For The Answer
Week of January 13, 2003
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Manager, Conservation Division, Water Resources & Conservation Department, SAWS, and Horticulturist
In early November, Gene Camargo (SAWS Agriculture Conservation Coordinator) Dr. Guy Fipps (irrigation engineer from Texas A&M University), and I traveled to Israel. Our goal was to explore the Israeli water situation to see what would have applicability to San Antonio and the Edwards Aquifer area. Israel is the place to visit if you are interested in water conservation. The nation is the center of research and practical use of drip irrigation, brackish water, treated sewer water, runoff collection, desalination, and other water conservation practices.
Israel is a small country but there is considerable variation in rainfall from the North and South. In the North near the Sea of Galilee, a major fresh water source, rainfall averages 30 inches per year. The Negev Desert dominates the Southern half of the country. Some areas of the Negev receive an average rainfall of less than 2 inches. There are two main aquifers in the country: the seacoast aquifer and the mountain aquifer, both of which are in the North Central part of the country.
Per capita water use in the cities in Israel is about 100 gallons/person compared to 143 in San Antonio. The difference is achieved because most Israelis live in apartments and do not have landscapes. They also all have low flow toilets (50% of San Antonians do) and some even use brackish (salty) water for washing. A second faucet exists for potable water for drinking.
The few Israeli homes and businesses that have a landscape use drip irrigation for everything, even the lawn. Israel has a major desalination plant in Eilat on the Red Sea. Over the next five years they have plans to raise the volume of desalinized water by 10 times with four plants on the Mediterranean.
Israeli agriculture is prosperous. They sell high-value horticulture crops like citrus, dates, and vegetables to Europe. This success is especially amazing because, since the mid-90’s, the nation’s agriculture has reduced potable (drinking water quality) water use by 50%. The slack has been made up with the use of brackish water and, particularly, treated sewer water. The Israelis know which varieties of plants tolerate salty water and exactly how much. In several places on our trip runoff collection was an important source of water for irrigation. A rainfall event occurred and at low spots the runoff was quickly collected and pumped into a reservoir.
There is a lot we can learn from the Israelis, but our examination of their water conservation programming has to be tempered by recognition of some basic differences in our situations. Israel has a National water policy and a National water company. All water, and even sewer water, is owned by the state. They are willing to subsidize water costs (consumers only pay 50% of costs) and, in the name of National survival, providing a homeland for every Jew seeking it and economic development, Israelis seem willing to be less concerned with sustainability and environmental quality. Can you imagine any place in the U.S. able to authorize and build four desalination plants within five years? How about the government declaring that half of the potable water used by agriculture must be transferred to use by urban residents and industrial needs? The Israelis did or are doing both.
Over the next two or three months expect Gene Camargo and me to complete a detailed report of the trip and what we learned. After a period of discussion and consultation, expect us to integrate some of the Israeli accomplishments and ideas into the SAWS water conservation effort. We will test some of their ideas with experiments and models. If you would like to be part of the process keep your eye on the SAWS website (www.saws.org). We will include the report for everyone’s review and encourage comments and new ideas.
If you have a group of at least 25, I would also be interested in making a presentation (20 to 60 minutes) to your organization on the trip and my impressions of the Israeli water conservation situation and how it relates to South Texas. Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (210) 704-7528.