By Harry Glickman, with Jeannette Glickman
In 1965 we discovered what looked like Paradise here in Israel. The most used words seemed to be Shalom and Chaver. The fact is that there is a third more important word, Geshem, the Hebrew word for rain. It became obvious soon after we arrived and became farmers, why water is such a big deal here in Israel.
Our Meshek (farm), like the two hundred in the village, consists of an acre of ground with a hundred fruit trees around the house (Chatzer), and four acres of orchard situated less than a mile away. It had been pointed out to me that along with the five acres of farmland we had the rights to 10,000 cubic meters of subsidized water. The two-inch diameter pipe serving the house and yard is under four atmospheres of pressure and delivers enough water to cut down the time for washing my car by 80%. The four acres, located in the area that surrounds the village, is divided, in our case, into three separate parcels. The large orchard of two acres, 450 citrus trees, is serviced by a three-inch in diameter water line and under pressure that delivers 40 cubic meters of water each hour when open. During the irrigation season lasting seven months, this valve is opened every two weeks allowing the water to flow for ten to twelve hours. Every two weeks enough water to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool is released onto an insignificant two acres of trees. With the two smaller one-acre orchards and the Chatzer it seemed that we were using enough water to accommodate a small city; there are 200 more doing the same in this small village. At first, I was disturbed by the lakes often formed on the tractor roads when a pipe came loose, and like from a fire hose water gushed out shooting high into the air or digging a deep trench until discovered and manually secured. My concern was eased somewhat when informed that most of this water will flow back into the water table to be pumped out again another day.
It is a fact that the volume of water used for irrigation, where it does not rain for seven months each year, creates a need for more rain. What inspired the writing of this essay is the fact that there is a danger this year of less rain. December 15 and not yet a significant rainfall. As the irrigation of fruit trees continues into the winter, the reservoirs are the lowest in our history. Even though thousands of our observant citizens hold special prayer services each week, the expected rain storm last night veered northward toward Turkey and did not reach this area. It would seem that our Rabbis could, Israeli style, call a strike, lock the synagogues, and refuse to bless Him until He delivers.
Another factor making Mayim (water) and Geshem (rain) extraordinary words in this country is the fact that the main reservoir is located 700 feet below sea level. Not much of a problem if one lives in Tiberius next to the Kinneret, but our needs are in the Emek Heffer Valley 800 to 1000 feet above the fresh water of that lake. Pumping hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water up over the hills and to this valley is a chore requiring lots of energy. In the early eighties I was informed that over half of the electricity produced in the State was used for pumping water. Electricity is produced in power stations by generators powered with oil or coal purchased from abroad. The free water that drops from the sky has not only become scarce, but under these circumstances very expensive.
The fact that the supply of water has become a serious issue is not questioned, but just how critical is debated. Solutions for the problem vary from importing Turkish water to building desalination plants using atomic energy. Repairing ancient pipes that leak half of the water, and restricting the use of this limited and valuable commodity seems more realistic. The continual use of huge amounts of water to support agriculture started by idealists working to green this arid land with orchards and to provide employment for unskilled immigrants is no longer realistic. Arab and Thai workers provide the bulk of the agriculture labor in the nation. To turn the country green with vast lawns is at best bad judgment. Sod for landscaping villas and parks has become big industry; the main ingredient for its manufacture and maintenance is water. Now is the time to restrict agriculture to domestic needs; to export farm products to Europe in competition with low income, cheap labor countries with ample water puts us in a lose/lose position.
The supply of water has always been a source of worry in the Middle East and is attested to by the fact that the inhabitants of the area have, from the beginning, 'prayed for rain'. With six million now living in Israel the water reserves will be permanently damaged if our present policy is not arrested. Strict regulation and rational use are needed now, in addition to the 'praying for rain' that has become part of the religious service of the Jewish people.
Harry Glickman, with Jen, Dec. 17, 1998. Weather: clear and warm
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