From some of the latest press headlines one would think the days of the Messiah are upon us, the wolf is dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard is lying down with the kid, and the national infrastructure and agriculture ministers have solved the water crisis.
According to the news reports, discrimination in water price charges has ended and farmers will soon pay for each cubic meter of water just the same as cities pay - NIS 1.43. And what's more, allocations to the farmers will be canceled, and only those who can pay the full price, will get the precious liquid.
So, to calm the farmers down a bit, we did a little checking on the veracity of what actually happened at the meeting, and what is clear is that the two agreed on zilch. Minister Avigdor Lieberman does hope to equalize payments for water across the various sectors, and to cancel the allocations, and this is a brave and correct plan, but Minister Shalom Simhon won't even think of such a thing, so "an interministerial committee" is to be set up.
Simhon agrees that the price charged for water to farmers should reflect the "real cost", and that's where the fun begins. Because the real cost of water to the agricultural sector is - a la Simhon - only NIS 1 a cu.m. while to the residential sector it is NIS 1.30.
But how can that be so? We do not have two distribution networks in this country, just the one, and when the state decides to increase water supply to the sector, so the state has to invest in more infrastructure and the marginal cost rises. So when the farmers declare that the real cost of water is only NIS 1, lo and behold they are paying it already - or nearly at 98 agorot - and hold back there, there is no need to raise the price of water.
Now it is best to point out that the farmers claim that they pay 98 agorot per cu.m. of water is not so. The farmers have a special system of paying called "progressive graded payments." The more water you need, the more you pay. Following the crisis on the water front, many farmers had their allocations cut back and found themselves paying only 80 agorot and not the full 98 agorot.
In other words, Simhon has no plans to increase the price charged to farmers to the residential price of NIS 1.43, and he has no plans to cut the allocation of water to agriculture, because these are what gives the power to the farmers lobby and the minister himself.
An internal committee of the agriculture ministry recently recommended that the price charged to farmers be increased 20 percent and to start allocating water directly to the farmers and not through a central body. It also recommended that the price be uniform and not subject to any "progressive graded payment". This is indeed a step in the right direction, but Simhon has no plans to accept the panel's recommendations.
The only true solution to the problem, as we have said here many times, and it is Lieberman's suggestion - one price for all, NIS 1.43, and the abolition of the allocation to the farmers. It is simple, correct and easy. Surely that's why it won't be done.
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