500,000 people not hooked up to central sewerage network

J’lem, Baka al-Gharbiya, Ariel and Savyon the worst offenders.

March 10, 2010 03:49
4 minute read.
Blood-filled sewage flows in Majd el-Kurum's stree

majd el kurum sewage 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Even as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu raves about “sexy” reforms like roads and trains, the government is neglecting a basic infrastructure – sewage – to a shocking degree, the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva, V’din) charges in a report released for publication on Wednesday morning.

IUED’s annual Environmental Poverty Report focused this year on the problems of sewage across the country.

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Among the findings: 500,000 residents in more than 150 communities lack connections to a central sewerage network, which means their raw sewage goes straight into the environment.

One hundred eighty-five thousand residents of Jerusalem are not connected to the system, mostly in the city’s east, making the capital the worst offender, authors lawyer Naama Elad and Sarit Caspi-Oron, the organization’s water scientist, wrote.

Baka al-Gharbiya, Ariel and Savyon ranked the worst after Jerusalem.

Thirty million cubic meters of sewage a year do not get treated at all, the authors found, representing a serious health and environmental hazard.

While the government boasts that 73 percent of sewage is treated and reused for agriculture, IUED found that only about a third of that amount is sewage treated to tertiary level or more. Two-thirds is treated to primary or secondary level, which is not enough to weed out all of the harmful components before it is used to water a field, Caspi-Oron said on Tuesday during a tour of trouble spots in the Dan region ahead of the report’s release.

A variety of problems trouble the sewage systems and residents. Some of the systems were designed for far fewer residents than are hooked up to the system now, causing the treatment plants to malfunction and operate at reduced effectiveness.

IUED staff showed reporters the Iron waste treatment plant. Originally designed to deal with waste from 1,000 people and a dairy farm, it now serves 120,000 residents. The overpowering smell and the raw sewage floating atop what should have been a clear final stage treatment pool gave mute testimony to the ineffectiveness of the plant.

Ironically, a brand new waste treatment plant able to handle the sewage from those 120,000 residents and ready to begin operating stood a stone’s throw away. However, a dispute among municipalities has prevented the plant from opening for three years, Caspi-Oron said.

Hod Hasharon residents also charged that the city’s waste treatment plant was responsible for a wave of noxious fumes that rolled over half the city sometimes as frequently as every night in the summer. The residents’ committee representatives told reporters that despite a 12 year battle, no progress had been made to eliminate the smell.

IUED’s report said that while the central government had the authority to step up and complete sewage projects if a municipality fails to, the government rarely if ever used that authority. IUED’s Elad urged the creation of a national sewage company that would be able to come in and complete sewage projects. It would be a sort of parallel to the Mekorot national water company for sewage, she said.

Elad also contended that hinging funding for sewage projects on incorporating regional water corporations merely prolonged the disaster. Standing over a canal running with sewage in Taibe, Elad said that the sewage throughout the city should be taken care of regardless of the status of the city’s water corporation.

The Water and Sewage Corporation Law was enacted in 2001 with the goal of ensuring that funds from water prices and development companies were used for water and sewage infrastructure rather than redirected by the municipality to other purposes, even such worthy ones as education or social services.

“While IUED is in favor of water corporations, withholding funding should not be used to incentivize their creation,” Elad insisted.

Although the press tour did not include a visit there, Caspi-Oron said that last week she visited Majd el-Kurum, near Karmiel, and discovered blood-filled sewage running in the streets.

Another of the problems that have led to severe pollution and disruption is the fact that no preventive maintenance of sewage systems is mandated by law, according to the report. The Or Yehuda sewage line break last year that took months to fix and shut down Herzliya and Tel Aviv’s beaches, occurred because the pipe was old and taxed beyond capacity by the addition of all the other communities farther down the line.

This paper has reported on cutting edge technological innovations to monitor and repair pipes being developed by Israeli start-ups, which apparently will only be used abroad.

Failure to treat sewage properly also leads to a loss of water resources, according to the report. For every cubic meter of sewage that is either not treated or not treated sufficiently, a cubic meter of fresh water goes to waste. Agriculture would take all the treated sewage water that could be produced but needs to use fresh water since not enough treated waste water is available. The country produces about 500 million cubic meters of sewage a year, of which about 350 million cubic meters is reused for agriculture.

The authors called on the government to strictly enforce waste treatment levels and force municipalities to upgrade their facilities wherever needed. New regulations were recently passed that mandate tertiary level treatment and the government should begin enforcing those regulations now, though some of them do not go into effect for another three to five years, IUED said.

The authors also called for more supervision and inspection of waste treatment plants. The pumping plants needed to be inspected every two days and the sewage lines inspected weekly, they recommended.

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