As the swimming season opens today, those planning to hit the beach must ask themselves: How clean are the beaches? How many times will the beaches be closed this summer because of pollution?
An uncoordinated dump by a factory can pollute the sea for days. A burst sewage pipe can do the same.
So how does this situation come about? Why is it that thousands will want to flock to the beach every day this summer, but in all likelihood that beach will be closed at some point?
Dr. Asaf Ariel has just completed his doctoral thesis at the University of Haifa, in which he looked at the management of coastal regions to find out how it happens. He compared 17 Mediterranean countries, including Israel, and examined their legislative and governmental regimes.
The lack of one coordinating body, lack of manpower and insufficient funds means beach preservation and protection has plateaued, he found.
“If the situation in the 1970s was catastrophic, well, we’ve improved since then. But at some point we stopped improving. We could be so much farther along if there were sufficient manpower and funds. There are still numerous ‘hot spots’ like the Haifa Bay area and the Acre port area,” Ariel, who is now the educational coordinator for EcoOcean, told The Jerusalem Post
Other hot spots included: the estuary of the Neeman Stream, the area around the Reading power station in Tel Aviv, the estuary of the Yarkon Stream, the output pipe of the Shafdan, around Ashdod and more, according to Ariel.
“Israel has a large amount of legislation governing coastal regions,” he said, so the problem is not lack of legislation.
“But it doesn’t translate into action on the ground,” he said. “We have great legislators to create laws and great scientists to measure the data, but it’s all on paper. When it comes to the operational stage, nothing happens. It’s a general Israeli malady.”
For example, Israel signed the Barcelona Treaty in 2008. The treaty calls for an integrated approach to coastal management across federal and local levels.
“In reality, a number of different ministerial and local authorities are responsible for different elements of managing the coastal region and they fail to coordinate between them, Ariel said.
“Take pollution from land-based sources. It is the Environmental Protection Ministry’s responsibility to oversee dumping straight into the sea. However, if the pollution is dumped into a stream first, then the local authority, the ministry and the Water Authority all have jurisdiction. The level of inspection and enforcement is not equal across all those agencies either and the coordination is only partial,” he said.
Planning for beaches is done by the Planning Administration in the Interior Ministry whereas pollution prevention is done by the Sea and Beaches Branch of the Environmental Protection Ministry, oversight for fishing is done by the Agricultural Ministry and nature conservation is done by the Nature and Parks Authority, he also pointed out.
In addition to a lack of coordination, Ariel found the agencies lacked the manpower for serious oversight as well as the funding.
“Take fishing enforcement as just one example – there are very few inspectors,” he pointed out.
Ariel also found that funding for environmental enforcement was much lower in Israel than in other Western countries.
“If other Western countries spend two percent of their budget to preserve the environment, in Israel it is far below even one percent,” Ariel said. He could not find specific data relating to coastal management alone.
The effect of the desalination plants on the coastal region is also something to keep an eye on, Ariel maintained. Putting significantly saltier water back in the ocean, as well as pumping in all of that water, is bound to affect the sea in some way, he warned.
While the government may not be pushing forward preventing pollution on the beaches, Ariel does not exempt the public from responsibility either.
“In general, things are becoming more bottom up these days. If the government used to dictate in the past, that’s less the case now. It’s up to every individual, both in his personal behavior on the beach, and how much pressure he can bring to bear to force the government to act,” he contended.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Ministry released its clean beaches report for 2009. The report details how clean the beaches were how much of the time.
Sixty percent of the beaches were rated clean and the beaches were clean 60% of the time. While that represented an improvement over previous years, there was still a long way to go, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan noted in a statement.
The cleanest beaches were those adjacent to Tel Aviv, Bat Yam and Eilat. The dirtiest beaches were Kiryat Yam, Emek Hefer, Gan Raveh and Hof Hasharon.
Exemplifying Ariel’s point, the ministry said it was working to improve enforcement measures to coerce those with authority to keep the beaches clean to act – the local authorities and the Nature and Parks Authority.
There were fewer sewage breaks that ended with effluent in the sea in
2009, 10 as opposed to 14 in 2008. Of the 10, the ministry opened a
criminal investigation into two of the incidents. There have been four
incidents so far in 2010.
Always a pollution hot spot, Haifa continued to prove the most
problematic municipality. From three sewage breaks in 2008, there were
eight in 2009 and two so far in 2010. The municipality was warned at
the end of 2009.
According to Zalul, the municipality is currently overhauling a portion of its sewage system that runs near two of its beaches.