Leaky Sewage Pipe Shuts Down Tel Aviv Beaches for a Month

Mar 22nd, 2009 | By | Category: Uncategorized

What happens when a sewage pipe bursts outside of Tel Aviv, spilling raw sewage into the ocean? Bureaucrats pass the buck, politicians fret and environmentalists moan – but the pollution continues to flow.


Sunday, March 22 was World Water Day, a day on which the United Nations calls on the world to promote more sustainable water policies. At a UN conference marking the event in Istanbul, Israel was praised for its high rates of recycled wastewater and desalination. But this piece of news consoled few in Tel Aviv, where the sea had been polluted for the better part of the last month.

In honor of the day, the Knesset’s Social-Environmental Lobby, headed by MK Dov Khenin, set out to examine the sources of the pollution. Convened on rather short notice, the busload of lawmakers, government officials and environmental activists must have looked rather out of place to the residents of the disadvantaged Ezra neighborhood as it attempted to navigate its way through the narrow streets of this run-down quarter in southern Tel Aviv.

Just behind the neighborhood, adjacent to the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, is a stagnant pool of raw sewage, held back by a hastily built dirt embankment. Time after time over the past month, floods caused by the winter rains have washed this dam away, and with it the sewage it holds back, to the sea.

In another couple of days, the gathering was told, when the next rainstorms come, this dam will most likely collapse once again, sending sewage streaming into the Ayalon River, and from there into the ocean.


The delegation gets a closer look at the problem. In the foreground, the Ayalon River. In the background, Hiriya, where metropolitan Tel Aviv’s trash was dumped for decades.

Present were no less than nine Members of Knesset, along with representatives of several government bodies involved in dealing with water issues and senior representatives of the green organizations, including the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and Tzalul.

In an almost pastoral setting, between Highway 1 and the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv, runs the Ayalon River. Once a river, today the Ayalon is familiar to most people as the concrete channel locked between the lanes of the Ayalon Highway, one of metropolitan Tel Aviv’s main arteries. Closer to Highway 1, the road to Jerusalem, the river is mostly dry, and serves as a channel for floods caused by the winter rains, as well as the occasional malfunction in the sewage system.

There are big plans for the area: one day this will be Ariel Sharon Park, a green lung for the entire metropolis. But this week it was the site of an investigation into what everyone agreed was a serious failure.

One by one, government officials from various bodies were hauled in front of the frustrated lawmakers. Representatives of the Yarkon River Authority, Water Authority, Environmental Protection Ministry and others listed off the threats to the river. In technical language that was not clearly intelligible to all, the officials reluctantly provided the best explanations they could muster.

The problem started on February 9, when a pipe carrying the sewage of several towns in the Ono Valley began to leak, gathering behind the Shtulim Dam. The dam, originally built some twenty years ago as a flood control measure, is allowed to burst several times every winter. In the process, heavy flows of rainwater runoff are channeled into the Ayalon River, to the Yarkon River, and from there to the Mediterranean Sea. However, when the rains came this year, they swept the leaking sewage along with them.

While admitting that negligence was involved somehow, the officials stopped short of either assigning or assuming responsibility for the incident, with each body insisting that it was doing its job faithfully. Meanwhile, they told the increasingly exasperated Knesset Members, the sewage pipe was still leaking, and probably would not be fixed until the end of the month.


The Shtulim Dam. Built as a flood control measure some 20 years ago, the dam is destroyed several times a year by flood waters.

As officials continued to argue, a lone bird settled on a power line behind them and began to make laugh-like chirping noises. Said one lawmaker, “There are at least ten different versions here.”

Ezer Fishler, CEO of Tzalul, asserted that the authorities could have chosen to fix the problem immediately, but instead opted to settle for a slower, cheaper solution. He stressed the importance of preventative maintenance, which he said would obviate the need for costly repairs due to malfunctions. He also suggested that better maintenance of the sewage infrastructure would benefit Tel Aviv and its residents. “Tel Aviv without its sea is not Tel Aviv,” he said.

The lawmakers, in a discussion following the tour, agreed that the there were just too many regulatory agencies, and that their areas of authority were not clearly distinguished. They also promised hearings.

fishing-in-yarkon-riverFurther downstream, people were out enjoying the warm weather, sitting in cafes, sunbathing on the beach. A couple brave souls were even swimming in the ocean. Sitting on the banks of the Yarkon, four men were quietly fishing. A question about the pollution in the river seems to somehow upset the calm of the scene. “What pollution?” they ask. Had they not heard about the sewage polluting the river? “Like what? Listen, I eat these fish all the time, and it doesn’t do anything to me,” one of them said.

Photos by Daniel Cherrin. Originally published at TreeHugger.com.

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  1. Hi Jesse, this disgusts me. How can I explain to Ruby that he can’t play in the water on the beach??? Who can we put pressure on to permanently clean it up?
    TA is spending millions of shekels for its 100th year celebration; imagine if some of those funds were diverted to cleaning up the sea that makes TA what it is…

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