in press - In: Jimenez & Asano (eds) - (in press) - INTERNATIONAL SURVEY OF
WASTEWATER RECLAMATION AND REUSE PRACTICE. - IWA Publishing
22 Israel as a case study
Israel has performed massive irrigation with treated effluents for decades. Today, about 75%
of the sewage of the country is reused. This chapter summarizes the developments of this
practice in the country, the experience gained and the issues that remain controversial or
22.1.1 Geography and climate.
The country can be divided into two main regions: Northern-Central Israel with a
Mediterranean climate (short temperate rainy winters and long warm-sunny dry summers)
and Southern Israel with an arid climate (precipitations below 300 mm per year). Droughts
are common in the region.
22.1.2 Water resources and demand.
Israel is using all of its conventional water resources and water shortage is a chronic
problem. Table 22.1 summarizes the water resources and water demand by the early 2000s.
Freshwater supply to agriculture, which constituted almost 70% of the freshwater resources
in 1985, diminished to less than 40 percent in 2000. During drought years, freshwater supply
to agriculture is severely cut off, while farmers connected to reclaimed wastewater systems
continue to receive a full quota.
Table 22.1 Water resources and demand in Israel, the early 2000s, in Mm3/yr
Water resources Water demand
Source Mm3/y Sector Mm3/y
Freshwater 1350 Urban 700
Brackish water 170 Industrial 85
Reclaimed wastewater 350 International agreements (Jordan, Palestine) 85
Freshwater irrigation 500
Wastewater and brackish water irrigation 500
TOTAL 1870 TOTAL 1870
Sources: Water Commission and others.
[ 1 ]
2 Book title
22.1.3 Sewage as a water resource – the strategic decision
The wastewater reuse practice have emerged as an unavoidable answer to the combination of
severe water shortage, a concentrated population with high levels of water consumption and
sewage production, and the threat of pollution to diminishing water resources (Shelef 1991;
Friedler 2001). Israel has performed massive reuse of effluents for agricultural irrigation
since the early seventies and is presently reusing almost 75% of all the sewage produced in
the country. The Water Law of 1959 and the policy enacted by the administration until today
define sewage as an integral part of the water resources of the country.
22.1. 4 The typical Israeli farmer
Most Israeli farmers are organized into different types of communities and cooperatives. The
Jewish Sector is mostly organized into “Kibbutzs” and “Moshavs”. The “Kibbutz” is a
socialist community of 200-2000 people that cultivates land and markets the produce as a
single organization. The “Moshav” is a cooperative of farmers where land is privately owned
but marketing is generally performed as a single organization. In the Arab Sector land is
owned privately or by families, but farmers are usually organized into local associations for
water management and other purposes. These relatively large organizations are able to
provide the professionals (agronomists, water engineers, administrators, etc.) that have been
essential in leading the wastewater reuse revolution at the farmer level. The Ministry of
Agriculture also provides professional guide through an efficient extension service. Part of
the success of the wastewater reuse practice in Israel is due to the capacity of the well
organized and informed farmers to adapt quickly to the switch from water to wastewater.
22.2 CHRONOLOGY OF DEVELOPMENTS (Table 22.2)
Wastewater reuse has been practiced in the region since historical times. In 1959, a
decade after the creation of the State of Israel, parliament approved “The Water Law” that
defines sewage a “water resource”. Yet, until the seventies water reuse was irregular in the
country, based on isolated small projects without a clear policy on the issue. The potential
transmission of diseases via water reuse was also somehow overlooked until 1970 when an
outbreak of cholera in Jerusalem (due to irrigation of vegetables with untreated sewage)
obliged the Ministry of Health to assume the control of the water reuse practice.
22.2.1 The seventies
In the early ‘70s water scarcity was already a serious problem and the Water Commission
started to promote water reuse by giving incentives to the construction of sewage treatment
and storage units and funding R&D (Hershkovitz et al. 1969; Pano 1975). The development
of a textile industry opened a good market for cotton farming and numerous small reuse
systems were constructed to provide low-quality effluents for cotton irrigation during the dry
summer. It was a multiple win-win situation: the urban sector got rid of sewage at low cost,
discharge of sewage to water bodies was drastically reduced, the farmers received the lacking
water they needed to grow cotton (enriched with valuable fertilizers) and the textile industry
expanded on low-cost cotton produced around the corner. The basic sewage treatment and
storage unit was made of two anaerobic ponds in parallel followed by a wastewater seasonal
storage reservoir that accumulated wastewater during the winter and released it for irrigation
during summer (Juanicó and Shelef 1991 and 1994). The effluents provided by these simple
systems were of bad quality, specially by the end of the irrigation season when the reservoirs
Short chapter title 3
were almost empty and acted as a simple pipe between the anaerobic ponds and the irrigated
fields, but irrigation of cotton did not require any special quality.
22.2.2 The eighties
In the ‘80s cotton market started to decline and farmers had to look for alternative crops.
New crops required effluents of better quality and the simple anaerobic pond+reservoir units
were not able to provide them. The government invested large sums in R&D looking for
feasible ways to improve the performance of wastewater storage reservoirs and
supplementary systems (Shelef et al. 1987). Drip irrigation was massively introduced in the
country during this decade and sub-surface irrigation started to be developed (Oron and
DeMalach 1987). The first large water reuse system (Haifa – Kishon Complex) was
commissioned in 1984 (activated sludge followed by two reservoirs in series) and an
interdisciplinary multi-year monitoring program was run to learn, control and forecast the
system’s performance (Rebhun et al. 1987 ; Juanicó 1989; Weber and Juanicó 1990; Azov
and Juanicó 1991).
22.2.3 The nineties
In the ‘90s two other large projects were commissioned: the Dan Region project based on
activated sludge followed by SAT-Soil Aquifer Treatment providing effluents for
unrestricted irrigation (Azov et al.,1991 and 1992; Icekson-Tal et al. 2003) and the Jeezrael
Valley Project based on semi-intensive technologies providing high-quality but restricted-
irrigation effluents (Friedler 1999; Juanicó and Milstein 2004). The technology to optimize
the design and operation of wastewater storage reservoirs was ready (Juanicó and Dor 1999).
The agrotechnic aspects of wastewater irrigation were also addressed (Adin and Elimelech
1989; Feigin et al. 1991; Teltsch et al. 1991; Friedler and Juanicó 1996). The growing
demand for the limited freshwater resources and the increasing production of high-quality
effluents resulted into several proposals to expand the use of reclaimed effluents to river
recovery (Gafni and Bar-Or 1995; Juanicó and Friedler 1999), landscape development and
non-potable urban uses (Lahav, 1995). Several monitoring and R&D programs pointed out
salination of soils and aquifers as a potential by-product of irrigation with salty wastewater
and the Ministry of the Environment started a full campaign to reduce the addition of salts to
water during its industrial and urban use (Weber et al. 1996; Weber and Juanicó 2004).
22.2.4 Present situation
By 2005, production of sewage in the country is estimated in 500 Mm3/yr of which about
425 500 Mm3/yr reach sewage treatment plants and 370 Mm3/y are reused. Thus, almost 75%
of the sewage of the country is reused, mainly in agricultural irrigation. Most treated
effluents are of restricted irrigation quality.
Storage of treated wastewater is made in more than 200 open reservoirs (Figures 22.1 and
22.2). The treated wastewater from Metropolitan Tel Aviv is stored in an underground
reservoir obtained by isolating an area of the Coastal Aquifer. Both open and underground
reservoirs act as storage units and also as equalization and treatment units.
4 Book title
Table 22.2. Chronology of wastewater reuse developments in Israel
Until 1970 ‘70s ‘80s ‘90s 2000s
capacity in open
reservoirs ~ 20 Mm3
Multiple new local
capacity in open
reservoirs increased by
another 50 Mm3 during
Multiple new small projects
capacity in open reservoirs
increased by another 65
Mm3 during the decade.
Kishon Complex Project –
Haifa. First large
Interregional project. Good
quality restricted irrigation.
Some new medium size projects are
Wastewater storage capacity in open
reservoirs increased by another 30 Mm3
during the decade.
Jeezrael Valley Project.
Regional project covers 7 towns. Good
quality restricted irrigation.
Dan Region Project - Tel Aviv.
Second stage for unrestricted irrigation
implemented ~ 1989-1990.
Largest Interregional Project.
Several new medium size projects
1970 Cholera outbreak
in Jerusalem due to
irrigation of vegetables
with untreated sewage;
government starts to
Government starts to
reuse (Hershkovitz et
World Bank funds
beginning of National
WW Project. WW
reuse is proclaimed
Starts massive cotton
irrigation with low
Start first in-depth
surveys on public
health effects of
(Fattal et al. 1981; Vasl
and Kott 1981; Fattal et
70% reuse is achieved by
the early eighties.
Drip irrigation becomes the
Cotton market starts to
decline by the middle '80.
Better quality effluents
widen the spectrum of
crops irrigated with
Ministry of Environment is
created in 1989 and
addresses environ effects
of wastewater reuse.
Most efforts oriented to improve quality of
treated wastewater towards sustainable
Treated wastewater proposed as a source
for recovery of dry rivers and landscape.
It is also proposed as a source of non-
potable water for the urban sector.
First unrestricted irrigation (Dan Region)
Agrotechnic effects of wastewater reuse
are addressed (mainly soil salination and
clogging capacity on drippers).
Salination is recognized as a serious
potential problem. A full campaign to
reduce addition of salts to wastewater is
Treated wastewater is proposed as
a source of water for future
Reuse reaches 75% of all sewage
in the country in spite of quick
population growth. Plans to reach
almost 100% are set.
First results are available from
studies on environmental effects of
long-term massive Wastewater
Sustainable reuse becomes the
main R&D and discussed issue.
Short chapter title 5
Table 22.2 (continuation)
Until 1970 ‘70s ‘80s ‘90s 2000s
Legislation, standards, guidelines (sources: Goldman, 1996; and others)
Drainage and Flood
Protection Law (1957). Sets
that water projects have
priority on other projects.
The Water Law (1959)
Sets that water resources
are public property and
controlled by the State.
Wastwater is defined as a
Public Health Law (1973)
Minister of Health will
define and control
treatment for WW
The Shelef Commission
(1977) sets different
standards for irrigation of
different crops, including
Public Health Law (1981)
restricts wastewater irrigation
to list of allowed crops. All
reuse projects require a
Public Health Law (1995)
All towns with population>10,000
must treat effluents to
BOD< 20 mg/L, TSS<30 mg/L
The Halperin Commission (1999)
derogates Shelef Commis.
guidelines. Sets public health
requirements for wastewater
irrigation following California
Several rules and standards are
applied to reduce addition of salts
Halperin and Aloni (2003)
develop public health
guidelines for WW reuse in the
urban sector, landscape and
Inbar Commission (2003)
proposes stricter environment
requirements for wastewater
reuse including nutrients, salts
and other pollutants. Inbar
proposal approved in 2005
while this report was being
Additional rules and standards
are applied to reduce addition
of salts to wastewater.
in press - In: Jimenez & Asano (eds) - (in press) - INTERNATIONAL SURVEY OF
WASTEWATER RECLAMATION AND REUSE PRACTICE. - IWA Publishing
The coexistence of projects of different sizes and characteristics (Table 22.3) has proved
to be not only possible but also desirable. Large projects have a large-scale effect on
economy and development but they are difficult to plan, finance and execute. Small projects
have only a limited local effect and generally release effluents of restricted quality, but they
are much easier to implement and operate, and the sum of numerous small projects have a
total effect comparable to that of large ones. The national policy is to promote all sizes.
The largest systems and some of the medium size ones release effluents of unrestricted
irrigation quality. Smaller projects release effluents of lower quality restricted to the
irrigation of canned fruits, vegetables for cooking, fruits with non-edible peels, industrial
field crops (mainly cotton), fodder crops, forests and pastures (Figure 22.3).
Water availability is the main constrain to maintain and expand an important aquaculture
production that exists in the country (Mires 2000). Treated wastewater is now weighted as a
potential source of water for aquaculture and the Water Commission is funding the first R&D
efforts to develop a wastewater quality standard for this practice (Feldite et al. submitted).
Table 22.3. Wastewater reuse projects of different sizes.
Kibbutz Getaot (old) 0.1 Local single-town
Gedera Council 1.5 Local multi-towns
Jeezrael Valley 10 Regional
Haifa Metropolitan 25 Inter-Regional
Tel Aviv Metropolitan 130 Inter-Regional
Figure 22.1 Wastewater storage reservoirs constructed in Israel, by decade (as storage
volume in MCM-million cubic meter). Data from Dr. Gabi Eitan, personal communication.
50-60 60-70 70-80 80-90 90-00
[ 1 ]
Short chapter title 7
~ 660,000 m
~ 25,000 T salts
~ 660,000 m
~ 25,000 T salts
Figure 23.2. Release of brines to the sea during the year 2000, in m3.
Starts represent open wastewater storage reservoirs.
Figure 22.3. Crops irrigated with treated effluents in Central Israel in 1999.
(modified from Leshem 2000)
8 Book title
22.3 CONTROVERSIAL ISSUES
22.3.1 Institutional organization
There are numerous institutions involved with wastewater reuse in Israel. Some of them are:
• Water Commission: it is in charge of the management of water
resources such as planning and control of the development of new
water resources including treated effluents, economy of the water
sector, substitution of water allocations by wastewater allocations,
protection of water resources from any kind of pollution, etc.
• Ministry of Health: it is the responsible for public health and it
develops the guidelines and standards regarding the level of
treatment required to irrigate different crops, public parks, etc.
• Ministry of the Environment: it takes care of all aspects related to the
environment’ e.g., toxic compounds in effluents, salts, excess
nutrients, etc., as well as the environmental impact to the alternatives
to wastewater reuse (discharge of treated effluents to rivers, sea,
• Ministry of Agriculture: it addresses the agrotechnic parameters of
the treated effluents (e.g. salts, Boron, clogging capacity, nutrients)
and the organization of the rural sector regarding this practice
including agronomic guiding to farmers.
• Administration for Water and Sewage (Ministry of Infrastructure): it
finances and subsidizes sewage treatment works, and supervises
• Ministry of Treasure: sets economical policy and provide the funds
for the Administration for Water and Sewage. It also evaluates the
economical impact of standards and guidelines on wastewater
• Ministry of Interior: approves physical planning and specific
This division of roles sounds nice in theory, but in practice is rather problematic. Israeli
law is not clear enough and there is overlapping of responsibilities. For example, it is not
unusual the Ministry of Health to set requirements on the administrative and financial aspects
of a project or on the agrotechnic parameters of the treated effluents. There is a conflict
between the Ministry of the Environment and the Water Commission on who has the
prerogative on soil and/or groundwater protection. There is a foggy overlap between the
responsibilities of the central agencies (Ministries) and the local ones (municipalities or local
councils). Some inter-ministerial commissions have been created to overcome these
problems. But these commissions, while effective for the development of policy and legal
instruments, have proved to be too heavy and bureaucratic for giving permits or approving
specific projects. The Israel government decided, by late 2005, to create a "Water Agency"
that will coordinate all the activities regarding the water sector, but meanwhile this is just a
decision not yet implemented. The structure and prerogatives of this "Water Agency" still
have to be defined, regulated and tested
Short chapter title 9
22.3.2 75% reuse. Is this the limit?
The percentage of reclaimed water has been close to 70% for more than a decade (75% in
2005) in spite of multiple efforts to increase it. This is due, in part, to quick population
growth due to massive immigration: new treatment plants and reuse schemes are constructed
but more sewage is produced and the reuse percentage remains the same. A second more
serious problem is that it seems difficult to surpass the limit of the 75% reuse. The first
commissioned projects were naturally the most promising ones. Now, after more than three
decades of treatment and reuse effort, the remaining projects are those much less promising
due to high costs, engineering difficulties or lack of demand for reclaimed water in the area.
Israel administration has again taken the decision to reach almost 100% reuse but the
decision is controversial. The government has also started massive sea-water desalination to
supply the increasing freshwater demand, and the relative costs of sea water desalination
versus further sewage reclamation are constantly compared and discussed.
22.3.3 Nutrients in wastewater are not accounted by farmers.
It has been long claimed that the nutrients in the treated wastewater are fertilizers for better
crop growing and thus it is not necessary to remove them from wastewater: nutrient recycling
as a positive by-product of water reuse. This claim has proved to be false. N and P
concentration in treated wastewater is in many cases higher than required by crops, leading
to problems of vicious crop growth and pollution of soil, aquifers and water bodies.
Phosphorus build-up in soil and nitrogen build-up in groundwater have been confirmed.
Worse, the characterization and quantification of the nutrients supplied with the effluents is
difficult and the farmers take the conservative side by reducing only marginally the dosing of
fertilizer. Thus, most of the nutrients supplied with the effluents are not recycled and further
burden is added to the already serious problem of overfertilization (Juanicó 1993;
Avnimelech 1997). A recently long-term survey by Tarchitzqui et al. (2005) confirms that
after more than ten years of efforts to solve this problem, most farmers continue to ignore the
nutrients in effluents when dosing fertilizers. This sounds strange in a country where most
farmers are well informed, but it seems that the sampling and laboratory analyses to
determine the variable nutrients content of wastewater is beyond the scope of the farmer’s
capabilities. The Inbar Commission is now proposing to require nutrient removal at the
sewage treatment plants in order to cope with this problem, while others insist that it is
necessary to better train the farmers to calculate and account for the fertilizers in wastewater.
22.3.4 The contractual relationship between urban and rural
The anaerobic pond+reservoir units of the seventies were a simple and cheap solution for
cotton growing. In most cases the reservoirs were constructed by the farmers avid for water
of any available quality, with some financial help from the urban sector for the construction
of pipes, pumping stations and the anaerobic ponds. In the eighties, with the decline of the
market for cotton, many farmers refused to continue to receive low quality sewage and
closed the inlet to the reservoir: untreated sewage started to flow again to the rivers. In some
cases existed a contractual compromise by the farmers to receive all the sewage produced by
the urban sector, but farmers were de facto unable to fulfil this obligation.
10 Book title
The lack of a clear separation of responsibilities between the urban and the rural sector
regarding the treatment and disposal of sewage led to numerous conflicts and problems
during the eighties and early nineties (Juanicó 1993). The regulating agencies found difficult
to apply regulations because urban and rural sectors accused each other for the responsibility
of pollution and the government found itself acting not as the controller but as the arbitrator
between the two parties. Finally the Public Health Protocol of 1995 set the whole
responsibility for sewage treatment and disposal on the urban sector (the producer of
pollution is now the single responsible for sewage treatment and disposal, and this
responsibility can not be transferred to the rural sector or other parties). In the cases where
the rural sector is in charge of sewage treatment, storage and reuse, it acts as a subcontractor
of the urban sector (as any other private firm) while final responsibility in front of the
regulatory agencies remains with the urban sector.
Presently, there are numerous different schemes between the urban and the rural sectors.
Large reuse schemes are owned and operated by Mekorot (the National Water Company)
that sells treated effluents to the farmers. Some medium-size treatment plants are owned and
operated by municipalities or regional councils which also sell the treated wastewater to the
rural sector. Other medium size projects are operated as BOT schemes where the
municipality pays a private firm or a farmers association to construct and operate the sewage
treatment and reuse system, or per cubic meter of treated sewage. Private firms sell treated
wastewater to the farmers; water associations also sell it but to their members and at much
lower prices. Small rural communities usually have their own sewage treatment and reuse
system and treated wastewater is reused in the fields of the community.
22.3.5 The use of wastewater storage reservoirs as treatment
Wastewater storage reservoirs have proved to be reliable and efficient units for wastewater
treatment when operated in series or in batch mode (Juanicó and Dor 1999; Juanicó and
Milstein 2004). However, only a limited number of sewage treatment and reuse systems are
using reservoirs in this way. In most cases treatment is completed at the sewage treatment
plant and the reservoirs are operated in continuous-flow mode for three purposes:
• Seasonal storage
• Equalization and treatment of potential failures of the sewage
treatment plant (role that proved to be very important).
• Limited treatment provided by the continuous-flow mode (only in
Regulatory agencies are not interested to address these reservoirs as treatment units
because most wastewater reservoirs are owned by farmers and sewage treatment is neither
under their legal responsibility nor within the scope of their know-how (see above). In order
to use the reservoirs as treatment units it would be necessary to transfer their operation to the
operator of the sewage treatment plant (that belongs to the urban sector) and this change is
difficult to implement. Farmers are not interested either, because the operation of the
reservoirs in batch mode reduces the amount of water the reservoir can supply during the
irrigation season. They prefer to receive fully-treated wastewater from the municipal sewage
treatment plant and use their reservoirs for storage only. Thus, the switch of the reservoirs
from “storage units” to “treatment units” is limited no by technical problems but by
institutional and administrative ones.
Short chapter title
22.3.6 Guidelines on wastewater treatment for agricultural
The Shelef Commission (1977) (Ministry of Health) defined four categories of crops with
different quality requirements. Cotton and other industrial crops could be irrigated with
effluents with BOD<60 mg/L, TSS<50 mg/L and Dissolved Oxygen > 0.5 mg/L. On the
opposite side, unrestricted irrigation required BOD<15 mg/L, chlorination with 2 hours
contact time, residual chlorine>0.5 mg/L and Coliforms< 12 MPN/100 mL.
The Halperin Commission (1999) (Ministry of Health) adopted the American Title 22
with few modifications, against the opinion of the consulted academics. Regarding the
“unrestricted irrigation” category, the guidelines require “mechanical-biological treatment”
and filtration in deep granular media followed by chlorination.
The Inbar Commission (2003) (Ministry of Environment) proposed to adopt a single high
quality for wastewater irrigation (unrestricted irrigation) without quality categories by crops.
The quality requirements are not limited to the protection of public health (enough covered
by the Halperin Commission Guidelines) but address the protection of the environment
towards sustainable reuse. The introduction of the sustainability concept is considered a
landmark. The Inbar guidelines address numerous parameters (organic matter, nutrients,
pathogens, salts, heavy metals, detergents, cyanides and others). These guidelines recognize
the existence of regions which are less environmentally sensitive, where less strict
requirements can be applied. Thus, the Inbar Commission abandoned the previous approach
of “different qualities for different crops” and adopts a single unrestricted irrigation level but
with “different qualities for different environmental regions”. It does not address the
“mechanical-biological treatment” requirement of the Halperin Commission. It does address
the requirements for the release of effluents to rivers within the frame of a national plan for
river recovery. The proposal of the Inbar Commission was recently approved in May 2005.
The whole issue of quality guidelines is highly controversial. Many professionals consider
the requirements of the Halperin and Inbar Commissions as unnecessarily conservative and
technically wrong. Other sustain that all the sewage should be treated to an even higher
quality including nitrification/denitrification and flocculation/filtration (e.g., Rebhun 2003)
or to drinking water standards by membrane technology including desalination (e.g.,
Zaslavski 2001). The effect that the expected increase in the cost of energy (petroleum, coal)
may have on the cost of different levels of wastewater treatment starts to be discussed.
22.3.7 Salination of soils and aquifers - a threat to sustainability.
Sewage is more saline than the supplied freshwater due to the addition of salts during
industrial and domestic use (Table 4) and the salts are recycled together with the water.
There is a clear salination process of soils and aquifers in Israel and a multi-stage approach is
used to fight it (Fig. 4). The main causes of this process are being studied and the issue is
controversial. Some hydrologists and soil scientists believe that salination is due mainly to
natural processes (primary salination) while others conclude that irrigation with salty
wastewater may be the main reason (secondary salination). A review of the whole salination
issue is presently underway. It is clear that main salination may be primary in some areas
while secondary in others. Even though, almost everybody agrees in that secondary
12 Book title
salination due to irrigation with salty wastewater is a threat to sustainability, even in those
areas where primary salination dominates.
There are no inexpensive ways to remove the salts once they entered sewage and the
prevention of sewage salt enrichment by controlling the sources is the most immediately
available solution. The Ministry of the Environment is engaged in a campaign to reduce the
addition of salts to sewage since the early nineties. The early stages of this campaign were
described by Weber et al. (1996) while a list of all main regulations and the first long-term
results of the campaign are described by Weber and Juanicó (2004). Meanwhile, desalination
of reclaimed wastewater is also weighted (Harussi et al, 2001).
Table 22.4 Addition of Sodium to sewage in two cities of Israel in 1994*.
City Supplied water
[ Na mg/l ] Sewage
[ Na mg/l ] Addition
[ Na mg/l ]
Tel Aviv 107 236 129
Haifa 110 256 146
* average values, from Mercado and Banin (1994)
infi ltra tion
The multi-stage approach to
fight salination in Israel
Figure 22.4 The multi-stage approach to fight salination in Israel
Short chapter title
13 Table 22.5. Addition of Sodium to sewage in Tel Aviv, by use, in 1994*.
values, from Mercado and Banin (1994)
[ Tons/yr X 1000 ] Na
[ mg/L ]
detergents 18 53
household 9 26
water softening 8 22
other industrial uses 6 17
physiological use 4 11
Total 45 129
Some early surveys indicated detergents as a main source of salts and Boron in sewage in
the early nineties (Table 22.5) but not all the detergents had the same salt and Boron contents
(Figure 22.5). A regulation on the formulation of industrial and laundry detergents was
approved in 1999 and it may be extended to dishwasher detergents in the future. Other
important sources were water softening for industry, meat koshering process, and pH
neutralization of industrial effluents. The discharge of brines to sewage was first limited and
later forbidden, while a system was created to discharge brines to the sea at nine different
points of the coast (Figure 22.2). Some of the discharge points are outfalls from large
factories or from industrial areas in which numerous small factories are concentrated. Other
discharge points are located at the outlet of the cooling system of power stations, where
cistern trucks can discharge brines. All the discharges are monitored and controlled by the
Ministry of the Environment and comply with the requirements of the Barcelona Convention
for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea. The amount of salts discharged to the sea with
the brines reached 35,000 Ton in 2003 (Figure 22.6). The range of pH allowed in industrial
effluents discharged to sewers was enlarged. The Ministry of the Environment has
encouraged the substitution of Na by K or Ca in industrial processes (softening,
neutralization). It has also encouraged the substitution of softening by reverse osmosis or
Elgressy EST - Electrolysis Scale Treatment, and of water-based air conditioning by air-
based technologies that do not lead to water losses by evaporation and the production of
brines. Many other initiatives, regulations and activities to reduce addition of salts to sewage
have been implemented during the last decade (Table 22.6). Israeli industry has undergone a
radical change in recent years. Many factories have adopted K and Ca for softening and
neutralization, while others have shifted to reverse osmosis or Elgressy EST - Electrolysis
Scale Treatment, and/or from water-based air conditioning to air-based systems. All hospitals
have substituted the softening technology by 2002, thus reducing the discharge of salts to
sewage by 1000 T/year. These efforts have positive results: data from different treatment
plants indicate a steady decrease in salts and Boron in sewage (Figures.22. 7,22. 8 and 22.9).
14 Book title
22.4 Summary: what can be learned from the Israeli experience.
Sewage can be considered an integral part of the water resources of a region.
The ownership of sewage and the responsibility for sewage treatment and disposal must
be clearly stated by law.
The proper integration of sewage to the water resources of the region requires efforts at
multiple levels: institutional, financial, engineering, agronomic, legislation, R&D, etc.
Not all the problems must be necessary addressed and solved before starting the reuse
practice. It is possible to evolve with time. Starting with small local projects for restricted
irrigation is a potential approach. But developments must be monitored, discussed and
coordinated in order to constantly adapt the switch from water to wastewater irrigation to
In a country that has practiced massive wastewater reuse for decades and is presently
reusing 75 % of its sewage, most treated wastewater is still dedicated to restricted irrigation.
Restricted irrigation liberates freshwater resources for unrestricted one. The controversial
issue of “unrestricted irrigation with wastewater” is of secondary importance in many cases.
The development of reuse schemes for irrigation with effluents of very low quality (for
cotton or similar crops) may lead to unstable situations when the market for these limited
number of crops disappears. Effluents of higher quality allow the irrigation of a wider
spectrum of crops adding stability to agriculture development.
Professional advice to farmers has been essential in the successful switch from water to
wastewater irrigation in Israel. Israel farmers obtain this advice mainly through farmers
organizations that can pay for professional advice, and through the Ministry of Agriculture.
Open wastewater reservoirs can be excellent treatment units if operated as required. But,
if the reservoirs belong to the farmers, they operate the reservoirs following irrigation needs
and not treatment needs. The reservoirs should be under the control of the responsible for
sewage treatment in order to be operated as treatment units.
The coexistence of reuse schemes of different sizes and characteristics is not only possible
but also desirable. Small systems are less spectacular than large ones, but their effect on the
rural sector is conspicuous.
Proper development and execution of the wastewater reuse policy requires the
involvement of several institutions in order to cover the numerous aspects of the practice.
But, too many institutions and/or a foggy division of roles, may lead to administrative
conflicts and execution delays.
First commissioned projects are naturally the most promising ones while the remaining
ones are the most difficult. Israel has been stacked around the 70-75% reuse for about two
decades in spite of many efforts to reach almost 100% reuse.
Short chapter title
Farmers find difficult to account for the nutrient content of effluents when dosing
fertilizers. Most farmers just ignore the nutrients, adding to the problem of over-fertilization.
There are many different schemes between the urban and the rural sectors in Israel. The
urban sector may treat sewage and sell it to farmers, the farmers may organize to treat the
sewage of the urban sector and “sell” it to themselves, third party private firms may act as
BOT contractors of the urban sector and sell the wastewater, etc. All the schemes seem to
work properly when responsibilities are clearly set.
First concern when starting the reuse practice is the potential transmission of diseases and
protection of public health. Agronomic parameters may be also addressed. Later on,
sustainable water reuse requires addressing to environmental issues that were neglected at the
beginning. There is a consensus regarding some sustainability issues such as salination of
soil and aquifers. Other issues are controversial and Israel is still discussing them.
Reduction of the addition of salts and Boron to sewage during industrial and domestic use
is a feasible practice.
16 Book title
mg B per kg laundry
REGULAR COMPACT LIQUID
Type of detergent
g Na per kg laundry
REGULAR COMPACT LIQUID
Type of detergent
Figure 22.5 Average Boron (a) and Sodium (b) contribution to sewage by different types
of laundry detergents used in Israel in the early nineties.
1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004
T per year
Figure 22.6. Amount of salts discharged to the sea as brines, in Tons per year.
Short chapter title
Table 22.6 Development of main regulations and activities against sewage salination in Israel.
Year Main regulations and activities
1991 Industries which consume above a certain amount of salt for the
regeneration of ion exchangers were required to use Potassium salts (mainly
1993 Some factories are requested to discharge softening brines to the sea.
1994 Regulations on the use of salts in the regeneration of ion exchangers.
1995 Guidelines for controlling salt discharges from slaughterhouses.
1996 Starts construction of network of sites to discharge brines to the sea.
Discharge of brines to sewers is limited (business permit law).
1997 Standards on the proper construction and operation of evaporation ponds.
1998 Prohibition of brine discharge to sewers (water law).
1999 A new standard on the formulation of domestic and industrial detergents:
reduced Boron, Sodium and Chloride contents.
2000 Recommendations to switch disinfection of swimming pools from
hypochlorite, trichloride and chlorine gas to salt electrolysis.
2002 Within the frame of business permit law:
• Protocol on ion exchangers.
• Limitations on the use of water based air conditioning and
• EC limitations to effluents from pickle factories.
2003 Regulations limiting the concentration of salts in all industrial effluents:
• Chloride : no more than 200 mg/L above supply water
• Sodium : no more than 130 mg/L above supply water
• Fluoride : 6 mg/L
• Boron : 1.5 mg/L
Prohibition on the use of domestic ion-exchangers.
Further restrictions on the formulation of dishwasher detergents.
• Use of salts in dish-washers
• Use of detergents
18 Book title
1992 1994 1996 1998 2000 2002
Sewage Water Difference
Figure 22. 7. Cl (mg/l) measured in the water supplied to Tel Aviv Metropolitan and the
sewage reaching the treatment plant
1994 1996 1998 2000 2002
Figure 22.8 Na (mg/l) measured in the sewage of Haifa Metropolitan.
Short chapter title
1996 1998 2000 2002 2004 2006 2008 2010
Boron in sewage ppm
Haifa Tel Aviv Western Jerusalem National forecasting
Figure 22.9 Boron measured in the sewage of three main cities and forecasted national
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