'Israel’s rivers could take 100 years to restore’

Environment Ministry must focus shift river, stream rehabilitation to higher place in its priorities, Comptroller report says.

December 12, 2011 17:03
3 minute read.
tashlich at the Yarkon River

Baby moses at the Yarkon_311. (photo credit: Reuters/Gil Cohen Magen)


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Although the Environmental Protection Ministry has made considerable achievements in stream and river rehabilitation in the last 20 years, Israel’s rivers and streams would take another 100 years to fully recuperate at the ministry’s current rate of investment.

This conclusion, among many others, highlighted the environmental chapter in the State Comptroller’s report, which focused on the rehabilitation status of the country’s 31 major rivers and streams. The ministry – which oversees rehabilitation efforts in corporation with the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry, the Water Authority and local river and drainage authorities – must shift river restoration to a higher status among its list of priorities, the report said.

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While the ministry has had particular success with the Yarkon and Kishon rivers, as well as the Alexander Stream, it has never been able to establish an overarching set of parameters to track the restoration progress of such bodies of water, according to the report.

“After 20 years of work, it’s impossible to point to even one stream in Israel that was rehabilitated entirely,” the report said.

According to a National Plan for the Rehabilitation of Streams, issued by the ministry in November 2008, proper rehabilitation for Israel’s rivers and streams requires an investment of NIS 2 billion, but the average rate of annual investment from the Environmental Protection Ministry between the years 1998-2010 was NIS 9 million, about half of the total investments of the other participants in the rehabilitation effort.

“Assuming the rate remains the same, it would take another 100 years to rehabilitate Israel’s rivers and streams,” the report said.

Stream rehabilitation is a process that can span decades, as it requires water purification, ecological restoration and improvements to damaged zoological systems, the report explained.

The report also highlights the fact that the current organizational structure of the rehabilitation system lead to “fragmented responsibility.” Namely, the Environmental Protection Ministry is responsible for the rehabilitation of rivers and streams, but the most important action – in the state comptroller’s opinion – the rehabilitation of the water itself, falls under the jurisdiction of the Water Authority.

Meanwhile, actually carrying out the work falls under the auspices of the individual drainage authorities, whose work can be authorized by the environmental protection minister but is subject to the approval of the agriculture minister. As it stands, transforming a plan into action requires the “integrative action of the relevant ministries” and a balance of all their interests, the report said.

The state comptroller also criticized the ministry for having very few substantial plans for future stream and river rehabilitation, and for being far less active about this subject than it was in the 1990s.

The report also expressed concern that since rehabilitation efforts require so much participation from other government bodies, environmental considerations during restoration process are often neglected. For this reason, among others, the state comptroller recommended that the ministry consider initiating changes in the organizational structure of the system, as well as in the status of river management, in order to legitimize its decisions and increase its influence.

In addition to pointing out efficiency issues, the report also focused on the physical process of water and ecological restoration.

Today, two main mechanisms exist for rehabilitating rivers and streams – the first of which entails creating a man-made system for upper drainage runoff, the report explained. In the past decade, the prevailing Western attitude has shown that this method is of limited efficiency and very expensive, but its is still the customary technique used in Israeli rivers and streams. The more preferable scheme is an ecological approach, which limits construction in the river and prevents intervention, in order to prevent the disturbance of growth areas and promote hydrological equilibrium.

Lastly, the report says, the ministry must shift the focus of more of its projects to improving the water ecology and restoration of natural habitats within the streams and rivers themselves, rather than working predominantly on repairing riverbanks. Thus far, the projects have mostly focused on the cultivation of riverbanks, surrounding parks and bike paths, which achieve a more instant gratification but are no means the best long-term solution.

“As long as sewage still flows into the rivers, rehabilitation is far from complete,” the report said.

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