Rain Wasted in Arid Israel as Governments Quarrel

By David Sugarman

JERUSALEM, Israel, December 5, 2000 (ENS) - Ongoing disputes between local authorities in Israel may bring on the next infrastructure disaster with the next rainstorm.

Although a drought persists in the region, occasionally intense rains cause vast, destructive floods in urban areas. A young boy drowned and died with no one to save him during an October flood in south Tel Aviv, and many hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes.

Once every few years this happens - damage in the millions, flooding of neighborhoods, rescue boats from various places, even Navy commando units, wandering from one building to another.

The environmental damage caused by uncontrolled sewage and waste that reaches the sea and places such as the coastal underground freshwater reservoir causes further damage which can not always be reversed.

Tel Aviv

City of Tel Aviv (Photo courtesy Israeli Tourism and Recreation)
In Tel Aviv's October flood, the local sewage authority had to divert hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of untreated wastewater to the open sea in order to avoid a total collapse of the wastewater collection system and treatment plants.

Huge traffic jams were created due to the flooding causing further environmental damage by the increase of exhaust emissions.

In these situations, the authorities have not been able to carry out their own local or Israel's national environmental laws. During and after the floods, politicians and local governing officials blame the government and each other. It is an old story - each level of government blames the others.

Underlying the finger pointing, there is a serious problem with the wastewater infrastructure of some of Tel Aviv's neighborhoods and its satellite towns. Some of the water pipes are old and are not capable of handling huge amounts of rainfall. Various legal as well as financial and political reasons inhibit the promotion of modern projects.

Infrastructure in dense urban areas such as the Tel Aviv neighborhood known as Gush Dan is governed by several local authorities. Legal wrangling among them causes delays in the development of infrastructure adequate to handle the flooding rains.

In addition, the various authorities have their own agendas concerning the ways and means of spending their budgets. Spending on infrastructure does not give immediate political dividends, so few policy makers are inclined to deal with it.


Map showing location of water resources in Israel. (Map courtesy American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise)
The Israeli government has been making a great effort through the development of a special wastewater authority under the patronage of the Water Commission. The head of this authority, Eli Ronen, is also responsible for planning and policy at the Ministry of National Infrastructures. This ministry among others is in charge of the water sector.

The wastewater authority and the Water Commission are in the process of technical and economic evaluations of a variety of new proposals with the aim of improving wastewater and rainfall collection and treatment.

A big project aimed at collecting wastewater along the inner part of the coastline cities and villages is being postponed due to political and legal disputes. The wastewater is to be allocated for secondary use in the agricultural sector in the central and southern regions of the country. The total cost of the project is estimated at $US60 million.

The wastewater authority of the Tel Aviv urban area has contributed $US10 million but has failed to get the contribution of other authorities. The government itself has not yet established its budget policy for the project.

One reason for the lack of a budget policy for this wastewater for agriculture project is that national water policy and the cost of water production and allocation of water to various qualities to various sectors is divided amongst several government authorities.

For example, the farmers pay a subsidised water price and are backed by the Agricultural Ministry. But the Ministry of Finance opposes this policy and is of the view that water users should pay the true cost of water production and transfer.

This project was initiated in 1991, almost 10 years ago, and the planning will take another eight months due to the long debate. Once the planning part is over then the construction may begin. It is expected to take about two years to complete.

Poorer and older towns in Israel's central region will have to wait until this process is completed for a change in water management that might improve their environmental security.