Israel's Largest Sewage Treatment Plant Facing Overflow

Sewage treatment facility in Rishon Letzion may be overwhelmed by flow of sewage from Tara dairy plant in Tel Aviv.

The largest sewage treatment facility in the country, located in Rishon Letzion, is in danger of being overwhelmed due to a flow of sewage from the Tara dairy plant in Tel Aviv. The dairy is producing sewage with a higher than permissible level of organic pollutants.

Igudan, the Dan Regional Association for Environmental Infrastructure, which is in charge of the Rishon treatment facility, has warned that if the facility is not able to handle all the sewage, there will be no choice but to direct the effluent waste into the sea. Such a step would result in serious pollution and the closing of beaches.

On Tuesday the director of the environmental unit at Igudan, Daniel Solomon, informed the dairy's management that Tara has been directing such high levels of organic matter, including dairy product residue, to the sewage plant that it is putting the operation of the Rishon facility at risk. This is the first case in which the association has warned of such a possibility.

Tara issued a response yesterday, saying "In recent years, the dairy has been working in cooperation with the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality and other parties to deal with all of the environmental issues relating to the Tel Aviv dairy, including sharing the costs incurred. At the same time, construction has begun on a new dairy at an industrial park... near Netivot."

The Tara facility, which is located on Yigal Allon Street in Tel Aviv, is not the first dairy in the country to raise environmental concerns. The Tnuva dairies in Jerusalem and Tel Yosef in the north have also been the source of pollution problems in the past.

"The collapse of the [sewage] treatment process will cause a large and dangerous ecological hazard or massive pollution of the Mediterranean coast and the closure of bathing beaches in the Tel Aviv area," Solomon warned Tara.

He added that such an eventuality would result in criminal charges against the heads of his own organization, Igudan. He demanded an immediate improvement in the effluent from the Tara plant, otherwise legal measures would be brought against the dairy.

The Rishon plant treats nearly one-third of all of the sewage in the country and is considered large by international standards. The treatment process includes the use of bacteria that break down pollutants. Beyond a certain volume of sewage, however, the bacteria become ineffective in properly handling the pollutants - presenting the risk that the treated waste material leaving the plant would not meet legal standards.

Over the past year, there has been a major increase in the levels of organic pollution from industrial sources arriving at the Rishon plant. As a result, Igudan has stepped up its electricity consumption to increase oxygen levels at the facility and thereby enhance the effect of the bacteria in the treatment process. The increased electricity costs are ultimately footed by the residents of the Tel Aviv area.

Officials at Igudan have said that despite the increased electricity use, the plant is in danger of being overwhelmed - in which case treated wastewater would not be usable by farmers and would instead have to be dumped into the sea.

From 2005 to 2007, the Tara dairy produced higher than permitted levels of salts, resulting in legal action by the Environmental Protection Ministry. Four months ago, the dairy and several of its executives were found guilty in the case on this matter in Tel Aviv District Court and fined more than NIS 400,000.