Oh, My Kinneret

300 million cubic meters of water go to waste every year, because the country?s leaders are incapable of withstanding the pressure of the strongest lobby in the Knesset: the agricultural lobby.

Once they spoke of the "red line" at which the quality of the water in Lake Kinneret declines. Today they are already talking about the water level's "black line" - when the water in the Kinneret reaches this line we will not be able to pump water at all, because the mouths of the pumps will be above the water line.

This black and threatening line (minus 214.4 meters) will be reached in three months from now, scream the newspaper headlines, and it will happen at the height of the summer. Then we will open our faucets and water won't come out. Truly frightening.

First of all, we should calm down. The Kinneret will not dry up. Nor is it the only source of water for the country. There are also the coastal aquifer and the mountain aquifer, so that this year, too, there will be water in the faucet. It should be recalled that we had a similar situation a few years ago. Some people predicted total dryness, but then came the rainy winter and the pessimists turned out to be wrong.

Nevertheless, there clearly is a problem, and the main reason for it is the massive water subsidies for agriculture during the 60 years of the state's existence. These subsidies caused farmers to grow water-hungry crops instead of concentrating on sophisticated, sun-hungry crops.

So that we, a country on the edge of the desert, export expensive water to Norway and Switzerland - inside peppers and flowers. A truly absurd situation. Therefore 300 million cubic meters of water go to waste every year, because the country's leaders are incapable of withstanding the pressure of the strongest lobby in the Knesset: the agricultural lobby.

Once the situation was worse. Twenty years ago, about one billion cubic meters of potable water was allocated to agriculture each year. But the problematic situation of the water economy led to a gradual cutback in the quota; during the past five years it has declined to 620 million cubic meters, and this year it will be reduced to 454 million cubic meters.

Agriculture is an important industry, but to sell water at a price of half its cost is a crime. It leads to tremendous waste of a precious resource.

Seventy percent of the calories consumed by the public come from imported foodstuffs. Therefore we should not be overly impressed by the very emotional claim that Israel must produce all its food by itself. Even now we don't do so. Moreover, all the fuel in the country is imported, and without electricity it is impossible to pump water. In other words, Israel is dependent on commercial ties with the outside world.

Therefore, we must first of all cancel the water subsidies for agriculture entirely. The farmers should pay the full price of water rather than half the price. Then it will be worthwhile to exploit the entire potential of treated waste water, which is not being done at present.

Recently a "reform" was declared, which will lead to a slow and gradual increase in the price of water for farmers over the coming five years. But even then the farmers will pay far less than households and industry; that is a fundamental mistake that will lead to continued waste.

Had farmers paid the real price of water during all the years since the establishment of the state, there would have been no waste and no deficit in the water economy. The aquifers would be in good condition, the Kinneret would not be threatened, and we would have discovered that Israel actually does not have a water problem.

Another issue is home consumption, which includes watering municipal and private gardens. It turns out that in this area as well consumption is higher than is common in other countries in the world, particularly in the municipalities and public institutions. The municipal pipeline is full of holes, which causes terrible waste, and that is already criminal negligence.

The Water Authority wants to solve the problem of the shortage by raising the price of water for domestic and municipal gardening. That is much easier than raising the price of water for farmers. Because households don't have lobbies in the Knesset.

Uri Shani, the head of the Water Authority, has another idea: to set the "minimum water consumption per person" and to sell it to households at a very low price. Every cubic meter beyond the defined amount of consumption will be sold at a very high price.

This is a distorted way of looking at things because it introduces bureaucratic red tape and cross-subsidies into the marketplace.

It is not economically correct to sell a product at a lower price that its cost. There is no such game with electricity prices. There, everyone pays the same price, the price that it costs, without distinguishing between households, industry or agriculture.

Yesterday a new advertising campaign got under way, aimed at teaching the public how to save water. Even the old slogan has been changed.

No longer haval al kol tipa ("Every drop is a shame"); from now on we have to say: kol tipa kovea ("every drop counts). With all due respect to the new slogan, there are more effective ways to prevent the drying up of the Kinneret.