Water Authority wants public input in master plan

Hopes to have program in place by year's end, conference hears.

leaking water pipe 88 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
leaking water pipe 88 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Water Authority will encourage professional and public input into the master plan it has begun to prepare, officials said as they unveiled its planning process for the first time at the sixth annual Israeli Water Association Conference in Ramat Gan on Wednesday. The authority has begun working on an expedited process to have the major planks of the plan ready by year's end, the planning branch's Micki Zaide told the gathering. Instead of working sequentially, tackling one issue at a time, the issues would be debated simultaneously so that the plan could be ready as soon as possible, he said. While there have been efforts to get a master plan for the water economy approved by the government, none has succeeded. Right now, the only document in place is an interim plan for 2002-2010, which has been extended to 2013. However, many important issues were not dealt with in that plan, Zaide said. The new plan will tackle the pressing concerns of a changing water economy, authority head Prof. Uri Shani said. "Everything is changing. The national infrastructure, goals, priorities, prices. Everything is in flux," he said at the main plenum session of the one day technical conference. There were no great surprises when Zaide laid out the broad areas the plan is to address: removing obstacles to developing the water economy, preparing for threats, treating sewage, preserving natural water resources, increasing efficiency, protecting nature and increasing the number of professionals in the water economy. There were 200 specific sub-topics that the plan would address, he said. According to Zaide, there will be ample opportunity for professionals and academics to comment and make suggestions through conferences, roundtables and the Internet. Policy papers would be posted on the authority's Web site for public comment, he said. They hope to have most of the policy papers written by January 1, 2010, with others to follow within six months. Some few issues would take longer and be added to the plan as they were completed, he added. Featuring the process for the master plan was part of the conference's goal of looking to the future, conference organizer and Tahal Group senior economist Dr. Sinaia Netanyahu told The Jerusalem Post. "There's been a conference every other week for the last three years about the water crisis we are currently undergoing," she said, "We wanted to look forward to see what was ahead of us." She highlighted some of the major issues facing the water economy. "Despite the Water Corporations Law of 2001, which said there should be 30 corporations covering the entire populace by 2007, there are only 14 serving 36 percent of the population. Within six months, 50% of the population is supposed to be served by a corporation, but there is still a lot to be done," she said. Water corporations take control of the water and sewage infrastructure, and reinvest the profits in upgrades and upkeep. The idea behind their creation was to prevent local authorities from using the revenue from the sale of water for other municipal issues, thus allowing infrastructure to continue to degrade. Netanyahu also stressed the issue of water loss. "While officially the water loss rate on average is about 10%, we all know that it varies [between municipalities]. In east Jerusalem, for instance, the water loss rate is 40%," she said. Another major issue is the lack of young professionals in the field. "We do not see sufficient numbers enrolled in university in relevant fields like civil engineering, hydrology or environmental engineering. I read somewhere that 50% of the professionals are expected to retire within the next 10 years. We need to train people today," Netanyahu said. "Training is crucial because it's become a much more complex field. You need to know about law, economics and technology, among other things. I call on universities to act now to recruit more young people into the field."