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The cost of water

August 8, 2011

A month or so ago, one of the pipes that supplies our building with water burst. Burst pipes aren’t uncommon — within a year and a half in Israel, I’ve seen half a dozen or so just from casually glancing around while walking outside. Once I saw a burst pipe create a river across a street and cause traffic jams for hours before anyone got it under control (which has happened on larger scales as well, though I’ve only seen it once), and I’ve read about how leaking pipes and broken pipes are one of the main causes of wasted water in Israel, a land plagued by constant water shortages and consequential rising prices and creative taxes on those who use more water than the government thinks they need.

This kind of waste is typical in a contradictory country where, several months ago, a man from the city’s water corporation came by to add little screens to all our faucets, at no cost to us, which he said would save water. All the irrigation in public places that I see is designed to save water by using perforated hoses rather than wasteful sprinklers to avoid evaporation and more wasted water. And yet water corporations, which are government organizations in Israel, do not invest in maintaining the integrity of the pipes transporting water around cities and the country, which is where there is the most room for waste.

I’m sure it all comes down to cost, and likely number crunching shows that in the end it’s cheaper to take smaller precautions rather than replace aging water pipes as needed. But it still comes across as short sighted and unfortunate, not only for the environment, but also for citizens. Not just because burst or leaking pipes cause traffic jams, property damage, and concern over wasting such a precious resource, but because the citizens (or temporary resident, in my case) at the other end of these pipes are the ones who foot the bill — with tax.

Water bill in Hebrew

Leaving aside the complexity of different rates per cubic meter charged depending on household size and type of water consumption, the number circled in red is our share of the cost of the wasted water, which appears below the cost of the water we actually used. The number circled in pink is the amount of value added tax on the cost of water. Notice how the amount we would have normally paid for water for this billing cycle is less than the tax applied to the water wasted by the burst pipe. That particular detail was unpleasant.

Have you ever gotten this kind of surprise in your mailbox?

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