At the last minute, late Wednesday night, the Knesset Economics Committee prevented a crime. The committee rejected Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Lieberman's plan to dry up the public gardens in the cities, and thus allowed 97 percent of the population to continue enjoying a little bit of greenery, a little bit of quality of life.
Lieberman, like all the ministers before him, decided to go with the powerful and the influential. It may be less just and a lot less efficient, but in politics, power talks. Lieberman also managed to overcome all the facts, all the data, all the State Comptroller's Reports - and to punish the city dwellers, of all people, who pay an inflated price for every cubic meter of water they consume and also use less water than in comparable cities around the world.
Lieberman managed to ignore the main reason for the water crisis: the absolute control that the farmers have over this valuable natural resource.
Since the establishment of the state, the cats are allowed to guard the cream, and the agricultural lobby in the Knesset - agriculture ministers, water commissioners, and Mekorot officials (all affiliated with the agricultural sector) - exploits the situation.
The lobby sets the price of water for both households and farmers, all the while making sure to raise the price for households and reduce it for farmers. The result now is is that the households pay an inflated price for water, much higher than its cost of production.
It costs NIS 1.1 to produce a cubic meter of water, which is sold to the cities for NIS 1.5 and for which residents pay an average NIS 4.5 per cubic meter. Farmers pay the much lower, subsidized price of NIS 0.8 per cubic meters. Justice - Israeli style.
But the real problem is not the low price, because since the establishment of the state the farmers' lobby has managed to increase its water allocations throughout the country. Even though all the agriculture ministers and water commissioners of recent years knew that a crisis was coming, they increased the allocations to the farmers year after year. The government encouraged the farmers to plant deciduous groves in the Galilee, knowing that they are thirsty crops. It initiated growing oranges in the Negev - setting a new record for inefficiency - and encouraged growing avocado and sweet corn, also particularly thirsty crops.
And it was all done on the overdraft; in other words, at the cost of over-pumping from the underground reservoirs and Lake Kinneret, until those are now close to a real danger of salinization.
A special report issued by the State Comptroller about the issue said "the low price paid by the farmers for using water is to a large extent the cause of the serious water crisis." But no minister in government cared that Israel continued to export water to Europe in the form of oranges and avocados.
A true fool's paradise. The low cost of water for the farmers caused another serious phenomenon: It's not worth their while to use treated sewage water, which costs NIS 0.7, almost the same as the subsidized fresh water.
Thus, hundreds of millions of cubic meters of treated water flows to the sea instead of to the fields. The solution for the problem is not drying up gardens, which use only 1.5 percent of the overall water consumption in the country.
The solution is to be found in the reason for the problem, in the agricultural sector, which uses 50 percent of the country's available fresh water. If they were to only introduce a little logic, there would be enormous savings, and logic means raising the price of water for farmers, making it the same as for households - no more and no less. The second part of the solution is elimination of all the political water allocations.
If that were to be done it would become apparent to all, including Avigdor Lieberman, that the water crisis is artificial, that the existing water is suddenly enough for everyone. As soon as the subsidies disappear, the enormous waste will disappear and as soon as there aren't water allocations, agriculture will become more efficient and more sophisticated, and most of all, more appropriate for a desert climate than for Norway.
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