State Inquiry Commission to Investigate Israel's Water Crisis

Israeli desalinization capacity is now less than a third of the amount set by the cabinet in 2002.

The Knesset State Control Committee decided Monday to establish a state commission of inquiry into the serious water crisis facing Israel. The committee will look at the failure to implement the recommendations of a series of professional committees and cabinet resolutions aimed at addressing the water situation over the years. The commission will also be asked to draft short- and long-term recommendations to ensure a regular supply of water to the public.

According to the resolution passed Monday, five members of the State Control Committee are to draft a mandate for the commission and submit it by Wednesday. Committee members involved in the draft include committee chairman Zevulun Orlev, who sponsored the move to establish the commission.

"The water crisis is not a decree from heaven but an act of man," Orlev said. "Most of it stems from serious failures by successive Israeli governments, which gave priority to immediate economic considerations oand thereby prevented the necessary investments in establishing desalinization plants, rehabilitation of aquifers and wells, an effective [water] savings plan and recycling wastewater," said Orlev.

"The water crisis has reached a low that represents a concrete and immediate dangers to the ability to supply drinking water, as well as water for agriculture and industry. I hope the state commission of inquiry will act as urgently as the matter requires and present recommendations that can be implemented immediately," Orlev said.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss supported the establishment of the commission of inquiry, and by law his support is required for its creation.

The Minister for National Infrastructures, Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, also supported setting up the commission. He called the present crisis the worst ever in Israeli history. "Not only am I not opposed to establishing the state commission of inquiry for the state's failure in supplying the demand for desalinated water, I insist that the commission be established, and [that it] explain to everyone what a small group of officials, no matter how talented they may be, were capable of doing to an entire country. I insist that the comission be established and first investigate the actions of the Infrastructures Ministry over the years, including those of my term as minister," Ben-Eliezer told the committee.

"I want the commission to determine who is at fault and why, since the officials change but the concept remains," he added.

The last national water crisis, which ended in 2002, was supposed to have left Israel better equipped to deal with the next crisis. It led the cabinet to decide for the first time to establish large-scale desalinization plants and raised hopes for promoting water savings activities that could reduce household water use by at least 10 percent.

Today, Israeli desalinization capacity is less than a third of the amount set by the cabinet at the end of the last water crisis, mostly due to a slowdown in preparing tenders and in planning after a few years of relatively high rainfall. The water-saving activites were stopped completely and were resumed, but at an unsatisfactory slow pace, only in the last two years.