(photo credit: Courtesy)
Environmental NGO Zalul launched a major multi-year campaign on Monday to bring about the rehabilitation of Israel's streams under the banner, "Bringing Life Back to the Streams."
What runs in most of the country's streams is no longer fresh water, but sewage of varying levels of treatment, the organization said during a press conference at the Council for a Beautiful Israel building in Tel Aviv.
Zalul's goal is to spearhead a nationwide campaign to raise the public's awareness that they don't have to live with polluted streams. Zalul intends to recruit local residents, as well as other environmental organizations, government ministries and anyone else willing to join, to put pressure on the government to act to clean up the streams, Zalul deputy director Ezer Fischler said. The campaign will focus its efforts on the Agriculture, Interior, National Infrastructures and Environmental Protection ministries, as well as the Water Authority, he said.
"We want to turn the streams from the backyard of the polluters to the front yard of the public," Dalia Tal, who is running the initiative for Zalul, said at the press conference.
Before the founding of the state, 450 million cubic meters of fresh water flowed in the country's streams, according to a report Zalul released at the press conference. Today, 180 million cu.m. of sewage flows in the streams. Despite a government decision from 2000 to begin streaming fresh water back into the waterways, the Water Authority has said the decision could only be enforced in 2015 because of the water crisis that has plagued the country for the last five years, the report cited. Such a decision sounds a death knell for many of the streams, Zalul contended, because they will be too polluted by then to be rehabilitated.
Fischler and Zalul called for water to be directed into the streams in proportion to the amount of water that desalination plants would create. The government has approved the creation of 750 million cu.m. per year by 2020.
Zalul also contended that the water crisis was the perfect opportunity to clean up the streams and force more of the sewage to be treated to tertiary levels. About $90 million ($0.50 per cu.m. of water, multiplied by 180 million cu.m.) is lost each year as untreated sewage flows to the sea, Tal said.
At the same time, even though every resident pays a sewage treatment fee as part of their monthly water bill, the municipalities have been using that money for other purposes, saving between NIS 48 million and NIS 72m. by not treating the sewage, according to the organization's calculations.
Fischler said they felt the campaign was necessary because even though the government had invested NIS 6 billion in sewage treatment plants and planned to invest another NIS 2b., not a single stream could be considered completely rehabilitated.
Water for nature has taken a back seat to the needs of residents, agriculture and industry during the water crisis, and Zalul's campaign could face strenuous opposition from government bodies claiming that there is no water to spare to rehabilitate the streams. However, Zalul CEO Yariv Abramovich declared during the press conference that they were ready, willing and even eager to overcome criticism and opposition.
The campaign, which they estimated would take three to five years, will focus first on five streams: Harud- lower Jordan, Na'aman-Hilazon, Kishon, Sorek and Lachish. Zalul will recruit local citizens to form pressure groups and join forces with other organizations to clean up the streams.
In addition, Zalul's activists have set out several specific goals, including having a representative of the environmental organizations on the Water Authority governing council to combat the agriculture lobby. According to Tal and Zalul's report, there are two lobby representatives on the council, who she claimed shifted the balance in favor of their own needs. The result, she said, was that treated sewage water flowed exclusively to farmers at the same time that farmers dumped their waste - such as the effluence from fish farms, which is equivalent to urban raw sewage - into the streams. The campaign will also fight such dumping, which includes the output from olive presses.
Zalul will work to improve enforcement against polluters, recruit VIPs to their campaign, and push for the implementation of a watershed-focused management policy.
Zalul's campaign Web site, also launched Monday, has information about specific streams and can be accessed at www.zalul org.il/nehalim http://org.il/nehalim.