Highway company’s flood-control scheme for Ayalon River widely seen as expensive, wasteful, ecologically harmful.
By Zafrir Rinat | Mar. 24, 2014

There is growing opposition to a plan to direct the waters of the Ayalon River into the Mediterranean Sea, as a way to curb flooding. The Israel Water Authority, the Environmental Protection Ministry and Mekorot, the national water company, all argue in favor of alternatives that would provide for the collection and use of flood waters, as does the Zalul environmental organization.

Netivei Ayalon, the company that operates the Tel Aviv-area Ayalon Highway, is promoting a plan to add a fourth lane to the section of the road that parallels the river. That would require a narrowing of the riverbed, which separates the highway’s north- and south-bound lanes. To compensate, the company wants to build a flood relief tunnel to accommodate the overflow created by heavy rainfall, and that would drain into the sea near the beach in Jaffa. The 6.7-kilometer tunnel could cost more than 2 billion shekels ($575 million) to build.

The Israel Water Authority discussed the proposal at a meeting held two weeks ago. While representatives of Mekorot and the Environmental Protection Ministry argued for a solution that would allow the overflow water to be used rather than wasted, and though the water authority itself issued a statement to that effect after the session, no decisions were taken at the meeting.

In a separate statement, Mekorot put forward a plan that would eliminate the need for a flood relief tunnel, instead diverting the overflow to the Dan Region Wastewater Treatment Plant, and adding an average of 18 million cubic meters of water a year to the water available for crop irrigation in the Negev.

Officials in Zalul and in the Environmental Protection Ministry expressed concern about possible harm to the beach as a result of diverting polluted run-off into the sea. The ministry calls for expanding existing reservoirs as well as pumping floodwaters into old quarry sites.

“Directing floodwaters into the sea with a tunnel represents an old-fashioned approach, according to which this water is a nuisance that should flow into the sea, while at the same time wasting resources and endangering the marine environment,” Zalul wrote in an appeal to the Interior Ministry. The NGO urged the ministry to request that alternatives to the Netivei Ayalon plan be considered.

Netivei Ayalon said in a response that it is evaluating a solution to the flooding of the highway that takes into consideration social and environmental needs, together with the cautious use of perishable resources.

The planning team stresses that the plan to direct overflow into the sea is seen as an emergency solution only, to be used in extreme circumstances.

A multidisciplinary team headed by architect Shamai Asif is examining the use of reservoirs upstream to capture overflow from the Ayalon, as well as use of the planned flood control reservoir in the Ariel Sharon Park at the former Hiriya landfill, east of Tel Aviv. A flood reservoir is also being planned for the campus of the Mikveh Israel Agricultural School, outside Holon. That plan includes an underground drainage pipe that would, in the event of extreme flooding, introduce water into the Mediterranean off the coast of Jaffa, well away from the beach.