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Israel-Palestinian Program Sends Delegation to Texas to Learn Water Management

In some Middle East countries, water is an issue that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Dec. 30--HARLINGEN, Texas -- In some Middle East countries, water is an issue that affects the lives of tens of thousands of people.

If Israelis and Palestinians ever find a peaceful coexistence, water would become a key element in any further negotiations.

To prepare for cooperative water use, delegations from the Israel-Palestinian Authority Transboundary Water Citizens Exchange Program have been visiting Texas to learn how the vital liquid is managed here.

On Wednesday, delegates met with the Rio Grande watermaster and with one of the water irrigation district managers.

Watermaster Carlos Rubinstein explained how water is managed to meet the needs of municipalities, farmers and ranchers.

He said there are 1,600 accounts, 15 measuring stations, 24,000 annual inspections in the 1,200-mile jurisdiction from Fort Quitman to Brownsville.

"Think of us as a bank," Rubinstein said. "But instead of handling money, we handle water."

He said local water officials must make sure that there is water in reserve to meet the needs of all municipalities for a whole year, and that farmers receive their allotments under their water rights.

"The job of the watermaster is not to pencil in the amount of water one needs, but to make sure that there will be enough water for everybody," he said. "For our region, we manage water in the best possible way we can and I believe we are doing a good job."

Although the reservoir -- Amistad and Falcon dams -- are in the best shape in many years, Rubinstein told the delegation that as recently as last year, the situation was quite different because of the drought.

He said the combined conservation capacity at both dams stands today at more than 93 percent, compared to 51.6 percent a year ago this time.

Some members of the delegation expressed surprise to learn that although the watermaster manages it, the liquid can become a high priced commodity.

If a farmer with water rights decides not to use his water allotment and to sell it to another farmer, he can do so at the market price. For farming, an acre-foot of water costs about 17 cents.

Amir Erez, who works with Israel's Ministry of Environment, asked why farmers here irrigate the land using a canal system, a system that he said isn't an efficient way to manage water.

In Israel, Erez said, farmers water the land by drip irrigation.

"There is a lot of development taking place in Israel," he said, "and we can limit the amount of water farmers can use." Majed Mahmoud Ghannam, of the Palestinian Water Authority, said the issue of water is something that continues to be a problem.

"That is why we are looking at unconventional water resources like development," he said. "Like building water desalination plants."

To see more of the Valley Morning Star, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.valleystar.com.© 2004, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.