Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Water Strike (1/13/2010)

Writer's block is defined in Wikkipedia as a condition "in which an author loses the ability to create new work." However you define it, I have had a pretty bad case of it lately. I have gotten a few e-mails asking if we are OK, and I think Larry Gordon was organizing a search party to see what happened to me. All I can say is that I sat in front of the keyboard for hours each week and had nothing to say. Unlike me, I know.

It is winter here, which in Israel usually means it is the rainy season. Many of you will now sigh and think to yourselves, "Oh no, not another article about how low the Kinneret is." Well, you are right-this isn't going to be one, although I will mention that as of January 1, the level of the Kineret is 213.94 and has risen 43 cm. since the lowest level of the year. We are 94 cm. below the lower red line. Last year it went down about 1.6 meters from the end of the rainy season to the low point, so to get to last year's starting level we need about 120 cm. of additional rain to fall, all in the next three to four months (or about 35 cm a month-a little more than 8 cm each week). Yet, as I said, that is not the focus of this column (although you should definitely pray for RAIN, RAIN, RAIN).

You might have found it curious that I noted the water level as of January 1 instead of a more current measurement. I had no choice, because there are no more recent measurements of the Kinneret. As you may recall from a column last year, the Kinneret is normally measured by the government's water authority almost every day of the year. The water authority then publishes the results via various media, including a website that notes the rise or fall of the water level since the prior measurement (I have created a link for it at If you go to that website you will discover that no measurements have been posted since December 3. Why? Because the people who measure the Kinneret are on strike!

I was able to get the January 1 data from an independent weather service source. It appears that they are measuring the Kinneret once or twice a month in order to provide their web visitors a more accurate reflection of the rain results than the government.

You might think that this is no big deal, but it is a very big deal. In the last year, the government imposed a tax on heavy users of water, repealed the tax, instituted a "save the Kinneret" ad campaign, and finally raised water prices across the board for every consumer by 25 percent, no matter how much their standard usage level is. All of these measures were proposed in order to encourage water conservation in a time of national crisis in water levels.

The water crisis is literally a nationwide concern, since we live in a very arid environment. Running out of water would literally cripple the country.

Since this is such an important issue, I would think that the government would make sure that someone is monitoring the situation. Each up and down tick in the level of the Kinneret is a reflection of the water resources we will have for the coming year, and it should be imperative that they continue to keep this information at the forefront of the national consciousness in order to maintain the public's commitment to conservation. Plus, they need to keep a close watch on where we stand in order to determine if additional actions need to be taken.

Yet, in what can only be described as "Israeli sechel"-or lack of it-a strike by the water authority's workers is allowed to cripple monitoring activities and the effectiveness of conservation efforts. And no one seems to care.

We did get one piece of good news. The first of four planned desalination plants opened last week, providing a small measure of relief to the water system. It will take several months for the plant to get up to full capacity, but it is a start. Three other plants are in various stages of completion, but it will be a long time before we can breathe a sigh of relief that these plants have solved the crisis in a meaningful way.

The plants are another reflection of the Israeli system's attitude toward long-term planning. These are expensive undertakings, and no prime minister wants to spend a lot of money on something that will take years to be built. After all, they most probably won't be in office when the facility opens, so they won't get credit for the job. For them it will look like an expense with no return, since the rewards will be reaped in the future.

What a country.

In other news, PUAH had our annual conference on women's health and fertility issues last week in Yerushalayim. Over 1,500 people attended the conference which was deemed a success by the media here. In the course of the day, I was interviewed for Arutz 7 English Television (to see the report go to I was not expecting to be on camera, so if I look a bit surprised to be there, I was.

We are actually planning a mini-symposium for New York in February. As part of the annual dinner, we will be having a panel of experts (both rabbinic and medical) weigh in on a hypothetical case. Each side will explain their approach to the situation and Puah will then summarize how to merge the different opinions into a cohesive plan.

I am sure it will be interesting (especially since I am directing the video shoot). An ad for the event can be found elsewhere in the Five Towns Jewish Times. Please consider coming.

Finally, I need to wish a mazal tov to Stu and Francine Friedman on the marriage of their son Seth. The wedding was very nice, and we got to see a lot of the Five Towns yeshiva students. Their parents know who they are, and they all looked terrific!