The national water scandal

Next water bill is sure to shock most customers.

By JERUSALEM POST EDITORIAL
June 26, 2010 22:48
3 minute read.
The Eshkol Reservoir in the Beit Netofa Valley hol

water reservoir 311. (photo credit: Mekorot)

 
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Not many of us scrutinize our water bills, but the incentive to do so may increase when July’s bill is delivered. It’s sure to be a shocker.

We already pay 40 percent more for our water than we did a year ago, and July will see another 5% hike.

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That will raise the average price per cubic meter to four times the level in 2008.

The public was elated when last summer’s drought levy was abolished amid populist fanfare. Few noticed that not only are charges going up even for the least wasteful consumers, but also that base-price allotments per household member are down sharply, meaning that beyond the first two cubic meters per two persons, rates rise significantly.

The logic is to pass on to consumers losses incurred by regional water authorities, as well as to have households foot the bill for erecting desalination plants, which should have been constructed and fully operational years ago.

The Knesset is up in arms and the Union of Local Authorities has joined the battle against the Israel Water Authority, charging that it loses considerably less than is claimed. But the cities are hardly innocent.

Their negligence accounts for a whopping 164 million cubic meters lost annually because of substandard municipal equipment or leaks from corroded local pipelines.



A GOVERNMENT PR campaign, geared to sweeten the pill, promises that in three years we will no longer be at the mercy of annual precipitation vagaries and will be self-sufficient via desalination. Yet no amount of desalination will do away with the need to impose discipline on the way we consume water. Desalination is an energy-guzzling process. Responsible conservation will never become superfluous in our arid region.

Official promises must be taken with a huge grain of salt. We are already woefully behind schedule on the latest plan to compensate for previous delays. The new Ashdod desalination plant was to have been ready this coming December. The way things currently appear, it won’t be up and running in December 2011 either. Construction has yet to get under way due to disputes between the Treasury and Mekorot.

Plans to build the country’s largest desalination facility at Nahal Soreq, meanwhile, are drawing fire from environmentalists. In all, desalination is progressing considerably more slowly than admitted.

The country’s water shortage is the result of nearly a decade of low rainfall, during which several governments failed utterly to add desalination facilities.

Those blueprinted and those under construction now might just alleviate the situation from 2014 on – in the unlikely event that published timetables are met.

The National Water Authority warned Ariel Sharon’s government back in 2001 that by decade’s end, Israel would lack 400 million cubic meters of water annually.

It was decided to establish desalination plants to supply exactly that amount. But the next winter – 2002 – was very wet and the sense of urgency was washed away. As a result, only 130 million cubic meters were subsequently desalinated, and Israel found itself woefully unprepared for the subsequent prolonged droughts.

While this country successfully markets desalination plants worldwide and helps other nations cope with increasing needs, at home all this enviable know-how has barely been put to use because of petty agora-wise and shekel-foolish Treasury parsimoniousness.

It is the bill for that short-sightedness that the average householder is now being asked to pay.

Essentially, we are expected to compensate today for officialdom’s grave bungling during the past decade.

Yet all that time, we were paying taxes which, among other things, were earmarked to bankroll large-scale national development projects. Projects like desalination plants.

There is simply no justification to charge us again for the same projects, this time via the price of the most elementary and vital commodity of all.

At the very least, instead of punishing the entire population through unfair and socially regressive levies, it would be better to charge incrementally more for exorbitant water use, thereby educating the public that squandering is costly.

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