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Citizens and cities alike can continue to water their gardens, albeit less than before, if the Knesset accepts the Water Board's latest concept - a "drought tax."

If the tax is approved, limitations will be imposed this month on the time people may water their lawns. Use of sprinklers will be confined to twice a week, from April to November, from 5 P.M. until 10 A.M. the next day. If the Knesset does not approve the hike, the Water Board intends to ban watering by private citizens entirely.

The "drought tax" refers to a substantially higher tariff for water use beyond a certain quota, which is 15 cubic meters every two months for a four-person family.

Currently Israelis pay three rates for water. The lowest, for the first 8 cubic meters, is NIS 4.19 per cubic meter. The second rate, from 9 to 15 cubic meters, is NIS 5.77. The third rate, from the 16th cubic meter, has been NIS 7.94. That last rate is what the Water Board plans to increase - by nearly four times to NIS 30.

The water shortage expected in the coming years forces the Water Board to demand the highest possible drought tax, says board spokesman Uri Shor.

If, however, the Knesset balks at the higher rate, the Water Board will ban the private sector from watering their gardens, which had been its original intention.

The directives should be published soon, but the tax requires the Knesset's approval.

Meanwhile, the Water Board is considering whether it could press charges against people who break the rules.

As for cities, the directives call for half the amount of water they'd been accustomed to in previous years. Cities that exceed their lower quota will have their supply cut off, the Water Board says.