Facing a huge deficit exacerbated by the water crisis, senior Water Authority officials yesterday welcomed the recommendations of a state committee of inquiry, which called to increase water prices in order to cover the authority's operations.

In his first public response to the interim findings of a panel headed by Judge Dan Bein, Water Authority director general Uri Shani said he was pleased with the report.

On Tuesday, the commission of inquiry urged the government not to cancel the "drought tax" unless other measures are put in its place to encourage saving water. It also said the money raised from a recent increase in water rates should be invested in developing the country's water infrastructure.

Shani did acknowledge the public perception that the Water Authority zig-zagged in establishing the "drought tax" and raising water rates, though this was due to the fact that the authority allowed the public a glimpse into its deliberations.

Raising the price of water by 40 percent and setting a drought tax - higher rates for higher usage - ignited significant public criticism.

"Recently, some parties said - bizarrely - that the water crisis is fictitious and that there is enough water," Shani said. "The commission said very unequivocal things regarding the gravity of the crisis, and this is very important."

"The panel also understood that given the large deficit created due to investments, there is no alternative but to raise water rates," Shani said. "[The committee] also confirmed that the drought tax is the proper tool to encourage water conservation."

"These are important statements in the face of the current populist trends," Shani said.

When asked about the criticism of the Water Authority, Shani said the agency tried to be more transparent by publicly airing its deliberations.

Shani added that a confluence of interests bandied together to promote various initiatives.

Regarding the agency's long-term planning, Shani said the Water Authority is preparing a master plan that would make contingencies for emergencies.