Environmentalists slam energy ministry's changes to water law
The proposed changes include new conditions for water drilling, a severe increase in fines for lawbreakers and, for the first time, the requirement to prepare a long-term plan for water usage in Israel.
The Energy and Water Resources Ministry has recently begun to promote changes in the Water Law based on two-year-old recommendations from a state inquiry commission, much to the chagrin of environmental organizations.
The proposed changes were sent in the past few weeks to ministries, the Supreme Court and various organizations, and include new conditions for water drilling, a severe increase in fines for lawbreakers and, for the first time, the requirement to prepare a long-term plan for water usage in Israel.
A plethora of environmental organizations, headed by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, severely criticized the proposed changes, saying they ignore the environment's needs, fail to address the problems of information transparency, and fall short of doing enough to include the general public in the process of decision making.
According to the proposed changes, the head of the Water Authority will grant permits to produce water after considering three goals: the preservation of water sources and their quality; the level of service received by customers; and the promotion of competitiveness in the water market.
The changes include fines of up to NIS 450,000 for lawbreakers, including whoever pollutes or illegally overpumps water sources. Presently, fines for such actions are considerably lower.
Another significant change is the demand to draft a long-term master plan for the use of water. The plan would have to be approved by the Water Authority council, but the minister of energy and water resources would be authorized to demand changes. This plan would determine the level of investment in the water market, as well as ultimately influencing water prices. Another change would be to weaken the power of the head of the Water Authority.
The SPNI requested further changes be added to the law. The environmentalists claim that, due to the importance of drilling permits, it should be determined that yet another goal be added: the preservation of nature and landscapes. This demand is part of the organizations' long struggle to ensure water flow to reservations, wells and springs.
Furthermore, the environmentalists argue that the proposed changes do little to increase the transparency of information brought to the public - a problem the commission was well aware of. The organizations would prefer more binding regulations concerning the activity and decisions of the Water Authority, noting that last year, the protocols of the Water Authority council were not made public.
The new changes, they claim, do not guarantee the public's participation in decision making, and therefore binding regulations concerning publication of full information should be formulated. There should also be more representatives of the public in the special council that would draw the master plan, and serve as the minister's consultant body. The environmental organizations oppose the proposal that the minister himself should head the council.
A spokesperson for the ministry said that all remarks and ideas concerning the proposed changes would be reviewed by its officials.