The New York Times reported recently that the current drought afflicting the US, which has spread to more than half of the continental United States, is the most widespread drought in more than half a century – and it appears that conditions will worsen.
There have been forecasts of increased dry conditions over the central United States, a development which could lead to higher food prices and shipping costs. The government has declared nearly 1,300 counties across 29 states a federal disaster area as a result of the drought.
This declaration will allow farmers to apply for low interest loans to assist them financially through this difficult period. The breadth of this drought, which ranges from California to Arkansas and from Texas to North Dakota – spanning 55 percent of the continental US- is the largest area covered by such conditions since December 1956.
In light of these problems facing the United States, Avraham Tenne, Head of the Desalination Department in the Israel Water Authority, claims Israel can help.
“We have too much experience in drought years”, says Tenne. “I would offer a few recommendations to the United States. First, educating people to use less water. The average consumption of water in the United States per person is three or four times of the per person consumption in Israel. Most counties in a variety of states are finally coming to the realization that water is not an unlimited resource.
“Second is efficient irrigation systems. 90-95% of agriculture in Israel uses drip irrigation as opposed to only 5% in America. Arizona, a state with a population comparable to Israel (7 million people), consumes more than four times the amount of water per year that Israel consumes – Arizona 8.5 billion cubic meters, Israel 2 billion. In Arizona, they flood the desert, that’s the way things are irrigated. It’s a huge waste of water! Also, farmers should be pressured or encouraged to use sophisticated irrigation systems. One way of doing that is raising the price of water which is currently subsidized.”
“The third recommendation is proper maintenance on water pipes. There is a 20% average leakage rate on water pipes in the US, not quite as bad as London which has a 40% average leakage, nonetheless twice the amount of leakage than that of Israeli water pipes. This is a big waste of water. What I mentioned here relates to clean water pipes. Regarding sewage water about 80% is reused in Israel for irrigation; this as opposed to America which reuses only 1% nationwide and even in big states like California only 5%.”
The US is worried about these issues and only last April Tenne appeared at a conference in Arizona to try and offer solutions for the current water challenges. Yet, it would seem that if the US is aware of these issues and expending efforts to solve these problems there would be some progress in deciding on a course to address these problems. Tenne bemoans the lack of progress caused by the drawn out bureaucratic process that is taking place in America.
“In California it has taken more than 15 years to decide to build a desalinization plant. People need to know that there is a new means to produce water whose expedience has been proven in all areas.” The urgency of this crisis worries Tenne who points out that it is NGOs, municipalities, and other interest groups who are slowing this process. But it is “drinking water that we are dealing with – not water used for recreational purposes. I drove by Lake Mead,” reflects Tenne, recalling the reservoir located on the Colorado River about 30 miles southeast of Las Vegas, “ and I wonder where Las Vegas will get their water from in a few years.”
Tenne is thankful that in Israel, after 20 years of right decisions in the water field, Israel is on its way to becoming completely independent in supplying its own water. However, this change of direction also didn’t happen overnight in Israel.