Israel Discharges Treated Sewage Into Jordan River in Spite of Ministry’s Opposition

The Water Authority approved the move, even though the Environmental Protection Ministry and environmentalists argue it causes harm to flora and fauna near streams

File photo: Water being pumped into the Banias River, which flows into Jordan River, northern Israel, May 9, 2018.
Gil Eliahu

Israel's rainy winter has created a surplus of treated wastewater that cannot be stored and which is being released into streams, putting the streams’ rehabilitation at risk. Now the Water Authority has signed a permit allowing such wastewater to be released into the Jordan River, over the protests of environmentalists.

The Water Authority is authorized to allow the release of treated wastewater into local streams when it is persuaded that there is no alternative. Last week, director Giora Shaham signed an order allowing water associations in the Golan Heights to release surplus wastewater from the Ness irrigation reservoir into the Jordan River after hearing the position of a professional advisory committee. The committee includes representatives of the Environmental Protection Ministry, who objected to the move.

>> Rainfall hits high after five-year drought, raising level of Sea of Galilee

According to the ministry and the Nature and Parks Authority, the release of treated wastewater or sewage into the environment does ecological and environmental damage to streams and rivers, particularly in a sensitive area like the Sea of Galilee basin. Even when the wastewater is of high quality it contains residues of fertilizer, chemical contaminants, drugs and hormones that the purification plants do not eliminate. All these cause harm to flora and fauna near the streams.

Recently there have been similar permits issued for other streams, including the Betzet Nature Reserve in the Western Galilee; last month there was a permit that allowed more than a million cubic meters of wastewater from the Carmiel treatment plant to be released into the Hilazon stream.

“The reason for the excess wastewater could be, in part, the absorption of floodwaters in addition to the wastewater and the lack of sufficient reservoirs [to store it],” the Environment Ministry said. “Although it was clear that this year was blessed with precipitation, unfortunately there wasn’t sufficient preparation and there have been numerous requests that testify to an emergency situation that requires releasing wastewater into the streams. Optimal management would have enabled proper planning and avoided polluting the environment. In instances where the ministry is not convinced that the releasing agency took all possible steps to prevent the need to release [the wastewater] we object to these orders, so that the relevant district director in the ministry can take enforcement measures if he decides to do so. Issuing an order provides the releasing agency protection from enforcement.”

The Water Authority said, “Due to the many rainy days this year, the Ness reservoir is almost full. Having no choice, after examining the various alternatives and with the aim of minimizing the quantity and time of the damage, it was decided to allow a limited release (contrary to the original request) for a period of only four days, corresponding to the rain event. We’re talking about up to 40,000 cubic meters of very good quality [wastewater], suitable for unrestricted agricultural irrigation. Efforts continue to find alternatives are continuing and if found, they could make additional discharges in the coming weeks unnecessary. The wastewater is being diluted by a very large body of water such that no significant or immeasurable impact is expected. To limit such situations in the future, a variety of steps are being taken, including the transfer of surpluses between reservoirs through a dedicated system established for this purpose, wastewater transfers to abandoned fish ponds in Morad, and reducing floodwaters so that they do not mix with sewage.”