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The Knesset Finance Committee is expected to approve a so-called drought tax sometime next week, which will significantly increase the price of turning on the tap. The committee is waiting for a subcommittee set up to study the issue to finish its work before it acts.

The subcommittee, which will work out the details of the tax, is headed by MK Amnon Cohen (Shas). Its mandate includes examining requests by various locales and population groups for an exemption from the tax. It will also have to decide on an enforcement mechanism, Cohen said.

Once the full committee approves the subcommittee's recommendations, they will be sent to the plenum for final approval.

The Water Commission proposed the tax as a substitute for completely forbidding people to water their gardens. Under its proposal, the price of water would rise to NIS 20 per cubic meter - more than twice the current rate - for usage above a given ceiling. For a family of four, the proposed ceiling is 30 cubic meters of water every two months.

Cohen predicted that the new tax would raise the average family's water bill by NIS 120 to NIS 150 per month over the course of the summer. He said his panel will therefore need to study the tax's impact on the disabled, large families and outlying areas of the country, among other groups.

The Water Commission, however, insisted in a press statement issued yesterday that the average family will not see its water bill rise at all, as long as it "follows the commission's instructions on consumption," since the proposed ceiling is enough for a family's normal needs. It also said the new tax would lead to a savings of 60 million cubic meters of water per year, and is therefore essential to solving Israel's water crisis.

The commission had hoped the new tax take would effect today, but since it has not yet been approved, it will instead take effect only next month.

One group that has requested exemption from the tax is Eilat residents. In a letter to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, attorney Gidi Frishtik noted that Eilat is not connected to the national water system; it gets its water from a local desalination plant.

Therefore, he argued, Eilat's water usage has no impact on the level of Lake Kinneret or any of Israel's other water sources.