Jordan River Still Polluted, as Three-year Old Rehab Plan Gets Bogged Down

Plan that would have built desalination and water-purification plants suffered major delays due to planning errors and funding problems; state lays blame at local authorities' doorstep.

The southern Jordan River.
Yaron Kaminsky

A plan to rehabilitate the Jordan River has suffered major delays due to planning errors and funding problems.

The problems were described in legal documents filed in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice. The petition, which was filed by four kibbutzim about a year ago, demanded that the state, the regional drainage authority and the Tiberias water corporation take the necessary steps to rehabilitate the river’s southern section, meaning the section south of Lake Kinneret.

Three years ago, the Water Authority approved a plan to do exactly that. The plan, considered one of the country’s most important waterway rehabilitation projects, called for building one plant to treat the sewage that flows into the Jordan and another to desalinate the inflow of water from brackish springs. The treated sewage and the desalinated water would then be mixed in a third facility and used for irrigation.

In addition, the authority promised to significantly increase the flow of water into the Jordan from Lake Kinneret by building a pipeline. Today, a dam prevents the free flow of water from the lake to the river.

The treatment plant was in fact built, but the petition charged that it doesn’t purify the sewage to a level that would enable it to be used for crop irrigation. Therefore, the partially treated water is still flowing into the Jordan.

Moreover, the desalination plant still hasn’t been built, even though the GES company won a tender to build it four years ago.

State responds to petition

This week, the state submitted its response to the petition, in which it argued that responsibility for sewage treatment rests with the local authorities, including local water and sewage corporations. It also noted that even partially treated sewage is an improvement over untreated sewage and said it has begun sending water into the Jordan from Lake Kinneret.

Nevertheless, it continued, various planning and budgeting problems are holding up completion of the rehabilitation project as originally planned. Among the treatment plant’s needs are upgrades for which there is no budget, since they weren’t included in the original plan. Moreover, some of the contractors who built the plant have since gone bankrupt.

In addition, both the desalination plant and the facility to mix the desalinated water with the treated sewage are proving significantly more expensive than the 216 million shekels ($57 million) originally allotted for them, the brief said. The state now estimates that another 120 million shekels would be needed to complete their construction.

Given “the enormous budget shortfalls and the planning errors,” the state is now reexamining the entire project, and this reexamination is still ongoing, the brief added. It gave no timetable for completing the work.