Israel stands to do the deal of the century at the weekend: It will open the Deganya sluice gates to prevent the flooding of the Tiberias beaches and, at the same time, it will begin importing water from Turkey. The wise men of the legendary town of fools, Chelm, could not have come up with a "better" plan.
Every 10 centimeters of the level of Lake Kinneret that will flow into the Jordan River is the equivalent of some 17 million cubic meters of water, which, according to the price of importing the water from Turkey, means that around NIS 76 million will go to waste. But money has never been a problem for the water prophets.
Water Commissioner Shimon Tal specialized in whipping up a frenzy around the issue, groundlessly claiming that Israel suffers from a chronic water shortage. Israel suffers a shortage of water only due to the flawed policies of the water commissioner, the government and the Knesset.
But Tal wants to play it safe, and also to curry favor with the farmers, the industrialists, National Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky and the water lobby - because they are the ones who determine how long he will remain in his post.
Last week, the Foreign Ministry celebrated the signing of the deal to import water from Turkey. "It's a historical day," declared director-general Yoav Biran. "The agreement strengthens Israel from a strategic point of view."
So, perhaps we should also import snow from Siberia to bolster our strategic position in Russia?
Everyone understands high strategy; but what about economics and social affairs? Biran, Paritzky and Tal don't give a hoot that city dwellers will pay $1 per cubic meter for the water from Turkey, while the current production cost is 40 cents per cubic meter.
The correct solution to the water problem is not importing from Turkey or desalination, but rather raising the price of water to the farmers so that they stop wasting water on crops that are suitable for Norway, but not for the Middle East.
At present, farmers pay NIS 1.04 per cubic meter, while the marginal cost is NIS 1.7 per cubic meter. Households pay more than the marginal cost, NIS 2.01 per cubic meter, while the industrialists pay NIS 1.96 per cubic meter (excluding the outrageous additions charged by the local authorities).
The fact that the farmers pay only NIS 1.04 per cubic meter creates a virtual shortage, and this is the entire reason for the crisis. If the price of water to the farmers were to be increased, the shortage would vanish, as if by magic. There would no longer be a need for political water allocations, and the efficient and good farmers will get the water, and cultivate agricultural produce suited to a semi-desert country - with more efficiency and higher profitability.
The government has approved the establishment of desalination facilities that have the capacity to produce 315 million cubic meters of water a year. In addition, there is the Turkey deal, which provides a further 50 million cubic meters each year. These are two huge mistakes whose damage must be minimized.
The desalination capacity should be reduced to 145 million cubic meters only, so that, added to the import from Turkey, we will be getting 195 million cubic meters of water a year.
To this end, the remaining desalination tenders must be halted - and the only person who can do this is Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has the power and the understanding. After all, his policy is one of lowering price levels to boost the standard of living.
Putting the brakes on superfluous desalination facilities must be a part of his agenda.
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