
a parallel working group to address regional waste disposal issues.
Alternatively, the mandate of the TWWG could be broadened to include
the inter-related waste and water issues.


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