Israel is in a Water Crisis and Summer’s Coming: What Should We Do?

Once again the actress Renana Raz, whose face dried and cracked in the advertisements about the country’s previous water shortage, has returned to the small screen with the ominous words “I’m back,” like the inevitable fulfillment of a threat of an Arnold Schwarzenegger character.

And once again the public service announcements about the need to save water, the public hysteria and the call to let our gardens wilt as a necessary part of the process. This hysteria, like any hysteria, is a terrible advisor for decision making. So what do we do? How do we navigate between the desire to save and the desire for a lush green environment to live in?

Green spaces and abundant vegetation are much, much more than just a treat for the eyes. Vegetation contributes to restoring and healing our residential areas, and is crucially important especially in our urban centers, in the crowded areas covered with cement and asphalt. Plants create shade, and are capable of lowering ambient temperature; they create oxygen, absorb CO2, clean and purify the air, absorb rain runoff, support biodiversity, decrease the negative impacts of pollution and noise, and contribute greatly to our quality of life, and our mental and emotional health and well-being.

So what should we do? How do we resolve the seemingly contradictory desires of saving water and creating a healthy, green environment for all?

The more limited the water supply, the more important it is that the water we use to water our gardens goes towards long-lived plants, that give us the best environmental return on our water investment.

The answer lies in adopting the principles of sustainable gardening. Gardening whose planning, ongoing management and maintenance are in accord with the principles of sustainability, that enable us to create green life-supporting environments with limited resources. We must invest our limited water in caring for large trees that will give abundant shade, planning for and planting local, water-saving vegetation, and in general, cultivating green spaces that can nurture life over the long term.

There is no need to get rid of natural plants in favor of various trends of synthetic grass or dry ground cover such as pebbles and rocks. When we do this, we lose the amazing contributions of real vegetation to our quality of life, and likewise, suffer from the ills of artificial solutions to real issues. Plastic grass warms, and gives of chemicals; rocks, too, get hot in the summer, and thus are part of the problem, not the solution.

Planting seasonal or annual flowers should be avoided, as they consume large quantities of water, and their contribution is very short-lived. Grass should be used sparingly and wisely, and plant it only in places where it is used for walking, sitting or playing, and not merely as ground cover. Chemicals, too, should be avoided, in favor of creating fertile soil that is the optimal foundation for a garden.

It is crucially important to plant as many trees as possible, wherever possible. One tree can absorb 20 kg of dust a year, create 700 kg of oxygen, and absorb 20 kg of C02. Trees can lower the temperatures around them up to 40 C. and create a pleasant micro-climate. These capabilities are especially important in urban surroundings, in crowded built-up areas, where there is a great deal of heat radiation and local heating, a phenomenon termed “urban heat islands.”

Care should be taken to install an efficient watering system, which can irrigate economically, with every drop of water going towards creating a green, healthy, environment.

Professional landscaping that is planned and executed according to the principles of sustainable gardening, is much more economical in its consumption of water, land and manual labor, and cheaper to operate and maintain.

There are now more and more towns and cities that are beginning to understand the importance of this approach, and are changing the way they maintain their public green areas. These include Carmiel, Kfar Saba, the communal village of Hoshaya, the Upper Galilee regional authority, many kibbutzim, and more.

Sustainable gardening creates cleaner, healthier, cooler, and shadier surroundings, richer in butterflies and birds, with fruit trees, herbs and other useful plants, that create a healthy basis for a better life for us and our environment.

By: Debbie Lehrer
Promoting Sustainability in the Public Sphere
[email protected]