I had a nightmare a few days ago. In my dream, I was sitting in the office and suddenly a shelf fell on me. The shelf was stuffed with reports, surveys and documents on the rehabilitation of the Kishon River, and the weight of the pamphlets and voluminous books knocked me to the floor. While struggling to breathe, the sad thought occurred to me that I could not even take consolation in knowing that all these documents had at least resulted in the river's rehabilitation.
I was inspired to invent this dream by the public hearing the Ministry of Environment conducted about the river's rehabilitation. This hearing, which took place in Haifa several weeks ago, reminded me of the fact that there is probably no other river section in the world (seven kilometers at the Kishon's polluted slope) that has received so much attention without the anticipated results - a halt to pollution and the return of flora and fauna.
These seven kilometers have been the focus of several engineering companies, a commission of inquiry that examined the activity of the naval commando unit, and dozens of attorneys who waged pollution-related battles. A master plan and blueprint have been prepared for the river's slope and its other sections, and a panel of experts have set a water quality standard for the projected rehabilitation.
During the past decade, eight environment ministers and a similar number of ministry directors general have visited the Kishon. Several Likud activists were dispatched to manage the river authority and even they - with all their skills and abilities - could not tackle the rehabilitation.
The main problem continues to be the flow of industrial waste. The quality of these wastes improved about six years ago, but no further progress has since been made and the river continues to be polluted, with the rehabilitation's goals far from being realized.
The government set new standards for the flow of waste into Israel's rivers about two years ago. The problem is that several of the factories located along the Kishon are unable to meet these standards without making considerable investments. The Ministry of Environment is considering to spare them this heavy economic burden and to allow them to channel waste into the sea, and in this way make progress on rehabilitating the river. This approach assumes that the sea can dilute the waste better than the river.
No one doubts the strong desire of Environment Ministry officials to rehabilitate the Kishon. But after more than a decade, they have not resolved the issue of treating the waste - even though there is a mandatory standard for the flow of waste to rivers. Instead, they are returning to the alternative of channeling the waste to the sea, an option that was already considered in the past. It is no wonder that one senior ministry official, who is opposed to dumping the waste into the sea, noted in the public hearing that there is no reason to set a standard for the flow of waste to rivers if the ministry itself does not intend to implement it.
The Ministry of Environment's loss of direction and confusion was well-described by attorney Yariv Abramovich, the director general of the environmental NGO Zalul, who spoke at the hearing. "If the factories have to make substantial investments, they should make substantial investments," he said to the ministry officials. He noted that just as it would be inconceivable for a driver to cancel his mandatory car insurance because it is too expensive, a factory cannot pollute the environment because it is too costly to treat the pollutants.
There is one way for rehabilitating the Kishon and there should be no confusion about implementing it: A factory must meet the standards and then it can channel the waste into the river. The sea is not an alternative for dumping waste, as Yehiel Aberjil, the head of the Kishon region fishermen's organization, noted at the hearing, addressing the Environment Ministry's intentions of endangering his livelihood and that of his colleagues.
Aberjil's remarks were reinforced by Professor Bella Galil of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institute, who clearly stated: "We are about to destroy the richest region of animal life on the Mediterranean coastline and the source of a third of all the fish in Israel. If we were sitting by the shores of a huge ocean, then the pollution from the waste would not have a major impact. But here we are talking about a semi-enclosed bay located within the Mediterranean Sea, which is itself a sort of bathtub."
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