All water resources in Israel belong to the State. Management decisions on water quantity, production and supply rest with the Water Commissioner who reports to the Minister of Agriculture. The Ministry of Environment is responsible for the prevention of pollution of water resources and the Ministry of Health for the quality of drinking water. The Ministry of the Interior, local authorities and a few other bodies have subsidiary roles.

The Water Commissioner allocates water to local authorities and other large users. The local authorities are in turn responsible for developing, maintaining and operating the water supply systems within their jurisdiction. This includes metering residential, public, commercial and industrial use, levying progressive water charges, and publishing information designed to encourage efficient water use.

The Water Commission has two main operational arms: Mekorot, the national water authority and Tahal, the water planning company. Mekorot is a public corporation which owns and is responsible for the water supply infrastructure, including pumping stations, wells, irrigation projects and the National Water Carrier. Tahal is a government corporation with responsibility for overall planning, research and design.

The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for preventing pollution of Israel’s water sources. It compiles data on potential sources of pollution, undertakes supervision and control over human activity which may damage water resources, and initiates and implements plans for the preservation and restoration of rivers and inland water bodies. Several government agencies, including the Ministry of the Environment, are currently cooperating in order to establish a central laboratory for testing groundwater quality as well as an information center on water quality to facilitate data exchange among the relevant bodies.

Supervision and authority over wastewater treatment is divided among four government ministries: Interior, Environment, Health and Agriculture whilst local authorities are responsible for collection, treatment and disposal of wastewater. While local authorities are required by law to install sewage systems, wastewater is treated to varying degrees by different municipalities. In the past, opposing considerations guided the numerous bodies responsible for sewage, especially with regard to the location of treatment plants, the level of treatment and the utilization of the effluent for agriculture. The establishment of the National Sewage Administration is thus of special significance.

National Sewage Administration

The improvement of wastewater systems will be accelerated with the recent establishment of a National Sewage Administration, composed of representatives of local government and relevant government ministries. The administration is responsible for formulating a national wastewater planning policy, as follows:

* Preparation of national masterplans for wastewater treatment and effluent utilization in agriculture;
* Approval and preparation of programs for wastewater treatment;
* Establishment of regional water and sewage administrations;
* Allocation of budgets for implementation of wastewater treatment programs.

A professional committee on sewage, including specialists in hydrology, health and environment, is affiliated with the national administration.

The administration has two central goals: advancement of sewage treatment to a level which will enable reuse or environmentally-safe disposal; and upgrading of existing water systems in local authorities. A tri-annual program for the establishment and/or rehabilitation and expansion of treatment plants in 89 authorities has already been drawn up. Among the central projects slated for priority treatment are wastewater treatment plants in Netanya, Hadera, Kfar Sava, the Lower Galilee, Hof Hacarmel, Ashdod and East Jerusalem.

A five-year plan for solving sewage problems in the small settlements of Israel is currently being drawn up. Criteria for priority action include proximity to rivers and other water sources and sewage requirements in settlements with no or inadequate facilities.

Legal Framework for Water Protection

The Water Law of 1959 establishes the framework for the control and protection of Israel’s water resources. The law states that all water sources in Israel are public property and that every person is entitled to use water, as long as that use does not cause the salination or depletion of the water resource. In 1971, the law was amended to include prohibitions against direct or indirect water pollution, regardless of the state of the water beforehand.

The provisions of the Water Law were originally executed by the Minister of Agriculture, the Water Commissioner and the Water Board. After the establishment of the Ministry of the Environment, authority was transferred to the Minister of the Environment to protect water quality, to prevent water pollution, and to promulgate regulations on such.

A 1991 amendment to the Water Law provides for more effective enforcement by such means as significantly harsher fines and obligatory cleanup by polluters. Regulations promulgated pursuant to the law include: prohibitions on the rinsing of containers, used for spraying of chemical and biological substances, into water sources; prohibitions on aerial spraying of chemical and biological agents for agricultural purposes near surface water sources; and severe restrictions on the use of cesspools and septic tanks. Regulations on the prevention of water pollution from underground and above-ground fuel storage tanks and pipelines are now nearing completion while regulations on the reduction of salt use in industrial water-softening processes have been signed.

The Ministry of Health has prepared regulations establishing protection zones around drinking water wells.

Israel’s regulations on drinking water, within the framework of the Public Health Ordinance, set a limit on the types and concentrations of various chemicals and microbes in drinking water and specify requirements for sampling and testing. A draft regulation updating Israel’s drinking water regulations has been prepared and will soon be issued by the Ministry of Health. It will include new standards for several components in drinking water, including synthetic organic chemicals such as volatile organic compounds and pesticides, and will revise existing standards for other components in the water.

Regulations promulgated under the Public Health Ordinance specify the treatment required for wastewater, and list the crops suitable for effluent irrigation in accordance with the treatment level.

The Model Local Authorities Bylaw (Discharge of Industrial Sewage into the Sewage System), 1981, charges all generators of wastewater with responsibility for adequate treatment and disposal in a manner which will avoid health and environmental nuisances and the contamination of water sources.

Regulations under the Prevention of Sea Pollution (Land Based Sources) Law, 1988, forbid the discharge of wastewater into the Sea.

The Local Authorities Sewage Law of 1962 prescribes the rights and duties of local authorities in the design, construction and maintenance of sewage systems. This law requires each local authority to maintain its sewage system in proper condition.

The Streams and Springs Authorities Law, 1965, empowers the Minister of the Environment to establish an authority for a particular stream or part of a stream, spring, or other water source. The functions of such authorities include nuisance abatement and pollution prevention.

Extensive use is made of the Licensing of Businesses Law to implement guidelines on treatment of industrial effluents in various industries

(e.g. textiles, food and metal) and in the treatment of cowshed wastes.