AzIP Workshop, a Forum to Discuss Issues in Water-scarce Regions
The AzIP workshop was a collaborative effort bringing together representatives from Arizona, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, regions with arid and semi-arid environments, to address a topic of critical and mutual concern to all: water. Following is a brief summary of issues raised and discussed at the workshop.
It was apparent from workshop presentations that the strategies applied to meet current and future water supply-and-quality challenges vary. Some communities within the three regions seek ways to fund and build basic infrastructure to provide potable water and treat it after initial use, while others focus on water pollution, desalination, and conservation concerns.
Israel already reuses and desalinates large quantities of water to meet its water budget, and it plans to do more of both in the future. In Arizona and the Palestinian Territories, increased reuse and desalination are also often discussed as potential answers to the challenges of growing population and diminishing supply.
Arizonans also confront the challenge of governing water supplies that they share with other states and nations. Arizona depends on rivers and groundwater aquifers shared with Mexico and the Colorado River Compact states, while Israelis and Palestinians both depend on shared groundwater supplies. The AzIP workshop convened a group of scholars, high level water managers, and students to tackle the challenges and complications of shared governance, desalination, reuse, treatment, climate change, and other pressing issues.
Arizona, Israel and the Palestinian Territories share certain basic conditions: growing and urbanizing populations, arid and semiarid climates, substantial transboundary water resources, and concerns about the long term sustainability of current water supplies and how to encourage conservation. Yet there are also substantial differences, several workshop participants said, including population demand as much attention as the similarities in identifying research directions.
Palestinian, Israeli, and Arizona water managers share the desire to encourage water conservation in their areas. While each may draw on historical and religious traditions that encourage careful resource use, these traditions do not always carry through into binding law, policy, or practice.
While property rights regimes and legal statutes governing water may differ within the three regions, each seems capable of encouraging or discouraging efficient and sustainable water management. Innovative water pricing structures could provide incentives for more efficient water use in the agricultural, commercial, and residential sectors.
Israel has established itself as a leader in desalination technology and looks to expand desalination of both sea and brackish water in the future. I Arizona and the United States, as in the Palestinian Territories, the high cost of building and operating desalination facilities have been seen as limiting factors. Disposal of wastestream from desalination facilities and the high cost of desalinated water for end users are also concerns that need to be further addressed in future research.
While Palestinian water managers view desalination as one of the ways to meet their future water needs, development of more basic water infrastructure, such as groundwater wells and water transport lines, is seen as a more immediate need. Many Palestinian communities lack basic water treatment facilities, and this lack brings with it health concerns that do not exist at the same level in Arizona and Israel. Much potential exists for collaborative projects that explore ways to meet these needs in Palestinian communities.
Reusing wastewater is another often cited answer to the dilemma of future water supply in arid and semi-arid regions, but in each region there are unanswered questions and infrastructure issues related to this technique as well. Environmental pollution and health concerns were raised, including how to screen for very small particle contaminants and hormone disrupting chemicals in wastewater. Whether recycled water is suitable for potable use was also considered. Though water treatment and filtration facilities are not as expensive as desalination facilities, funding is still a difficult issue for the Palestinian Water Authority. The question of where to locate reuse facilities was also discussed at length, with political considerations playing a significant role.
Climate change is likely to bring increased drought and seasonal fluctuations in reservoir and stream levels to each region. These changes threaten existing water sources and necessitate careful water planning. Research into new sources of water and conservation of existing supplies is all the more urgent in light of the impacts of climate change. Ecosystems and species depending on surface water will be threatened as existing water resources dwindle. Low income communities without sufficient water infrastructure are likely to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, and projects that lead to equitable water allocation and infrastructure development are critically important.
Sharing rivers, streams, lakes, and groundwater supplies means sharing decision- making power over these resources. Arizona shares the Colorado River with several other states and shares rivers and underground aquifers with Mexico. Israel shares the Jordan River with Jordan and Syria. The Palestinian Territories share aquifer water with Israel.
The further development of transboundary institutions at the watershed, regional, and national levels requires careful consideration of structure, voice in decision making, and improved sharing of information. Evaluation of existing governance structures will require attention to the same variables. Hopeful examples exist and contentious water issues can be resolved, but peaceful resolution will require the continued investment of time, resources, and expertise by all parties involved, an investment the AzIP workshop sought to encourage.