The price of water

Household water savings cannot ameliorate the enormous shortage created by nearly a decade of low precipitation and a lack of desalination facilities.

dripping faucet water crisis 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
dripping faucet water crisis 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In a matter of days, the government will probably be reaching even more deeply into our pockets by charging much more for that most basic commodity - water. The Knesset Finance Committee last week approved what is popularly dubbed the "Drought Tax." The new levy is slated to be speedily approved in the Knesset this week. It becomes effective on Wednesday. The Israel Water Authority claims that up until now, we have paid so little for the water in our taps that we have wasted it and taken it for granted - in total disregard of the fact that we live not only in an arid region but in one that is getting alarmingly drier. The following math may a bit numbing, but the bottom line is clear. A cubic meter of water has, thus far, cost an ordinary Israeli household just NIS 4.18 for the first 8 cm. a month; NIS 5.7 for the next 7 cm., and NIS 7.9 for anything above that. Low rates will now apply only to a basic ration. Whatever exceeds it, will cost NIS 28 per cm. - effectively a NIS 20 fine. The basic allowance per household of up to four members will be a monthly 16 cm. Until November 1, each additional person per household will be allowed 4.2 cm. extra at the basic rate. Between November and January, the basic ration will rise to 18 cm., with each additional household member beyond four getting 5 cm. more. From next January, the basic household definition will be lowered to two persons and the entitlement to 12 cm. A three-member household will get a 15 cm. base, with 5 cm. per each additional person. Granted, not all families would necessarily suffer. Many don't exceed the basic allowance. We said it was complicated. But recent surveys show that 71 percent of us have no idea how much water we consume, and 82% don't know what we pay. If the drought tax achieves nothing more than increased awareness, it will constitute a bonus. HOWEVER, it's doubtful much else would appreciably improve. The time-lag between when water is used and when it's paid for is considerable - even longer than for most other utilities. So the mental link between action and consequence is stretched. Will higher bimonthly bills generate the desired psychological effect? Arguable. A further difficulty arises from the fact that this is a tax which could prove exceptionally difficult to collect. It will be paid via the municipalities, but local authorities generally possess no statistics on the numbers of residents per household. The tax is almost immediately applicable, whereas the necessary data cannot be obtained in time. Then comes the sad fact that household water savings cannot ameliorate the enormous shortage created by nearly a decade of low precipitation during which several governments failed utterly to add necessary desalination facilities. Those under construction now will only alleviate the situation from 2014 on - assuming everything proceeds on schedule. It would be altogether more effective to cut negligent waste. A whopping 164 million cm. are lost annually because of substandard municipal equipment or leakages from corroded city pipelines. The drought tax is expected to save 80 million cm., assuming expectations are fully met. Odds are they won't be, but that the drought tax will become a permanent fixture. The only good news on the water front is preparations (only on the drawing-board so far) by Tel Aviv and its Dan Region satellites to desalinate their own water. Their efforts won't be trouble-free because the national government won't easily acquiesce, a fact to which Rishon Lezion can attest. Its efforts to put up a small independent desalination plant have been frustrated for years. There's no justification for such cavalier obstructionism; we all pay the price for senseless red tape. Although the Tel Aviv local initiative is regrettably nowhere near operational, it has our full endorsement. It's certainly the way to go. What government bureaucracy and wrongheaded penny-pinching has frustrated for all too many years may be facilitated by private entrepreneurship and local enterprise. Nothing but good can come from decreasing central government control, especially when it has been far from successful in addressing this ongoing crisis.