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Turning the Bloom into a Desert

Once upon a time, there was a desert land whose exiled inhabitants flocked back to her, swearing to make her bloom. While she had little rainfall, she did have a fairly abundant supply of sweet water in underground aquifers, called groundwater, and three reservoirs, one of them a harp-shaped lake from which she pumped water to all parts of the country. Many people were farmers, and loved to grow things. The country turned green.

But along the way, the farmers forgot they lived in a desert land, where every drop was precious. They chose crops that were water-wasteful, like cotton and oranges, making more and more money by basically exporting the country’s precious water supply. The governing body for preserving the drops was called the Water Commissioner. With great wisdom, politicians handed this body over to the Ministry of Agriculture, which like the cat guarding the cream, successfully pressured to give itself more and more water each year.

Municipal Authorities, who got the water for little and sold it to the public for more, were only too happy for people to use more water, earning generous revenues. And since the Municipalities themselves paid so little for water, each city planted lavish parks and gardens with water-wasteful plants, forgetting they lived in a desert land. Kibbutzim and moshavim, which also got water at farmer’s subsidized prices, were also lavish in their gardening and lush green places, forgetting they lived in a desert land.

Because they were an intelligent people, and because they lived near a great sea, their scientists developed ways of taking the salt out of seawater, making it drinkable. They developed ways of purifying wastewater, to make it resuseable for crop-growing, thus saving sweetwater. But the politicians weren’t interested. Why should the Treasury allocate money to build expensive desalinization plants, they argued, if the farmers are going to pay such low prices for water? Besides, the Water Commissioner “experts,” decided, there’s no need. Next year, there’s sure to be more rain. That was the “plan” of the Water Commissioner.

And so, each year, the politicians did nothing. Less and less water fell. More and more water was needed as the population doubled. And the Water Commissioner kept pumping out more water, emptying the wells of sweet water, the coastal and mountain aquifers, the reservoirs, gambling that the following year enough water would fall to fill the countries needs, and repay the overdraft, replenishing these priceless water resources, which were dangerously depleted. And although once or twice the country actually did have abundantly rainy seasons, for the most part, year after year, less and less rain began to fall.

Yet, the farmers continued to plant. And the public, who every government official was inexplicably concerned might ‘panic’ if told the truth, and so they didn’t, blithely washed their cars with hoses, and filled their swimming pools. They used powdered detergents and flushed chemicals into the sewer system, making it impossible to purify and reuse, and making the earth salty, the water beneath salty. And the pumps kept pumping. “Stop!!” the scientists and environmentalists shouted. “You don’t know what you’re doing! If you continue, soon sea water will flood the groundwater, the coastal aquifers, and our sweetwater reserves will be unusable! Water from the Kinneret will turn too salty to use and its pumps will be too high to pump water. No one listened. Very few desalinization plants were built.

And although Israel became the world’s leader in purifying waste water, it didn’t bother investing in pipelines to send this water to the farmers, letting most of it go to waste in the sea. And finally the day came when there was not enough water.

This summer, the Kinneret will reach -214.30 meters, the line below which all scientists have warned will mean the end of the lake. The coastal groundwater is 40 percent (FORTY PERCENT!!) polluted and unusable. A conservative estimate which allows for the public cutting water consumption 10%, and farmers 50%, shows the country will need 660 million meters cubed for 2001. The country is missing 395 million meters cubed of water in its three main reservoirs, even though in the past three years it has overpumped 300 million cubic meters. There is no place to get it from.

And so, what is the end of this tale? Shall we make it a horror story, or, at best, a cautionary tale? Let’s try both The horror story: They continued pumping, so the public shouldn’t panic. So the public parks, and kibbutzim and moshavim could keep its grass green. So the farmers could keep growing their oranges. Until, one day, the water was too low for the pumps to reach it. Until the groundwater turned into saltwater. Until the wells ran dry and filled with sea water.

Then, finally, the public was permitted to panic. And they did, realizing finally, that the desert land that bloomed had turned into an uninhabitable place, a wasteland, where there was no water to sustain human, animal or plant life.

And what of ending number two, the cautionary tale? They stopped pumping water. They let the parks go brown, the grass wither. They planned agricultural crops wisely. The public began treating water like wine. The Water Commissioner was taken out of the hands of the Ministry of Agriculture and given to the Ministry of Environment. The water supply was taken out of the hands of the Municipalities. Huge desalinization plants were built (Mr. Lieberman finally woke up). Pipelines for treated sewage carried it to farmers and public parks, turning the land green again.

And never again did anyone gamble on the rainfall. Because the politicians and the public finally understood how close their carelessness and lack of planning had brought them to environmental and economic disaster, finally understood that they lived in a desert land whose bloom should never be taken for granted.

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