By SHARON UDASIN 03/01/2015

Conveyance of the sewage by means of the new pipeline was part of a NIS 40m. scheme.

As part of an ongoing project to rehabilitate the once heavily contaminated Jordan River, Tiberias sewage will soon flow to a new treatment facility, the Water Authority announced on Sunday.

Construction of both a pumping station and a 12-kilometer, 710-millimeter wide pipeline has concluded, allowing for the conveyance of wastewater from Tiberias to the new Bitanya treatment plant at the southernmost tip of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), the Water Authority said. Involving a wide range of partners, the NIS 120 million project brings an end to a situation in which raw sewage was endangering the vitality of the Jordan River.

“This is one of the key projects in the water sector in the last decade, a project that combines supply of quality water to agriculture and nature with the advantages of rehabilitating and protecting the environment,” a statement from the Water Authority said.

The many advantages of the Bitanya wastewater treatment plant and the new pipeline from Tiberias, according to the authority, involve the prevention of raw sewage flow, provision of desalinated brackish water and treated wastewater for regional agriculture, and increasing supplies of clean water to restore the flow of the Jordan River. Gradually, the authority plans to bring the discharge of water into the Jordan River up to 30 million cubic meters per year, through a combination of Kinneret water, saline water, and treated wastewater.

Conveyance of the sewage by the new pipeline is part of a NIS 40m. scheme that included the diversion of brackish water springs, as well as the transmission and disposal of brine, brackish water, and sewage to a collection point along the Kinneret’s western basin. These new systems upgrade and replace the small, open canal that previously had collected rainwater and sewage around the western portion of the lake, the Water Authority explained.

With the connection of the new pipeline, the Tiberias pumping station began operating in a trial phase, which will conclude in about three months, the Water Authority said. The pumping station was constructed by Mei Rakat Tiberias, which received an approximately NIS 12m. grant – equivalent to about 40% of the station’s construction costs – from the Water Authority.

The opening of the Bitanya wastewater purification plant allows for the closure of an obsolete sewage treatment facility next to the Kinneret, which operated poorly and enabled the flow of sewage and effluents into the Jordan River, the Water Authority said. The Bitanya plant was established at a cost of NIS 72m. by Mei Rakat Tiberias in cooperation with the Jordan Valley Regional Council.

While at the moment, the Bitanya plant is only purifying sewage at a secondary level, by January 2016 the facility should be operating at a tertiary level, the Water Authority said. At the current stage, the facility is releasing treated wastewater to the Jordan River, and is thereby significantly improving the quality of water that has been previously discharged into the river, according to the Water Authority.

The Bitanya wastewater treatment plant can handle approximately 16,000 cubic meters of sewage per day, but is currently receiving about 9,000 cubic meters, including the amount added with the connection of the new pipeline from Tiberias, the authority said.

Although the treated wastewater is currently being released to the Jordan River, the larger regional rehabilitation plan calls for nearly all the treated effluents produced by the Bitanya plant to be distributed for agricultural use via the Jordan Valley Water Association, the Water Authority explained. At this point, however, the infrastructure in place for such a transfer is not yet suitable, a spokesman for the authority explained.

In addition, the Tiberias hot springs and other brackish water sources – water saltier than freshwater but less salty than seawater – are supposed to be diverted to a separate transmission route, in order to enable their use at the fish breeding ponds in the southern part of Emek Hama’ayanot.

This water will flow to points further down the Jordan River in accordance with determined Fishery Water Output Regulations, the Water Authority said.

Replacing much of the treated wastewater flow once this source is redirected to agriculture, the remaining brackish water will be combined with Lake Kinneret water to send down the Jordan River and increase its flow, according to the Water Authority.

The amount of water being released down the Jordan River will increase from today’s 10 annually to 20 upon the completion of a new desalination plant in the region. Eventually, a total of 30 of water total will be released down the Jordan River annually.

The Water Authority announced the completion of this portion of the project just three days after Israel and Jordan signed a bilateral agreement for the exchange of water, in which Israel will buy water from a future desalination plant in Aqaba and Jordan will purchase more water from Lake Kinneret. In addition, the two countries will be constructing a 200-kilometer pipeline to convey concentrated brine – the salty byproduct of the desalination process – to the Dead Sea, whose basin is dangerously dwindling.

Environmentalists have long argued, however, that the restoration of flow to the Jordan River is the most vital mechanism toward saving both the Dead Sea and the river itself.

“We congratulate the relevant authorities in continuing to move forward another important component in getting the various pollutants out of the Jordan river as a necessary step towards the river’s rehabilitation,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israel director for EcoPeace: Friends of the Earth Middle East.

A regional environmental organization with offices in Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, EcoPeace has long been fighting to remove pollutants from and restore clean water flow to the Jordan River.

While expressing praise for the Water Authority’s advancements, Bromberg stressed that the currently proposed 30 of annual discharge sets “an important precedent” but neither reflects “the needs of the river ecosystem, nor the level of effort and investment made by local municipal and water authorities in Israel.”

“A timeline for much larger quantities of water to be released from the Kinneret to the river needs to be developed if the environment and local communities are to see a real return on investment in line with Jordan river regional master planning efforts,” Bromberg said.