Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Ben Eliezer Reveals NIS 3 Billion Water Rescue Plan

Hana Levi Julian

National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer has proposed a NIS 3 billion ($900 million) plan to deal with Israel's growing water crisis – but the price tag will cost the agriculture industry more than just shekels alone.

Speaking at the Golan Agricultural Conference on Tuesday, Ben Eliezer admitted the plan, which calls for a cut in water quotas for farmers, could become the "death knell" to local agriculture. However, he said farmers would be compensated for their losses under the proposal, which he plans to present to the Cabinet next Sunday. Earlier this month Ben Eliezer presented a proposal to the government, to compensate farmers whose water quotas have been cut in response to the water crisis. The plan was estimated to cost NIS 100 to 150 million, with the Ministry of Agriculture demanding a payout of NIS 4 per cubic meter of water cut.

Desalination Approved

The plan is the latest in a string of proposals Ben Eliezer has put forth to deal with Israel's water crisis. A proposal to build a NIS 2 billion desalination facility in Hadera recently got the green light after Ben Eliezer announced the government had secured funding for the project. The facility will increase seawater desalination in Israel from 500 million cubic meters a year to 750 million. Construction of the plant is expected to be completed within five years.

In addition, the proposal includes construction of two more desalination facilities, each of which will produce 100 million cubic meters of desalinated water per year. One is to be built by Mekorot, the National Water Company's Initiatives and Development section, and the other by the private sector, at Soreq.

In addition, the ministry is preparing to build 21 more reservoirs throughout the country.

"This is the worst water crisis we have ever known," Ben Eliezer told participants at the conference on agriculture and water resources. He blamed both the weather and the government for the current situation.

The past four winters have left Israel with less than average precipitation, but Ben Eliezer also noted that funding for desalination projects was slashed in half by the Finance Ministry in 2001.

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