On January 1st, the price of domestic water rose again in Israel. The cost of a cubic meter including sewage treatment is now 9.1 NIS for the first 3.5 cm a month and then 14.64 NIS for the rest.
My neighbor reacted with frustration, “But we are blessed with such a good start to the winter rains. When water is more plentiful shouldn’t prices fall?”
That is the problem – Israeli government policy has created a complete disconnect between supply and demand. The government decided that we should no longer depend on nature but produce water through desalinating sea water. In an area of repeated periods of prolonged drought this indeed makes sense. The question is though, how independent of nature can we be, who benefits and who will pay the costs? The rising price of domestic water is a direct outcome of large scale desalination.
By the end of the year Israel should be desalinating over 300 mcm annually. Current plans are that by 2020, Israel will desalinate 750 mcm with some ministers calling for a billion mcm to be the target. Our domestic water needs are 700 mcm so that while presently we are producing desalinated water to meet half our needs in the future if these plans go forward we can do without the rains. Should we?
Desalination is in fact not at all independent of nature. In fact the process is very harmful to nature. The process is energy intensive – increasing electricity needs by 10 %, burning more fossil fuels that pollute the air and contribute to climate change (that guess what reduces rainfall). The brine emitted from the plants also pollutes our sea and our beaches.
Who benefits? The concession to build desalination plants is not undertaken by a government authority, but through the private sector in a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) arrangement. The same tycoons that control so much of our economy already are the ones that own the desalination plants too. They are building the plants on the promise that the government will purchase all water that they produce for a given price irrespective of anything.
Who pays? We do! The Israeli Water Authority told us just two summers ago in their commercials – ‘save water now but in the future you will not need to as the desalination plants will be operating’. Last summer, with more desalinated water produced there were already next to no commercials. Encouraging water conservation, promoting grey water reuse that could reduce our water bills by half, are no longer in the interests of the Water Authority as the promise made to their friends, the tycoons, is to buy up all the water they produce, even when the Kinneret overflows again as expected this year.
Gidon Bromberg is the Israeli Director of EcoPeace / Friends of the Earth Middle East