The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is calling on authorities to put a stop to what it describes as a growing trend: private citizens renovating natural springs at their own initiative, without bothering to attain the proper permits and with no oversight by the relevant authorities. According to the SPNI, the phenomenon is liable to damage protected nature sites.

Last week, SPNI activists documented a group of young people conducting unauthorized construction works at the Sapir spring, outside of Jerusalem. "They saw people removing bags full of sand and bringing in stones in order to set up some kind of wall," said SPNI's coordinator for biological diversity Alon Rothschild.

Rothschild sent letters to the Interior Ministry department responsible for oversight of construction in the Jerusalem district, to the Israel Water Authority and to the Israel Parks and Nature Authority, asking that they halt the works at the Sapir spring.

In the letters, he noted that construction was altering the character of the site, interfering with the flow of water and introducing pollutants into the water. "These activities could potentially damage a protected nature site," Rothschild wrote.

The phenomenon is particularly widespread beyond the Green Line, mainly in the northern West Bank, where dozens of springs have been renovated, sometimes with the support of local authorities. In some, new pools have been constructed, canals built and other elements such as benches added.

A group calling itself "the Abarbanels" has systematically renovated natural springs in the West Bank, without proper permits.

However, according to Rothschild, the phenomenon is also common inside the Green Line. "The practice is common in the Jerusalem hills, as well as in the Golan Heights, Galilee and Carmel," he said.

While Rothschild said he understands that the unauthorized work is being conducted out of good intentions, he worries that, in the absence of professional oversight, the work is liable to cause serious damage.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority did not respond to the SPNI's letter or to the claim that the phenomenon of spring renovations is widespread.

The Water Authority said it was checking out the issue of construction work at the Sapir spring.

The Interior Ministry said its officials visited the spring on Monday and found no evidence of any illegal activity at the site. "It appears that someone has cleaned up the trash and sediment at the site for the comfort of hikers," said the ministry. "Aside from congratulating [those who cleaned the spring] on a job well done, we have nothing to add."

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