The report presents a harsh picture of the state of sewage treatment in Israel.
Authors of the report, IUED attorney Naama Elad and water scientist Sarit Caspi-Oron state that more than 150 towns, villages or settlements in Israel are unconnected to sewage systems and their effluents are discharged into septic tanks or to collection pipes that release the raw sewage directly to the environment. More than 30 million cubic meters (approx. 8 billion gallons) of sewage every year are released untreated into the environment, polluting groundwater, rivers and streams and threatening human health. In areas where sewage-processing plants do exist, poor maintenance and faulty infrastructure cause raw sewage to spill into the environment.
IUED details the ten worst municipal polluters in the country. Jerusalem heads the list, with the homes of 185,000 Jerusalemites not connected to the sewage network. Every year the City of Jerusalem releases 10 million cubic meters (2.6 billion gallons) of raw sewage, most of it into the Kidron River. Baka al Garbia in the northern Sharon has 19,000 residents but no sewage treatment plant; most of its effluents are dumped into the Hadera River. In third place is Ariel, and in fourth Savyon, one of Israel’s most affluent neighborhoods, where the sewage of its 3,000 residents goes only to septic tanks. Savyon is in a position of hydrological sensitivity, directly above the coastal aquifer the source of much of the Central Region’s water supplies.
“If Israel is in the midst of a water crisis, can we afford to waste 180 million cubic meters (47.5 billion gallons) of effluents that could be treated with modern technology and used again?” asks Amit Bracha, IUED’s executive director. The volume of wasted water is equivalent to the output of a large and costly seawater desalination plant. Desalination is an energy-intensive process that makes water expensive for the consumer, destroys scarce coastal land resources and degrades the marine environment.
IUED’s report identifies a long list of failures in Israel’s sewage system that present real threats to public health. “Our research showed that many local authorities are not fulfilling their obligation to process sewage, either for budgetary reasons or because sewage is rated a low priority,” says Amit Bracha. “Does it make sense for our prime minister to be focusing his energies on driving a massive reform of planning laws in order to accelerate new development, when our sewage system is not much better than a third world country?”
IUED invited members of the press to see for themselves some of the failings. Reporters heard from local activists in Hod Hasharon, who for 12 years have complained about daily stench episodes from the city’s inadequate treatment plant. At the Ein Shemer plant near Iron, reporters witnessed a malfunctioning system that handles waste from 120,000 residents although it was built to a capacity of 1,000. A new treatment plant built close by is not operating due to a series of bureaucratic and budgetary disputes over the last three years.
IUED’s Water Watch team explained that the 2001 Water & Sewage Corporations Law has not met its primary goal of improving water and sewage handling, mainly because the weak or poorly managed authorities are often caught in a Catch-22 situation where they have insufficient funding to set up a corporation – which is a necessary step under the law for receiving financial support for building modern sewage processing plants. Sarit Caspi-Oron told of just such a situation in Majd El Krum, an Arab village in the Western Galilee, where a partially built sewage system is overloaded. “Blood-filled sewage from the local slaughterhouse runs freely in the streets and olive groves.”
IUED attorney Naama Elad referred to the recent much-delayed Knesset approval of new wastewater treatments standards. The government must plan and budget now for improving sewage infrastructure so that wastewater can be treated to tertiary levels and used in agriculture instead of relying on fresh water.
IUED is also calling for regulations that mandate proper maintenance of sewage networks. Amit Bracha: “Every year, there are major incidents where pipeline failures led to massive breakdowns and emergency dumping of sewage into the sea, causing public beaches to be closed for weeks on end. Let’s start taking better care of basic sanitation services for the sake of public health and natural resources.”