State Commission to probe water crisis

Committee to check why previous recommendations weren't implemented and gov't decisions ignored.

water224-88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The Knesset State Control Committee voted Monday to establish a state commission of inquiry into Israel's current water shortage, and also to investigate why a government decision to produce 350 million cubic meters of desalinated water by 2004 has not been implemented. Israel currently produces 138 cu.m. at two plants, located at Ashkelon and Palmahim. The decision to ask Supreme Court Justice Dorit Beinisch to establish a state commission of inquiry followed a meeting in which National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who has ministerial responsibility for the country's water supply, said: "Not only do I not oppose establishing such a committee, I insist that such a committee be established. The commission should examine my ministry down through the years, me as head of the ministry and other ministries, including the Finance Ministry." Ben-Eliezer blames the treasury for obstructing the implementation of decisions made since 1999 to speed up the construction of desalination plants. According to a report by the Knesset's Research and Information Center, the government's original goal had been the production of 400 cu.m. of desalinated water by 2004. It was dropped to 350 cu.m. with the support of the Finance Ministry after Israel enjoyed a heavy rainfall in the winter of 2002-2003. A Treasury official rejected the criticism from Ben-Eliezer and other water officials. He pointed out that water management in Israel had been very poor until the implementation of a number of reforms, including the establishment of the Water and Sewage Authority in 2007. Until then, the official said, water management had been conducted "absurdly," with 10 different bodies responsible for various aspects of it. He also charged that water in the local authorities was still badly mismanaged. "There is wastage of water and sewage, money management is improper and the local authorities use income from water and sewage services from the residents for other purposes instead of plowing it back into the system." He also said that the 20-year-old agreement on water quotas for the agricultural sector needed revision, as many of the rural settlements had cut back on farming and did not need the same quantities of water. MK Avshalom Vilan (Meretz) said there were many issues for the commission of inquiry to investigate. But he, too, put most of the blame on the Treasury. "The country should be run by the government, and not by the money men," he said. "The question is whether we want to be like Egypt or Jordan or whether we want to be a green country. Time after time, when the government decides on a national project, the Treasury torpedoes it." State Control Committee chairman Zevulun Orlev (NU-NRP) appointed a five-person committee to formulate a statement of subjects for the commission to investigate.