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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture
The Water Commission, previously under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) but now under the Ministry of National Infrastructures (MNI), implements the water law, plans, develops, allocates, and manages water, and sets and annually revises water prices with the approval of a special parliamentary committee. Apart from the MARD and MNI, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labour (MITL) also have a strong influence on the water sector. At the operational level, the Water Commission relies on Mekorot, a state-owned water company that produces and distributes around 70 percent of the water supply in the country. Mekorot operates the National Water Carrier, the pipeline system that moves water southwards from Lake Galilee to the Negev desert. In recent years, Mekorot has also entered spheres such as urban water retail, sewerage treatment, and sea water desalination. The Water Commission receives technical planning as well as research and development support from Tahal, a large engineering consulting firm. Although this firm had been the official and sole water planner for the past 20 years or so, now it is made to compete with other engineering companies within Israel to obtain project contracts from government (World Bank, 1999).
The Agricultural Extension Service of MARD focuses on all subjects related to agriculture, in particular water management, the promotion of water saving technologies and use of marginal water. It is financed by two sources: government funds (80 percent) and non-government sources, mainly production and marketing boards (20 percent). Generally services to farmers are free, although some supplementary advisory packages are provided upon specific request in exchange for payment.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) is responsible for the quality of drinking water in Israel. In order to assure water quality, the Ministry has promulgated regulations that specify water quality standards regarding its microbial, chemical, physical and radiological aspects.
The Yigal Allon Kinneret Limnological Laboratory (Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research) carries out research aimed at understanding how present and future conditions might influence water quality and monitors major environmental factors which may affect the state of Lake Kinneret (Lake Tiberias).
Water is regarded as a national asset and is protected by law. Users receive their annual allocation from the Water Commission. The entire water supply is measured and payment is calculated according to consumption and water quality. Urban users pay much higher fees for water than farmers, including a water reclamation levy. Farmers pay differential prices for potable water. The first 60 percent of the allocation costs 20 cents per m3, 60 percent to 80 percent costs 25 cents, and 80 percent to 100 percent costs 30 cents per m3. This incremental price policy encourages water saving. Water scarcity and price policy necessitate the use of marginal water, such as brackish and reclaimed water. Brackish water is used for irrigation of salinity-tolerant crops like cotton. In several crops, such as tomatoes and melons, brackish water improves produce quality although lower yields are achieved. The use of reclaimed water for irrigation of edible crops requires a high level of purification. For that purpose, unique technology – Soil Aquifer Treatment (SAT) – is now being applied in the densely populated Dan region. After tertiary purification, the water percolates through sand layers, which serve as a biological filter, into the aquifer. From there it is pumped at nearly potable quality and can be used for unrestricted irrigation (MARD, 2006).
Groundwater and surface water are state property according to the Israel water law. Each year the Israel water commissioner allocates for each village an annual water quota for irrigation. Historically, initial quotas were determined according to factors such as: total land suitable for irrigation, soil type, population size, location, water usage prior to 1959 and political affiliation of the village. Water quotas are adjusted periodically in order to take into consideration new water sources and new villages. The price of water is determined by the commissioner using a three-tier price system. These price levels are determined according to historical quotas. Thus, the allotment of irrigation water and water prices are assumed to be exogenous to the farmers (World Bank, 2007).
Although water policy and administration are centralized with considerable political overtones, the water sector in Israel is subject to a much stronger economic influence than its counterparts in other countries. This is partly due to metered volumetric allocation and partly due to a relatively stricter economic water pricing system. While inter-sectoral water allocation is used to favour domestic and industrial sectors, water prices in these sectors are higher and cover full costs. Even though irrigation water is subsidized, the subsidy has declined from 75 to 50 percent since progressive block rate pricing was introduced in 1987 that penalizes large and fresh water consumers. Water wastage is the least in all sectors and water productivity has increased more than 250 percent in agriculture and 80 percent in industry (World Bank, 1999).
Policies and legislation
The 1959 Water Law that made water a nationalized public good remains the foundation for present water policy and water administration. According to that Law, all water is the property of the state, including waste, sewer and runoff water that can be used commercially. A landowner does not own the water under his/her land. The Law also created a permanent body known as the Water Commissioner (see above) to oversee and allocate water rights.
Israel’s Water Law includes sewage water in its definition of “water resources.” National policy calls for the gradual replacement of freshwater allocations to agriculture by reclaimed effluents. In the year 2002, treated wastewater constituted about 24 percent of consumption by the agricultural sector. It is estimated that effluents will constitute more than 40 percent of the water supplied to agriculture in 2010 (CBS, 2006).