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IR492 Political Economy of Water and Environmental Security
H. Eyüp Bozdoğan
 Israel is located along a very steep rain gradient,
where the southern hyper regions frequently receive
only 10–20 mm of rain annually, but small sections of
the north receive tropical levels of precipitation.
 With the doubling of the local population within a few
years due to immigration after the Holocaust,
expansion of agriculture become priority.
 Thus, provide water to the new rural settlements, two
major water carriers were constructed to deliver water
from the Yarkon River and the Kinneret Lake.
 Then, Israel had more than doubled its available water

Cahan, J. (2017). Water Security in the Middle East : Essays in Scientific and Social Cooperation.
London: Anthem Press.
 In 1950s, Israel capitulated to international pressure
and moved its national water carrier away from the
upper Jordan River downstream to the Kinneret Lake.
 Afterwards, carrier did work, it doubled the amount of
water it could deliver to farmers and, to a lesser
extent, urban residents.
 However, Israel’s water managers remained very
nervous that Arab armies would manage to sabotage
the water carriers or bomb the electrical facilities.
 The National Water Carrier was an unqualified water-
security success. Water delivery expanded
dramatically. Even during drought years, copious
quantities of water were delivered at subsidized rates.

Sosland, J. (2007). Cooperating Rivals : The Riparian Politics of the Jordan River Basin. Albany: State
University of New York Press.
 For
much of the country’s history, the water carriers
constituted a substantial contribution to local food
 But an environmental price was paid for the new
policy of water transfer. Highly saline, the Kinneret
water delivered salt onto agricultural soils all over the
country. The Kinneret frequently was pumped to levels
below the “red lines” recommended by the
hydrological community.
 During most years, the entire amount of rainfall and
runoff reaching the Kinneret was diverted to the
carrier and its consumers. Practically no water was
released from the lake via the Degania Dam to the
southern Jordan River. Eventually the Dead Sea
began to disappear.
 The delivery of water to Israel’s southland represented
a profound national commitment to water-supply and
agricultural development.
A water law was enacted that created the statutory
basis for the water policies; it revolutionized the
landscape and the way farming was done throughout
the country.
 It left responsibility for drinking water and effluent
treatment standards in the hands of the Ministry of
 The Ministry of Health’s alacrity in encouraging
recycling of effluents was based on an entirely
different consideration: the rapidly growing
population created exponentially greater quantities of
sewage that could no longer be contained by
cesspools and septic tanks.

 The overflow soon emerged as a full-blown health

hazard. Indeed, Israel suffered from cholera outbreaks
(Schwartz 1971), and beaches were deemed unsafe
for bathing due to the high bacterial levels created by
the discharge of raw sewage directly or via westerly
flowing streams.

Schwartz, T. A. (1971). “The Jerusalem Cholera Outbreak: The Course of the Epidemiological Investigation.”
Public Health 13 n.p.
 But the Ministry of Health saw that the farming
community in Israel was already taking matters into its
own hands and recycling its sewage without any
regulation. It opted not to fight the trend but to try to
control it by recommending guidelines for wastewater
reuse and integrating effluents into the national water
strategy (Tal 2006).
A national master plan for wastewater reuse
envisioned Israeli farmers benefiting from the recycling
of 150 million cubic meters of effluent for local
irrigation (Wachs 1971).

Wachs, A. (1971.) “The Outlook for Wastewater Utilization in Israel.” In Developments in Water Quality
Research, edited by Hillel Shuval, 109–111. Ann Arbor, MI: Ann Arbor Science Publishers.
 By then, already, a psychological transition had
occurred among the farming community: wastewater
was considered a valuable resource. Despite initial
concerns of exposure to pathogens, epidemiological
studies failed to find long-term impacts on human
health. Environmental impacts, however, increasingly
emerged as an “inconvenient truth” that water
managers often chose not to address. Some of the
problems, such as the concentrations of boron in the
effluents, could be controlled by regulating the
contents of laundry detergents (Tal 2013)*.

Management of Transboundary Wastewater Discharges. In Shared Borders, Shared Waters, edited by S. B.

Megdal, R. G. Varady and S. Eden, 221–232. Leiden: CRC Press/Balkema Taylor & Francis Group in
cooperation with UNESCO.
 But other problems were less given to magic bullet
solutions. For instance, the salts added to agricultural
soils were assessed by Technion professor (and former
water commissioner) Dan Zaslavsky as an agronomic
disaster in the making.
(Zaslavsky, Guhteh and Sahar 2004).
 These problems were particularly acute, as
wastewater treatment often was conducted at a
minimal primary level. The water that was released still
contained a host of biological and chemical
contaminants. Due to poor pretreatment in Israeli
factories, industrial solvents found their way into the
municipal sewage stream and from there to farmers’
fields and underlying aquifers (Muszkot 1990).

Zaslavsky, D., Guhteh, R., and Sahar, A. (2004). Policies for Utilizing Sewage in Israel: Sewage Treatment for Efflu
Irrigation or Desalinating Effluents to Drinking Water Quality. Haifa: Technion.
 For most of its history, institutionally, agricultural
interests dominated the Israel Water Commission.
Commissioners were first and foremost committed to
providing farmers with plentiful and inexpensive
irrigation water.

 Thisled to decades of extremely contaminated

streams across Israel and percolation of sewage or
partially treated effluents into aquifers, especially
along Israel’s coastline. High levels of nitrates were
recorded in many wells, leading to their
 It would take many years before Israel’s wastewater
infrastructure would be sufficiently robust to handle
the daunting task of eliminating the potential hazards
associated with massive effluent recycling. It is ironic
that waster infrastructure for delivery of freshwater was
considered a sufficiently significant priority for Israel’s
security and economy to warrant an unprecedented
investment, while ensuring its long-term sustainability
had been neglected for decades.
 ''The first plant to introduce activated sludge to allow
for safe wastewater reuse, the Shafdan plant, remains
Israel’s largest facility, treating the sewage of greater
Tel Aviv. Slowly but surely, however, secondary
treatment was introduced in wastewater treatment
plants across Israel. By 2009, over 90 percent of the
country’s sewage treatment facilities had reasonable
effluents that could be delivered to agriculture‘’
(Israel Water Authority 2015a).

Israel Water Authority. 2015a. “The Wastewater and Treated Effluents Infrastructure Development in Israel.”
Presentation at the World Water Forum, 2015,
 The trouble was that over time it became clear that
when wastewater is discharged into dry stream beds
or is utilized for irrigating vegetables or fruits, even
secondary treatment is not a sufficiently stringent
standard for a sustainable water supply.
 Eventually,a compromise was reached. The new
standards are locally still known as the Inbar
standards, after the government official who chaired
the interministerial committee. They were much more
extensive than the earlier regulations that only
addressed suspended solids and chemical oxygen
demand, covering dozens of hitherto unregulated
 In practice the committee, and eventually the
Knesset, approved bifurcated standards that pose
different expectations on wastewater that is to be
recycled by agriculture than wastewater that is
directed to streams.
 Present trends appear to be encouraging: Israeli
farmers recycle 86 percent (400 million m3) of the
sewage that arrives at the country’s treatment plants.
This level of wastewater reuse is unprecedented
 By way of contrast levels, Spain reports some 17 percent
recycling of its sewage with Italy and Australia at 10
percent or less.

Cahan, J. (2017). Water Security in the Middle East : Essays in Scientific and Social Cooperation. London:
Anthem Press.
 About half of the wastewater undergoes tertiary
treatment, with the remainder utilizing secondary
treatment, generally based on some form of
activated sludge technology. In the not-so-distant
future, all of the wastewater utilized by Israeli farmers
will be treated at tertiary levels.
(Israel Water Authority 2015b).
 Even at secondary levels, a well-run plant can
eliminate many of the endocrine-disrupting
compounds that can affect human reproductive and
hormonal functioning.

2015b. “Water Sector in Israel, IWRM Model.” Presentation at the World Water Forum, 2015,
A recent study found that Israeli wastewater
treatment plants perform better on average than
comparable facilities in Europe in this regard. Even at
those plants that have not yet introduced tertiary
treatment, activated sludge almost completely
eliminates a range of the chemicals present in the raw
sewage such as octylphenol (OP), nonylphenol (NP),
bisphenol A (BPA), estrone, estriol, 17β-estradiol,
testosterone (TES), triclosan (TCS) and carbamazepine
(CBZ) (Godinger et al. 2015).