Stressing that water is a basic human need, Knesset State Control Committee chairman MK Amnon Cohen (Shas) demanded on Monday that a drop in water prices be included in the state’s future budget.
“The upcoming budget must include the reduction of the price of water, and it is important that the conclusions of this discussion be embedded in the budget due to its significance to the cost of living,” Cohen said at a committee meeting that day.
Demanding that the Water Authority reduce water prices by at least 10 percent, Cohen also blamed the inefficient operation of local water corporations for raising consumer prices.
In Monday’s discussion, the State Control Committee was reviewing a section of the October State Comptroller’s Report (63-aleph) that had deemed water tariffs unjustifiably high and had called for the consolidation of the country’s local water companies.
The report determined that the overall method for calculating water rates is flawed, as there has not been a thorough process to figure out what the national per capita consumption of water should be.
Meanwhile, although the Water Authority has plans to consolidate the number of local water corporations, these plans have been slow to progress, the report said.
“It is important that the water sector be managed as a closed market, but a portion of the costs are not justified,” said Zvi Vertikovsky, deputy director- general of the State Comptroller’s Office. “If consumers are not bound to things that are not the real price of water, we can significantly reduce the price for the consumer.”
Attacking the very existence of water corporations, Kiryat Ono Mayor Yossi Nishri said that “four people in the municipality could handle the water sector, and there is no need for this monster called a corporation.”
Water belongs to the Israeli people, and revenues should go directly to municipalities to pay for necessities like wastewater treatment, Nishri argued.
Echoing these sentiments, MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) said that all water corporations must be abolished and that control of water should return to the municipalities, coinciding with an immediate slash in water prices.
A representative from the Finance Ministry, Adi Hachmon, on the other hand, attributed rising water prices to the increase in desalination plants and the energy required for their operation. The ministry therefore opposes the reduction of the water corporations, she said.
Whatever their cause, “high water prices are generators of social protests,” noted MK Uri Maklev (United Torah Judaism).
“The civilian subsidizes about half a million shekels for agriculture,” he added. “I am not against subsidizing farmers, but the state should be subsidizing them – not the citizens.”
In response to the discussion, Water Authority commissioner Alexander Kushnir stressed that his office had already enacted a new discounted water pricing mechanism specifically for the disabled, and that most of those eligible for this discount were taking advantage of it.
“Our goal is excellent service at a minimal price,” Kushnir said. “Our intention to reduce the number of corporations from 55 to 13 will enable a drop in the price of water by about 5 percent, but in the meantime our work on this subject is meeting with strong resistance.”
Meanwhile, Hezi Lipshitz, deputy director-general of the Energy and Water Ministry, noted that Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom is holding a large number of meetings for the purpose of merging water corporations and reducing consumer prices.