Experimental Program to Recycle Wastewater Tries to Get God, Mother Earth on the Same Page

An experimental program to purify and recycle wastewater from mikvehs (ritual baths) will soon be launched in Jerusalem.

For fear of health hazards, the Health Ministry had until now always vetoed efforts to recycle gray water in urban areas, though it did approve a few experimental programs at isolated country clubs. However, it has authorized the project proposed by Shomera, an environmental organization active in religious circles, and the Water Authority.

A mikveh itself, for religious reasons, requires water from a natural source. However, since a person must be clean to immerse in a mikveh, most mikvehs also have showers where people can wash before entering. The pilot project, which will begin in one Jerusalem mikveh in a few months, will pipe dirty water from these showers to a purification facility.

"From our perspective, this is not just a project to recycle water; it is also an opportunity to make a connection between Judaism and preserving the environment," said Miriam Garmaise of Shomera.

According to Dr. Eran Friedler of the Technion, who is also involved in the project, "the goal is to examine various methods of treating the water to bring it to a quality high enough to enable it to be used for irrigation or flushing a toilet."

If the pilot proves successful, tens of millions of cubic meters of water per year could eventually be saved, Friedler said. The same system could also be used to recycle water from sinks and washing machines.

David Weinberg, the Health Ministry official responsible for the use of recycled waste water, said the ministry's previous opposition to urban recycling stemmed from the fact that used bathwater "has a bacteria concentration of a million parts per hundred milliliters of water, while our requirement is 10 parts bacteria. We feared that in residences, it would be impossible to supervise gray water purification facilities and they would spread disease. Therefore, we wanted to test recycling such water at a large facility that can be supervised, such as a local authority or business. That is why we agreed to the current project, on condition that it meets our requirements."

Amir Sisa of the Water Authority said the ministry's involvement is "one of the main achievements of this project," because previously, "the Health Ministry would not help us advance this issue. Now, we hope we'll succeed in achieving a breakthrough."