Sewage may keep Herzliya, Palmahim beaches closed

The Health Ministry was forced to close Herzliya's South Acadia Beach once again on Thursday due to sewage flowing from the municipal sewage system into the sea, despite repeated warnings and hearings for senior municipality officials. Herzliya's beaches have been closed for 35 days this year already, according to data released by the Zalul environmental organization Thursday. Because of the intermittent sewage flow, Herzliya's beaches could remain closed when the swimming season opens next Saturday, April 25. And despite warnings from the Environmental Protection Ministry and a recent hearing, the municipality seems disinclined to fix the problem. "They sent a lawyer to the hearing rather than come themselves," Ran Amir, head of the Environmental Protection Ministry's Sea and Beaches Branch, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday after a tour of four of the country's beaches. The tour, organized by Zalul and the Environmental Protection and Health ministries, included representatives from both ministries and from the State Comptroller's Office. Municipal representatives at each of the four beach locations were also invited to join the tour. The Herzliya Municipality is on vacation until Sunday, however, and chose not to send anyone to meet the tour. It was also unavailable for comment on Thursday. Palmahim's beach has been plagued on and off with raw sewage overflow from Yavne's waste water treatment center, Health Ministry officials said. "Yavne's sewage has grown to 6,000 cubic meters per day, but the treatment center can only process 5,000 cu.m. One thousand cubic meters of raw sewage were being streamed into the sea every day," Health Ministry inspector Etti Buri said on the Palmahim beach as waves crashed in the background. "We decided to have the plant treat all of the sewage, albeit to a lower standard," she added. However, Effi Azulis, another inspector, chimed in that if Yavne didn't get its act together soon, the ministry would order the beach closed indefinitely. Health Ministry national environmental health supervisor Ze'ev Fisch explained earlier that the ministry had based its decision to close beaches on several factors and not just lab results from samples taken. "We decide to close a beach based on the state of the beach, whether there was a chance of an epidemiological incident near the beach, as well as the number of bacteria in the sample," he told reporters at Tel Aviv's Zuk Beach. Amir also brought up a related subject - keeping the beaches themselves clean. Remarkably, he said there was currently no legislation or regulations forcing municipalities to clean up their beaches, but such regulations were in the works. He also said it would take just NIS 3 million per year to keep all of Israel's beaches clean, "so it should be made a permanent paragraph in the state budget." In addition, Amir revealed that several weeks ago, the Health Ministry had temporarily closed down the Palmahim desalination plant for two days because tests revealed high levels of bacteria in the sea from which the plant draws its water. It was the first time the ministry had ordered it closed for such reasons. Although Fisch said subsequent tests had shown that the desalination process removed the bacteria just fine, the move indicated that it is now not just the bathing season that's jeopardized by sewage, but also the supply of drinking water.