Tel Aviv's Iconic River Faces Murky Future Despite Rehabilitation Attempts

Up until about five years ago there was steady improvement in the quality of the Yarkon River water, but since then the situation has become problematic

The Hayarkon park in Tel Aviv, on Monday, July 29, 2019.
Moti Milrod

The rehabilitation of the Yarkon River in Tel Aviv has suffered badly in recent years due to a series of mishaps in the sewage infrastructure in the area, which caused chronic pollution of the stream. In recent weeks there were two such incidents in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan, harming the quality of the river water. Last week rowers on the Yarkon reported bad smells and signs of ongoing pollution.

A more complex problem is related to construction of the light rail infrastructure by the NTA Metropolitan Mass Transit System. NTA has to pump groundwater to build the underground foundation for the railway. This water flows into the Ayalon River which is a branch of the Yarkon, and doesn’t cause pollution.

But this month a problem prevented the pumping of the groundwater to the Ayalon, and it was sent to a special facility near the Yarkon which is generally used to collect polluted water from various sources to prevent it from reaching the river. The facility was overburdened, and the surplus, a combination of polluted water and groundwater, began to flow to the Yarkon. The Yarkon River Authority has asked NTA to install a pipe that can regularly be used in case of such hitches.

The Hayarkon river in Tel Aviv, on Monday, July 29, 2019.
Moti Milrod

Up until about five years ago there was steady improvement in the quality of the Yarkon water, after the upgrading of sewage purification facilities in nearby Kfar Sava, Hod Hasharon and Ramat Hasharon. For the first time there was an improvement in the ecological system and various types of animal life were seen in the Yarkon for the first time in decades.

But in the past five years the situation has become problematic, and due to pollution events there is a problem with rowing in the river. From 2016 to 2018 there were only two months when the water was suitable for rowing, whereas in 2014 it was possible all year long.

Until a few months ago the Yarkon suffered regularly from surplus sewage from a purification facility in the South Sharon Regional Council. The existing facility was overburdened by the increase from additional residential construction in the Sharon area, and the sewage was channeled to the Yarkon, which last year received 3 million cubic meters of such water.

David Pergament, director of the Yarkon River Authority said that recently there has been an improvement, due to an upgrade in the purification facility and greater use of sewage for irrigation. But he admitted that the Yarkon has suffered from pollution due to the additional infrastructure for transportation and construction.

The Yarkon is not the only river suffering from chronic pollution and mishaps. Ashdod’s Lachish River also suffered in the past year from the channeling of excess sewage from a local reservoir.