Water NGO head: Crisis isn’t all the authority’s fault

‘Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater,’ says Raanan Adin in response to the State Comptroller’s Report.

PEOPLE ON paddle boards float on Lake Kinneret in 2016. It is Israel’s major surface fresh-water source, now endangered. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
PEOPLE ON paddle boards float on Lake Kinneret in 2016. It is Israel’s major surface fresh-water source, now endangered.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Israel Water Association chairman Raanan Adin said the State Comptroller’s Report released last week, which sharply criticizes the Water Authority for the country’s current water crisis, should be understood in a larger context, and that all of the blame should not be placed on the authority.
“The Comptroller’s Report is a critical tool for encouraging the national administration to improve itself,” Adin told The Jerusalem Post. “Yet before criticizing the Water Authority it is important for us to ask ourselves a few questions: First of all, did the Knesset give the authority all of the powers it needs in order to fulfill its mission? Second, did the Knesset give it effective bureaucratic tools to execute its vision? And lastly, is the economic model under which the Water Authority operates enabling the execution of that vision?”
Adin, who also runs a private water consulting company, asked these questions at a hearing of the Knesset Water Caucus organized by its chairwoman, MK Yael Cohen Paran (Zionist Union), on October 22 – the same day the report was released. “Most of the criticism at the hearing was directed at the Water Authority, and I was the only one there asking whether the Knesset itself had been doing all that it could have.”
For example, he said that Cohen Paran, an environmentalist and co-chair of the Green Movement, suggested in the hearing that a third water-price level should be implemented for high-rate users to promote water use reduction. “But would the Knesset approve such an idea if it was brought to them by the authority?” he told the Post. “The Water Authority promoted and continues to promote water use reduction, yet it can do only what the law and policy makers permit.”
The Israel Water Association (IsWA) is a professional, independent, non-profit and non-governmental body founded in 2001 to promote Israel’s water sector. One of its main activities is the dissemination of information to advance Israel’s water sector and improve it. The association represents Israel at the International Water Association.
“All people involved in the water sector as well as any concerned citizen can join the IsWA – including the Water Authority,” he said.
The association and the authority have no official relationship, yet these organizations have a common goal – a sustainable, well-planned and operated water sector. Executives of the authority have always been invited to speak at the opening of IsWA’s annual conference, which next year is set for March 6. Water Authority head Giora Shaham was the first person invited and the first to confirm his participation.
The State Comptroller’s Report also claims that, contrary to the government’s October 2010 decision, the Water Authority and the energy minister – currently Likud MK Yuval Steinitz – have failed to submit a long-term master plan for the water sector. This has resulted in the authority having to take short-term actions such as permitting the use of water from the country’s natural aquifers, at times contrary to recommendations made its own Hydrological Service, leading to the depletion of those reserves and the risk of irreversible damage.
According to Adin, however, that is a misleading representation of the situation. He said that in response to the Bein Committee’s 2010 recommendations adopted by the government on how to alleviate the water crisis, the authority did actually publish a national water master plan in August 2012.
“The plan is available on the Water Authority’s website, in both Hebrew and English,” Adin said, adding that: “There were several drafts, and the process included at least one public hearing I recall attending. What hasn’t been done is frequent enough updating of this plan, which would be expected to be done every five years. There were also a few chapters which were not completed at the time it was published and that are still incomplete.”
When asked by the Post about this apparent contradiction regarding the master plan, Adin said that, “The Water Authority has prepared a plan, which is said to have been submitted to the minister – but it seems that it may not have been submitted to the government yet for approval.”
Adin also responded to the report’s claim that the Water Authority has not yet approved a working plan for the long-term establishment of desalination plants, in accordance with projected water consumption demands. According to the report, its failure to find alternative solutions for water supply to the North – given the delay in the construction of Sorek 2, the new Western Galilee desalination plant only becoming operational in 2023 – is putting local reservoirs at risk.
The NGO’s chairman prefaced his response by pointing out that the comptroller’s report is generally correct in describing the situation of water resources and water demand, as well as in expecting both the authority and the appropriate minister to take the proper actions to fix it. In fully analyzing the situation, however, merely looking at the bottom line might miss checking bureaucratic and political considerations, the scope of its jurisdiction and other issues that affect the authority’s work, which might need fixing as well.
“A good example of this is the construction of new desalination plants,” Adin said. “The process of finding a suitable location for the plant was long delayed by objections and lengthy discussions in court. A location was found only after the crisis was at our doorstep. Could this have been done earlier? Does the Water Authority have the ability to create a sense of urgency without being backed up by a crisis? Maybe, but maybe not.”
Adin concluded by saying that while there is a need to identify and fix the problems in Israel’s water sector, the Water Authority should not be turned into a scapegoat.
“Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater,” he said.