Where does all the rain go?

Down the drain

At a time when Israel’s mountain and coastal aquifers are severely depleted, the government has put in place what is know as the “Drought Tax”. People in Israel already have to pay for the amount of water they use, however the new drought tax is actually a levy on excessive water use with the apparent aim of encouraging people to save water.

A number of solutions for the present water emergency in Israel have been suggested, such as importing water from Turkey and establishing temporary, movable desalinization plants along the coast. These solutions are very expensive however, are limited in the volume of water they can produce and are only temporary solutions. The most obvious and promising solution is water saving, through informing the public and, more recently, by introducing a heavy drought tax – water consumption fell by 15% this past summer compared to the summer of 2008.

At present a family of four are allotted 18 cubic meters of water and another 5 cubic meters for each additional person in the household. These figures were planned to be increased in 2010, suggesting that the outrage shown by the general public has not gone unheard. Yesterday, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the drought tax to be suspended as of January 2010.

It seems as if the government simply don’t know what the best solution is. The water crisis is not a recent problem in Israel – the water level in the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main fresh water supply, has been consistently getting lower over the years – but what exactly has been done about it?

Last week winter finally arrived in Israel, marked by several days of continual rain in some parts of the country. According to the Israel Meteorological Service, the levels of rainfall have been far above the seasonal averages – up to 121 millimeters of rain. This was welcomed by the people , although there were floods in many areas where the drainage could not cope with the downpour.


One thing that strikes me is that in a country where fresh water is such a valued commodity, what measures are taken to collect the large amounts of water that fall in heavy rains such as this? Obviously rivers and lakes are naturally replenished, but in built-up areas it seems to all just go down the drain. I’m not suggesting it be used for drinking water, though it can be with appropriate treatment, but it can certainly be used for irrigation, toilet water (not eau de toilette!!) and many other applications.

Perhaps this kind of thinking is not on par with how government agencies think, but such a form of action seems so simple and inexpensive compared to shipping water from Turkey, and in addition is a method that has been around for generations. The Kilauea Military Campground in Volcanoes National Park in Hawaiia has a rainwater catchment system with a 3 million gallon (11.3 million litre) water storage capacity which supplies a demand of 25,000 to 30,000 gallons (94,635 to 113,562 litres) of drinkable water per day.

So… where does all the rain go?


2 thoughts on “Where does all the rain go?

  1. This is a really interesting issue, and one that governments in Australia have also been trying to monitor for a few years. Different levels of restriction are applied in the different areas of the country based on the severity of drought. Where I live, in regional New South Wales, local government raised the level of water restriction to a Level 4 (of 8 ) earlier this year. This includes an indefinite ban on watering lawns between 10am and 5pm. The ban is put in place to help reduce average daily consumption from 20 megalitres to 16 (http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/08/11/2652446.htm) Seems reasonable, but there are some areas that have Level 7 restrictions in place, which forbid any use of water outside without a permit. Fines range from $200 AUD to several thousand for individuals, but mostly I think people comply to avoid community scrutiny – over years of drought Australians have become fairly water conscious.

    Most areas have had to increase the level of their restrictions over the last couple of years and as a strategy it’s pretty hard to assess given that it is applied so differently across the country. Overall, it’s been criticised as being an unsustainable solution which will never help us to overcome the main issue, which is that of supply.

  2. Isn’t it really an irony; water problem, in fact, could be solved easily if the political problems have not been so harsh in the region. (I mean the Palestinian problem.) Is Benhabib`s suggestion too optimistic?(http://www.resetdoc.org/EN/Benhabib-Gaza.php) I dont want to be the unwarranted reductionist here; lack of water is a problem for other countries too in the region. Political tension is so high that sharing water resources is not even an option in peaceful terms. I remember from Dawit that there is an ongoing dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia on Nile. It seems there is only one way to end the all kinds of conflicts in the region; an EU kind of structure…

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