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Cablegate: Embassy Tel Aviv

VZCZCXYZ0004
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHTV #1400/01 1821348
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 301348Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7332
INFO RUEHJM/AMCONSUL JERUSALEM 0002
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0133
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 4073
RUEHAM/AMEMBASSY AMMAN 4356
RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO 2370
RUEHDM/AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 4823
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHDC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHDC

UNCLAS TEL AVIV 001400

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR NEA/IAI, NEA/REA and OES/ENV
USDA FOR FAS/OCBD
EPA FOR INTERNATIONAL
AMMAN for ESTH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV EINV TBIO IS PA JO
SUBJ: Trilateral Water Meeting: Planning to Meet Scarcity

1. (SBU) Summary: The Trilateral Water Working Group (TWWG) of
Israeli and Palestinian water authority managers met in Tel Aviv on
June 12, under USG chairing at USG auspices, to review the region's
water supply situation. Substandard rainfalls for four years have
left natural water sources at record low levels, risking ecological
damage to Lake Tiberias and underground aquifers if previous
consumption rates continue. PA officials say illegal tapping of
resources exists because Palestinian water rights have been ignored,
creating a severe shortage, especially in Gaza. Israeli authorities
reviewed their own drought conditions and the actions they are
taking to address them. Israel believes the PA should undertake
more wastewater recycling for agricultural use. The status of
several water and wastewater development projects was reviewed.
Slow implementation of these projects was attributed to ongoing
security concerns and problems in getting supplies into Gaza and the
West Bank. GOI officials said that access into PA areas for pipes
and other project materials can be arranged, given sufficient
information. Both parties agreed that the coming year will need
ongoing adjustment to scarcer, costlier water supplies. End
Summary.

2. (SBU) The TWWG meeting June 12 came in a period of flux, amidst
press reports of bidding procedures over major new desalination
facilities and the airing of several mega-projects proposed to
resolve the region's water worries, such as a Red Sea-Dead Sea
channel providing both water and electricity. Further, issues of
environmental pollution, waste treatment and public health are
increasingly allied to the problem of water management. In Gaza,
the tension between Hamas and Fatah within the PA started to
register in the Palestine Water Authority (PWA), which until now has
resisted politicization. A new head of the PWA replacing a veteran
of previous negotiations also lent importance to the meeting. While
no official transcript is made of TWWG proceedings, post repeats
below the memorandum done following the meetings for the information
of Washington agencies and posts with interest in the topic.

3. (SBU) Begin Memorandum:

Welcome & U.S. Presentation

Introductory remarks by USAID D/Dir David Harden noted the long
history of the Working Group, which started in 1996 after the Oslo
Peace Accords in 1994. For twelve years the group has met
periodically to address both policy and practical questions relating
to the sourcing and distribution of water. In recent years the
treatment of waste water has become an integral part of TWWG
discussions. Harden stressed the importance of maintaining contacts
among professional government managers throughout the changes in
political atmosphere. Harden also praised the guidance of Chuck
Lawson who has chaired the Working Group over its history, but will
shortly be leaving the State Department. All the parties echoed
thanks to Lawson for his work. Lawson expressed appreciation to the
group for its hard work over a dozen years, and welcomed Dr. Shaddad
Attili as the new chairman of the Palestine Water Authority (PWA),
replacing Fadel Al-Kawash.

The Situation in Palestinian Areas

Attili described the water situation in PA areas as a drought, now
extended for several years. Attili expressed disappointment that 13
years after the Interim Agreement was signed, the Palestinians are
receiving no more water than they were in 1995. Under the
agreement, both sides agreed that Palestinians have approximately
118 million cubic meters (MCM) a year available to them. According
to Attili, that figure has not changed much in the intervening
years. The agreement made available an additional 70-80 MCM/year,
mostly from the Eastern Aquifer. Attili said that not much of that
additional water had been developed. The Israeli team noted that
Israel sells approximately 50 MCM/year to the Palestinians in the
West Bank. The matter of water rights due to Palestinians has been
ignored, Attili believes (though he recognized that that issue is to
be addressed in the permanent status water negotiations). The
present dire situation presses some people to drill illegal wells,
and Attili said this only hurts the PWA as it damages the aquifer.
Attili said the Israeli government refuses to grant approvals to dig
new wells or to construct new waste water facilities as long as
these illegal wells remain open. Attili is commited to closing
illegal wells, and asked for Israeli assistance to do this:
provision of sufficient water is the only way to suppress illegal

drilling.

Regarding Gaza, Attili said that 85 percent of the water distributed
exceeds the accepted standards for dissolved nitrates. Tap water is
brackish and unhealthy, and the condition of the Gaza aquifer is
deteriorating. The lack of fuel and intermittent power supply
seriously affects water pumping and waste water operations. Attili
said only about 65% of wells are operating, and the volume of water
pumped is down 60% from last year's levels due to inadequate power.
Attili added that the Hamas takeover in Gaza has vastly complicated
the PWA's work. Hamas took over the PWA's Gaza offices about ten
days ago, seizing cars and other property, and locking employees out
of the office.

Attili also discussed the effluent situation from Ariel that is
flowing into Israel and polluting the aquifer both Israel and the PA
must draw on. Shaddad stressed the need to work together on
wastewater treatment issues. Three of Gaza's wastewater treatment
plants are non-functional, with the result that 60,000 cm per day of
untreated or poorly treated wastewater are pumped into the
Mediterranean from Gaza and 30,000 cm per day from Rafah.

Asked about his "vision" for the PWA, Attili said that the problems
he faced were so dire that his vision consisted only of crisis
management. He said international donors are providing sufficient
funding for projects, but the pressing need of the health of the
aquifers is not being adequately addressed. He also cited a
critical need to address delays in permitting for wells and other
projects that necessitate costly penalty payments to contractors.

Israeli Emergency Action

Israel Water Authority (IWA) Director Dr. Uri Shani began his
overview by noting the measures taken by the GOI in its National
Water Emergency Plan adopted June 1, 2008. Agricultural users have
been cut back by 40 percent, and various demand management policies
have gone into effect. He defined the red-line level and black-line
levels of Lake Kinneret (Tiberias), previously the major source for
Israel's National Water Carrier Mekorot. The red-line is defined as
the point beyond which withdrawing water from the source may risk
ecological damage to the lake or aquifer. The black-line is the
point beyond which such ecological damage could be severe and
irreversible. Shani expected Israel to reach the red-line level in
Lake Kinneret during July, and he was determined that the black-line
level should not be reached.

Shani noted that over half of all water used by Israeli agriculture
is treated wastewater -- about 70 percent of the annual wastewater
Israel generates. The GOI will invest heavily in the coming five
years to build facilities to treat the 80 mcm of Israeli wastewater
that is not currently recycled. A NIS 12 billion investment in
desalination plants is planned in coming years. Ultimately,
desalination will supply two-thirds of Israel's domestic use water.


Responding to the questions of water rights and legal entitlements,
Shani observed that the region's natural water is simply decreasing,
for a variety of reasons including rainfall patterns and global
warming. The reality is that we cannot share what we do not have,
so discussion of rights does not solve the problem. Water in the
future inevitably will be a more expensive resource, although Shani
promised that water allocations made to the PA would not be cut,
even under the Emergency Plan measures. This amount the IWA
understands to be 118 mcm, plus about another 50 mcm that the PWA is
purchasing from Israeli suppliers. Shani said the PWA's recent
request for an additional 8 mcm would also be met, but cautioned
that the Palestinians have to develop a water recycling capacity.

Joint Water Committee Activities

Attili noted that holding a Joint Water Committee (JWC) meeting was
hard to do: he has tried to organize it for several months, but
Israeli Civil Administration did not approve. Members of the
Israeli delegation responded that political circumstances had at
times intervened, making such meetings impossible. The confusion of
authority in PWA offices in Gaza at the time of the TWWG is an
example. Regarding the implementation of JWC water projects listed
at the August 14, 2007 JWC, the parties agreed that a number have
been completed, though others remain incomplete due to a political
situation that makes entry of construction materials difficult.
Joint training in water management (held under the auspices of the
Regional Water Data Banks project) was held in Tiberias, Israel, May
25-29; Israeli and Jordanian professionals attended, but due to
access problems the Palestinian delegation could not participate.
All parties agreed that it was essential to resolve access problems
for the training courses to be effective.

The Gaza wastewater situation was reviewed, and all parties agreed
it needs to improve. Unreliable power has halted treatment plant
operations, although pumping to infiltration ponds continues. With
new pipes expected from France by September, the World Bank's North
Gaza Emergency Sewage Treatment project will become operational
after they are installed.

USAID projects in Beit Jala and Nahal Oz were reviewed. In Beit
Jala the first phase is nearing completion, but USAID
representatives noted that additional approvals are needed to
undertake phase II work. The Israeli Civil Administration has
positively reviewed the plans, but no permits have been issued. The
Nahal Oz connection to Mekorot was confirmed as still incomplete.
While this work was planned and Norwegian assistance funds were
programmed for the work, there is no action underway to finish the
connection because of security concerns in Gaza. The Palestinian
and Israeli teams agreed that a new waste water treatment facility
for the Hebron area is a top priority, and they expressed
disappointment that the USG had not yet taken on the project again.
(Note: the USG had agreed to fund the Hebron waste water treatment
project, but the project was put on hold when Hamas took control of
the PA in 1996. The funds for the project were subsequently used
for other activities. End note.)

The date for the next TWWG meeting was not set; however the
consensus was to expect a meeting in six months.
End of TWWG Memorandum.
4. This cable has been drafted jointly by Embassy Tel Aviv and
Consulate General Jerusalem.

Jones

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