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November 26, 2014 | 4th Kislev 5775

Bottled Up

Galilee Diary #450, July 29, 2009
Marc Rosenstein

 

For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill. -Deuteronomy 8:7

One of the experiences of our trip to Ethiopia that left the strongest impression on us was that of not being able to take for granted basic necessities that we have never really had to think about. Electricity, for example, is provided every other day, more or less. On off days, some businesses use portable generators; people use candles and LED flashlights; the streets are really dark at night; and there are no blenderized fruit juices or French fries in the coffee shops. And generally, when there is no electricity there is also no running water. We learned not to postpone a shower till tomorrow morning, but to shower when there was water. And it is common knowledge that even when there is water in the pipes, the state of pollution of the main water sources around the country is such that the piped water is not safe to drink. So we found ourselves, for the first time in our lives, living on bottled water (from unpolluted mountain springs, in Ethiopia). This was a little hard to get used to, after so many years of making a point of avoiding bottled water here in Israel. In Israel, the water flows from the tap without interruption every day, everywhere in the country (except in those unrecognized Bedouin villages that are not connected to the grid; but that's a story for another column...). And the quality is at least as good as that of bottled spring water. Indeed, after a couple of recent bacterial contamination incidents at bottling plants, it appears that tap water may be safer. Therefore, there is something beyond absurd about the huge industry of capturing spring water (instead of letting it flow down its natural course, through the mountain valleys of the Golan or the oases of the Judean Desert), putting it in plastic bottles, and trucking it around the country, leaving dirty carbon footprints - and empty plastic bottles - all over the landscape. Aside from the issue of wasted energy and materials, this industry exists under a cloud of questions regarding private profits made at the expense of the public, as the natural streams in national parks are reduced to a trickle.

When we arrived home, we were greeted by headlines about the new "drought tax" being imposed this week. After years of public handwringing about our dwindling supplies of water, the government has finally taken concrete action to try to encourage conservation: from now on, a surcharge will be imposed on water usage beyond a basic monthly allotment of 16 cubic meters (about 4,200 gallons) for a family of four. It worked on me - I've already recalibrated the half-flush floats in our toilet tanks, removed an embarrassingly large number of redundant drippers from our garden irrigation system, taken a stop-watch to the water meter, to calculate how long and how often we can afford to water the garden, and expanded the grey water system that waters our trees. I guess I shouldn't complain about the government - for years I knew I should take these steps, and I clucked like everyone else over the falling level of the Kinneret - but only when someone kicked me did I actually jump, and take my personal responsibility seriously. Hopefully, the new policy will have the same effect on lots of people, and we'll stop, as a country, taking our scarcest and most precious resource for granted.

It is common (especially among immigrants from Western countries) to joke about Israel as "third world." However, now that I've been to the third world, I appreciate how much Israel is no longer a part of it. The challenge is to husband and develop our resources in such a way as to make sure we don't waste our way back there.
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