Water prices will rise starting January 1, but will also be standardized throughout the country, Water Authority head Prof. Uri Shani told the National Investigation Committee - Regarding the Water Crisis in Israel on Wednesday.
Committee head Prof. Dan Bein requested Shani's presence before the committee at an emergency hearing ahead of the new year.
"One cannot manage the water economy in all its complexity without the requisite budgetary tools and manpower to manage the crisis and prevent the next one. There are no magic solutions; water prices have to rise, the solution to the crisis costs money," Shani told Bein and his two colleagues, Profs. Yoram Avnimelech and Yoav Kislev.
"The Water Authority's problem is that it is managing the crisis 'too well.' If a citizen had turned on the tap and no water came out, the public would understand the depth of the crisis. Instead, because of the correct management and the dedicated staff of the Authority throughout the crisis, that situation has been prevented," he continued.
Before the water prices rise, however, there will be a hearing for public comment and criticism, Shani said.
Increasing water prices will enable the desalination plants to be built, he said.
"One of the most important, if not the most important, decision I made as head of the Water Authority was the decision to fund desalination from water prices and disconnect the connection between the state budget and funding desalination. Something which allowed us to push forward desalination significantly," he told the committee.
In 2004, after a heavy winter of rain, the Treasury cut back funding and the end goals for desalination, such that five years later, the country is still behind the original goals set out for 2004/5.
At the same time, Shani said the Water Authority's budget should be part of the state budget, "to avoid a conflict of interest where the regulator who sets the water prices is also funded by them."
He also offered his opinion that water corporations from weaker municipalities should perhaps receive a helping hand from the government every now and again to prevent their collapse. Water corporation union officials have warned that reorganizing water prices and their structure would drive the corporations deep into debt.
With regard to the long term master plan for the water economy, Shani replied to queries as to its status that the Treasury had so far failed to provide the NIS 30m. necessary for the project. However, it was proceeding anyway and being funded through the Water Authority's regular budget. Shani said he hoped to have the first part of the plan - its framework - ready for government approval by the first part of 2010.
Finally, Shani asked the committee to differentiate between the Water Commissionership and the Water Authority in allocating blame in their final report. He indicated that he thought the Water Authority had been making the right policy decisions, whereas the Water Commissionership had failed in its task on occasion. The Water Authority came into existence at the beginning of 2007 to consolidate authority over water issues, with Shani at its head.