Thursday, June 26, 2008

Israel, Syria, and Water

The issue of water resource management in the Gulf reminds me of a point I've been meaning to make about its role in the conflict between Israel and Syria, particularly amid reports that Turkey may be using it as leverage. Israel's most important source of water is the Sea of Galilee, from which the National Water Carrier carries it to the populated center and arid south. For that reason, Israel seeks to retain control of the entire shoreline, which Syria finds unacceptable. The issue of water rights in that area was a source of conflict even before the Six Day War, when Israel bombed a Syrian dam aimed at diverting water from the sea at Israel's expense.

Over the decades, however, desalination technology has become much more affordable. Desalination one cubic meter of sea water costs on average about 50 cents. Israel's National Water Carrier can carry about 600 million cubic meters per year. Replacing its entire capacity would this carry annual running costs of only about $300 million, and certainly no one is talking about Israel losing all, or even most, rights to that body of water. When compared to the cost of maintaining state-of-the-art military equipment, that of investing in new sources of water isn't really that great, though perhaps something most easily ponied up by a willing superpower.

One more aspect of this is that, based on my time there, Israel appears to have more water right now than it really needs. Water pressure is generally what you would find in the United States, and many times greater than that in Jordan or Syria. I'm also not sure they're doing all they can to conserve water, both in agricultural processes and day-to-day living. To give just one example, the place I did my laundry used top-loading washing machines. I'm not sure how much stuff like that matters, but "water shortage" in Israel's case seems to denote something still above having enough to live comfortably.

(Crossposted to American Footprints)

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