Wrong on water

Wrong on water

November 18, 2009 23:09
3 minute read.

Noisy populist politicians have won the day and the citizenry appears delighted. Resorting to strident rhetoric, MKs from assorted parties join a zealous crusade to eliminate the much-maligned drought levy. Concerted media campaigns and demagogic distortion helped portray the levy as a brutal tax. Great glee has, consequently, been engendered now that the monster appears slain. Yet too few have given any consideration to its substitute - draconian hikes in water prices for everyone, without exception. It is hard to believe that so many folks fell for what started out as a PR maneuver by several shortsighted parliamentarians and has turned into a costly folly for every household in the land. A progressive moderate levy has been replaced by a regressive drastic price rise imposed via the back door, with no one watching or objecting. Much was unwise and unworkable in the now-shelved drought levy. It hinged on the number of residents per dwelling and lumbered the local authorities with the bureaucratic chore of collecting data and collecting payment. Yet other than the technical awkwardness of the model, the basic idea was sound. There's no denying that this country is parched. Our last ultra-wet winter was in 1991-2. The past six winters were so dry that Lake Kinneret is shriveling up. Water desalination is scandalously behind schedule. The drought levy was designed to discourage waste, while still offering basic water allocations per person at minimal cost. Beyond that allowance, prices were to go up according to the number of inhabitants per housing unit. Thus inordinate water use would essentially be fined. This is socially just and makes sense, even if the entire scheme was complicated and cumbersome. Yet recent none-too-impressive rainfall sufficed to lend the impression that the water shortage was over. This was abetted by tendentious news reports, including one about a Pardess Hanna man sent a NIS 9,000 bill. It so happens that he cultivates a lavish, extensive garden. But the implication was that any average family is liable to be required to shell out as much. THE GOVERNMENT succumbed rather dramatically to the campaign. Perhaps it had good reason to do so. In place of the drought levy, after all, the Treasury has secured a more promising revenue source. We have been spared the drought levy which would have cost standard households a paltry monthly amount at most, whereas its brunt would have been borne by the super-rich with private swimming pools and vast lawns. Instead, a dual-phase water price increase will be instituted. A 25% price rise is slated for January, followed by another 15% increase in June 2010. An additional unspecified "minor" increase is due in January 2011. Thus, by roughly this time next year, we are sure to pay nearly twice as much as we do now for our water - from the first drop, regardless of the sort and size of household we maintain. So far this has provoked barely a squawk, apparently because the populace is still elated about ridding itself of the comparatively insignificant drought levy. The Treasury has been quick to explain that there is no choice but to charge us much more for our water because of the need to construct more desalination plants. But this argument is disingenuous. We anyway pay high taxes, which, we are told, are always at least partly earmarked to bankroll large-scale national development projects. Desalination plants are precisely the sort of projects for which we pay. There is no justification to double-tax us and charge again for the same projects, this time via the price of the most elementary and vital commodity of all. Moreover, 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 which comes at a hefty price. Responsible conservation will never become superfluous in our arid region. Paying incrementally more for higher water use is one way to educate the public that squandering is costly. Politicians who championed the greater good, even at the expense of personal popularity, wouldn't have hesitated to say these things. But most of ours evidently lack such principles.

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