'Israel has no plan for water economy past 2010'

Mekorot could build many facilities but is being kept from crucial projects, water company says.

Water 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Water 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
No long-term plan for the water economy exists beyond 2010, Dr. Yosef Dreizen will tell the "National Investigation Committee Regarding the Water Crisis in Israel" during his testimony on Wednesday. Dreizen created the planning branch and the desalination branch at the Water Commission in the 1990s. The only master plan that exists at the moment is the transitional master plan for 2002-2010, which was never fully adopted by the government, Dreizen wrote in a position paper released by the committee ahead of his appearance. The commission, which became the Water Authority in 2007, has always operated with a focus on the short-term crisis, he wrote. "While long-term planning was considered essential, it was never considered practical," Dreizen maintained. "There was never an understanding that after seven years of plenty comes years of drought." Moreover, he charged, until the transitional plan, the water economy had no master plan at all for 30 years. Israel is facing its worst water crisis in history. Five straight years of little rain and chronic mismanagement prompted the Knesset State Control Committee to form the governmental investigation committee, which has been interviewing relevant experts and officials for several months. After interviewing many academic and private-sector experts, the committee has begun taking testimony from government officials. Dreizen, who founded and then headed the desalination branch of the Water Commission from 2004 until 2007, recounted his attempts to set up a pilot desalination plant in the Galilee in 1995. "I wanted to build a 10 million-cu.m.-per-year plant in the western Galilee… so that we would know what we were getting into [with desalination]. However, as soon as the tender went out for the plant, the Budgets Branch of the Treasury intervened and demanded that we go no further with regard to desalination. Unfortunately the water commissioner did not stand his ground, and the plan was never implemented," he wrote. Committee head and retired judge Prof. Dan Bein and the two other members of the committee, Prof. Yoram Avnimelech and Prof. Yoav Kislev, will also hear from Mekorot CEO Ido Rosolio and board chairman Eli Ronen. Mekorot, the national water company, has been consistently prohibited from bidding on desalination plants or building sewage treatment plants, despite the company's vast experience in these areas, Rosolio and Ronen are expected to tell the committee. While the company is building a desalination plant in Ashdod and runs the Shafdan - the largest sewage treatment plant in Israel - the company could be building many more, faster than anyone else, according to their position paper submitted by legal adviser Hagai Einat. In line with Dreizen, Mekorot also complained that long-term planning was insufficient. Furthermore, Einat wrote, the company was not consulted often enough by the Water Authority, even though Mekorot has nationwide information as the operator of the National Water Carrier and the water delivery system. Sewage treatment plants are essential for reducing agricultural use of fresh water, Einat wrote. However, the company has been prevented from erecting such plants altogether. In previous testimony, Alexander Kushnir, head of the Sewage Infrastructure Development Administration in the National Infrastructures Ministry, had written that construction of such plants had basically come to a standstill in 2008. The two testimonies together appear to raise a serious question as to why Mekorot has been kept out of such a necessary industry. The company recommended that a parallel national carrier be created for treated sewage water, because most of the sewage originates in the center of the country, while agriculture is mainly in the periphery. Finally, bureaucratic red tape and unnecessary oversight should be removed so projects can finish on time, Einat wrote. Having to wade through seas of red tape delayed almost all the projects, including emergency ones such as repairs.