Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Iyar 5761 - May 16, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Plugging Some Leaks in Israel's Water System

Israel has never been blessed with an abundance of water. If the normal amount of rain falls, we have enough for our needs -- agricultural, domestic and industrial.

Yet our water use is continually growing. It does not take a genius or even an expert on water use to be able to predict that shortages are likely. For the past three years there has not been enough rain in the right places, and the water shortfall has become much worse. Yet even now no solutions are in place. Only a few weeks ago was a contract signed for a desalination plant, and that cannot contribute water for almost two years.

What is even worse is that part of the problem is rooted in distortions that are built into the system. Because it was originally considered a national priority, the agricultural sector never paid fully for the water it used. The price that it paid was significantly below cost. This introduced distortions. For example, fruits such as citrus use a lot of water. The price of water is an important factor in the calculations about whether it is worthwhile to plant an orange grove. The artificially low price that a farmer was charged for water meant that many orange groves were planted that really made no economic sense since the true cost to the Israeli economy of producing the eventual oranges is much higher than it appeared. Moreover, when we export oranges we are, in effect, exporting the water it takes to grow them. So we are sending water from our thirsty region to European areas that have plenty of water.

This water subsidy has never been questioned. Over the years, significant parts of the agricultural land have been converted to other purposes. Yet the land kept its quota for subsidized water, no matter what was done on it. Neighborhoods that were built on former farms enjoyed cheap water to tend their gardens. Even extravagant uses of water such as water amusement parks are based on the cheap agricultural water and do not necessarily pay their way. In other cases the agricultural quotas are used for industrial purposes especially where water is a significant expense in the business, for example running dishwashing businesses for caterers. Their cheap water quotas allow the former farmers a competitive advantage, but again, these subsidies were never debated or approved.

The ex-farmers have another disincentive to give up their water quotas: if they do so they might lose their land entirely. Their lease on the land is only for agricultural use. Yet in recent years the real bonanza in land has been converting it to residential use, making the former farmers very wealthy indeed. If the erstwhile farmers declare that they no longer use the water since they no longer farm, they could actually lose the land and the promise of wealth that it carries.

According to Globes, the Israeli financial daily, the lowest estimate for the amount of water stolen by former farmers is about 50 million cubic meters a year. It happens that this is exactly the amount that will hopefully be realized from the first desalination plant some years down the line. If there are some politicians with the courage to face down the powerful agricultural lobby, we can gain almost immediately a very significant amount -- and save much money on top of it.

One small step towards rectifying the many distortions built into the system by those who founded the Zionist state to fight Judaism. There is no doubt that true geulah requires reform and correction of all the great and small abuses.

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