Israeli sewage leak triggers nations severest eco-disaster

So dire are the hazards that the Health Ministry has forbidden swimming, fishing, water sports, and even sailing in small craft from Jaffa north to Herzliya.

In an emergency meeting Sunday with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Dan region Sewage Union Director-General Gideon Zatz promised to divert the flow from the sea within 15 days. The union, tasked with mending the collapse of theJaffa sewage main, plus several other cracks, originally said that repairs could take as long as two months.

The union believes the crack runs along 2.25 miles of the piping which funnels the sewage of some 1 million residents of parts of the Dan region for treatment in Rishon Le-Zion.

Officials estimate the burst pipe will cause the loss of as much as 15 million cu.m. of irrigation water destined for the Negev.

Huldai demanded that Zatz also promise to establish a monitoring system for a pipe network that has burst three times in four years. Tel Aviv Municipality officials noted that the city's new sewer pipes have withstood recent storms well, but demand that the union replace the aging and crumbling pipes.

City and Health Ministry officials expressed a "grave concern" over the long-term effects of the continued flow of raw sewage into one of the country's most inhabited and frequented coastal areas.

While some Environment Ministry officials believe the sea's natural currents could clear the pollution two weeks after the leak is plugged and the sewage rerouted, Hadari said the country would feel the effects of thecontamination for a long time.

"Last week's storm mixed the toxins with the water and spread them, contaminating wildlife over a great distance," he said.

Many fish would be unsafe to eat for long periods oftime. This would cripple Jaffa's fishing and restaurant industries, already sagging from the disintegration of tourism.

The current fear among city officials is that the crack could burst open at any time, swamping the city with sewage and costing millions to clean up.

When the pipe first burst after last week's heavy rain, it flooded low-lying parts of Jaffa with sewage, whose effects are still being dealt with.

Until about 30 years ago, the untreated sewage of every city flowed into the Mediterranean. However, the country's population has increased severalfold in the intervening years.