By EHUD ZION WALDOKS
The Water Authority should have set down a clear conservation policy and stuck to its guns over the drought levy, according to an interim report on the water economy released Wednesday.
The National Investigation Committee Regarding the Water Crisis in Israel, which has been investigating the water economy from all aspects for the past year, deemed it necessary not to wait to address current issues until the final report is released sometime in the future, but rather to provide its expert input now to avoid future damage to the water economy.
The hottest topic concerning water is the incipient increase in price next year. Committee Chairman Prof. Dan Bein and his two colleagues Profs. Yoram Avnimelech and Yoav Kislev strongly urged the relevant authorities to go through with the price hike. The price of water has changed drastically in the desalination age, they wrote. Desalination costs money - to produce the water itself and to hook up the plants to the National Water Carrier - and the price must reflect that. However, if it is decided not to raise prices, a portion of the state budget must cover the shortfall. If the money isn't found, then desalination plants will sit ready to use but unconnected to the pipes, they warned.
While a little more rain this winter may have reassured some people, conservation efforts must continue without cease throughout the winter, the committee also strongly urged. One year of good rainfall will not solve this crisis. Even after all the desalination plants become operational in 2013, they will still need to pump water into Lake Kinneret and the aquifers to make up a two billion cubic meter deficit, a result of consistent over-pumping to match demand. In light of the severe crisis, which, they pointed out, no one should doubt for a second, the drought levy should only be dropped if immediate and effective alternative conservation measures are put in place.
They slammed the Water Authority and the other relevant government decision makers for failing to keep the long term crisis in mind as well as for making and sticking to unpopular decisions rather than quailing beneath a populist attack.
The committee also endorsed the current procedure for setting water prices through the Water Council at least until it could be proven that it was not working. The Water Council is comprised of the head of the Water Authority, representatives of the relevant ministries and two representatives of the public.
However, the committee criticized the Water Authority for failing to iterate clear and coherent plans for conserving water. It slammed the back and forth on whether gardening and watering public lawns would be outlawed and the surrender to populist elements over the drought levy. It also critiqued the fact that the Water Authority hid too much information from the public, in their opinion, and did not allow enough public input before decisions were taken.
National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau called for a coherent government policy to guide the Water Authority in light of the committee's report. The Water Authority lies within the jurisdiction of Landau's ministry.
"It is apparent from the Bein Committee interim report, that if there had been a guiding hand crafting long term policy for the water economy there would have been no need for drastic measures such as the levy. These are not just professional issues, so having a professional agency is not enough. The government must provide the policy direction for the Water Authority to follow," he said in a statement.
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