Dead Sea pollution could be nearing end

For past 15 years, city sewage had been flowing to natural beauty unhindered.

Facing threats of legal action, the Jerusalem Municipality has submitted a long-awaited proposal to stop the flow of sewage from east Jerusalem villages into the Dead Sea, Environment Ministry officials said Tuesday. The city sewage had been flowing unhindered from about one-third of east Jerusalem as well as from Beit Sahur and Bethlehem into the Nahal Kidron and from there to the Dead Sea for at least the last decade and a half, the head of the environment ministry's Jerusalem district Shoni Goldberger said. The city's Gihon water company cited the lack of cooperation from the Palestinians for the failure to resolve the problem over the years because a stretch of the area in question falls within the borders of the Palestinian Authority, company spokesman Moshe Bagaon said. But the environment ministry's Jerusalem director said that lack of Palestinian cooperation was "an excellent excuse" for the Jerusalem water company "to do nothing" over the years, with decades-old sewage pipes in the area laying rusted and broken. Pressed by the Environment Ministry to take action, a new proposal has been put forward by the Jerusalem water company to create a sewage treatment facility at Nebi Mussa, north of the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim that will be able to capture wastewater from Nahal Kidron and purify it. The city water company's proposal is still pending approval and it could take up to two years to build the needed infrastructure, Goldberger said. Moreover, he noted that because the plan would still encroach on two kilometers of Palestinian territory, their approval is still needed, even though the sewage pipes would run underground through a tunnel. In light of the lack of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians over the last decade on the issue, which has stymied previous proposals to deal with the problem, the environment ministry is pressing the Jerusalem water company to put forward an alternate plan, which would avoid the Palestinian territories altogether, but would only deal with the sewage coming from east Jerusalem, Goldberger said adding that the water company has resisted putting forward such a backup plan to date. He noted that such a proposal, which would run within the Jerusalem municipal lines, would be costly and could run into the hundreds of millions of shekels. "The easiest thing to do is to continue polluting," Goldberger said.