01/31/2011 04:52

More measures to be brought for consideration within month to prevent another price hike.

On one of the few rainy days of the winter, the cabinet approved expanding the capacities of the desalination plants and measures for cleaning up polluted wells. A proposed decision by National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu laying out the first of several steps to deal with the water crisis garnered cabinet approval on Sunday, even as Landau promised to bring additional measures for approval within a month.

The decision authorizes the desalination plants to produce water 24 hours a day, rather than the current situation in which the plants take advantage of lower electricity prices to produce water. The plants will have until March 15 to do so. That step should add another 22-27 million cubic meters of water a year.

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The decision also calls for the permanent expansion of the desalination plants’ capacities.

The permanent expansion will need to be executed over a number of years. Increasing production at the Hadera, Ashkelon and Palmahim plants will introduce another 70 million cubic meters a year by 2012. The Sorek plants, which have not been built yet, will also be expanded by another 30 million cubic meters by the end of 2013.

The current approved decision adds to long-term plans to build three more desalination plants – one in Ashdod and two at Sorek – to add an additional 430 million cubic meters of water annually by 2013. The government hopes that with a buffer of nearly 700 million cubic meters of water a year produced from desalination, natural water crises will not affect the populace nearly as harshly as the current six-year crisis has.

The total amount of desalinated water in 2013 would roughly equal household consumption.

The decision also moves along the process of deciding whether Mekorot, the national water company, will build the desalination plant in Ashdod.

Despite an order from Netanyahu six months ago to solve the issue, the Treasury is still in dispute with Mekorot over the price of water Mekorot had planned to charge the government. Landau stated at the cabinet meeting on Sunday morning that the water crisis did not allow for bickering and dillydallying regarding a 100 million cubic meter a year desalination plant. He favors allowing Mekorot to build the plant so that a state institution has the technical knowledge to build and operate desalination plants. The rest of the plants are or will be built and operated by private contractors.

“The measures approved today represent an important step in a series of steps that need to be taken to take Israel out of the water crisis,” he said at the meeting.

“Even so, dealing with the issue of water has continually been delayed. It’s a shame that we are playing catch-up, but at least, we are now moving to deal with the problem since the water crisis does not allow us to wait any longer,” he added.

The decision Sunday also called for cleaning up contaminated water.

The additional measures to be discussed within the month include Mekorot’s development budget as well as Landau’s idea of budgetary support so that the public will not have to pay more for water as the price rises again.