One-third of Israeli Settlements' Sewage Facilities Not Up to Code

2.2. million cubic meters a year of sewage flow directly into waterways or cesspits in Israel's West Bank communities.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

Nearly one-third of sewage treatment facilities in the West Bank settlements are either not up to code or not in operation, according to a state report. As a result, a third of the settlements’ sewage is continuing to pollute the environment and to endanger groundwater sources, it warns.

The survey, conducted by the Environmental Unit of the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, was carried out in 2012 on behalf of the Civil Administration and the Environmental Protection Ministry. Unlike other, similar studies, it included comprehensive testing not only of all sewage collection and treatment facilities in the settlements, but also in the surrounding areas.

The study covered more than 150 residential centers for a combined population of 350,000. In most cases the sewage was household and not industrial waste.

According to the report, the Jewish population beyond the Green Line produces 17.1 million cubic meters of sewage annually. The majority of this waste is directed to treatment facilities, but 2.2. million cubic meters a year flow directly into waterways or cesspits.

The study found 54 sewage treatment facilities were up to code, while 39 installations were either below-standard or not in operation. These 39 facilities are designed to handle the waste of 28 percent of the settler population.

At Yitzhar, for example, whose population exceeds 1,000, the surveyors determined that the community’s raw sewage was not being treated, but rather that it “flows into the environment from five different outlets.” The community’s sewage treatment plant, they noted, is “idle and disassembled.”

The sewage from the Avnei Hefetz settlement and from an adjacent army base also goes untreated, flowing directly into a nearby stream. A treatment plant near the community has been out of service for several years.

The waste produced by the 20 trailer homes of a nearby unauthorized outpost drains into a cesspit before percolating into the surrounding ground. The sewage from Elkana’s nearly 4,000 residents flows from its treatment facility into an adjacent stream that is one of the sources of the Yarkon River.

Certain locales have shown improvement in recent years, the surveyors note. Sewage from the area of the Kaneh stream flows into Israeli territory, where it is used for agriculture.

However, many settlements whose sewage treatment facilities do meet standards make only partial use of the treated wastewater for crop irrigation, reusing 64 percent compared to 90 percent within Israel proper. A large part of the treated water is of low quality, and is directed to flow above the groundwater of the mountain aquifer, one of Israel’s two major sources of groundwater.

“We endeavor each year to upgrade the waste treatment plants, spending more than NIS 15 million,” said the head of the Samaria Municipal Environmental Association, Yitzhak Meir. Yet Meir noted the “budgetary difficulty” faced by the agency, saying, “Unlike many communities within Israel, we do not receive grants but rather loans to build infrastructure.”

As for the relatively sparse use of recycled water for irrigation, Meir said there isn’t enough land under cultivation in certain areas of the West Bank, and that treated wastewater is widely used for agriculture in the Jordan Valley.

While the survey focuses on the problems caused by building and expanding settlements without first making sure waste can be properly treated, it is clear from the findings that the majority of untreated sewage generated by West Bank communities comes from Palestinian cities and villages.

These communities have very few treatment plants and barely use the treated water they produce for irrigation.

According to Alon Zask, head of the Environmental Protection Ministry’s water, sewage and stream division, the study’s findings indicate an improvement in sewage treatment but also show room for additional growth.

Zask called for ensuring proper maintenance and upgrading treatment plants, as well as increasing the use of recycled water. “Jerusalem is now building a sewage treatment facility in a new neighborhood, the water from which is to be used for urban irrigation; there’s no reason this can’t be done in other places,” Zask said.

The sewage from the West Bank settlement of Betar Ilit contaminating fields in the nearby village of Wadi Foquin. Credit: Yaron Rosenthal

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