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Bezet Stream, one of the Western Galilee's most beautiful streams, and with surrounding scenery that is a high priority for conservation, is drying up.

"It's not that the stream's condition is terminal - it can be saved. It's only a matter of money and the decision has to be made in Jerusalem, not here," says Omri Raz of Kibbutz Eilon, whose members are horrified by the once powerful stream's deterioration.

This is the most northern watercourse flowing to the Mediterranean. It has carved out a deep canyon with rock cliffs soaring hundreds of meters on either side and containing the limestone caves of Sarach, Keshet and Nahal Namer.

The mountain slopes above the stream are covered with thick shrubbery of oak, Kermes oak, Pitacia, Arbutus and others. In the past its flow was powerful enough to operate gristmills but today parts of it are dry.

Even worse, its water does not flow from springs but is pumped into the river bed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA).

"At this stage we are forced to buy water from Mekorot (Water Company) to funnel it to some of the streams, otherwise in a few years we will have no nature left," says Hillel Glazman, head of stream monitoring for the INPA.

INPA is authorized to allocate a certain amount of the drinking water of Idmit and Aramsha to revive the ailing stream, but it was not enough. INPA is still waiting for the Water Authority's reply to its request to increase the allocation.

Bezet is one of several Western Galilee streams that have dried up as a result of drilling for water from the springs and from the natural water reserves in the nearby mountains, which are the streams' sources. Even strong rainfalls in the next few years will not save streams like Bezet, Kziv and others, because Mekorot is pumping increasing amounts of water from it.

The water stopped flowing in Bezet in 2001 following Mekorot's massive drilling for water in the area. The drilling began in the '90s and has been increasing annually. Mekorot says water is scarce and it must pump water to for the domestic and farming use of the area's communities.

"I cannot forgive myself and others [for the streams' condition]," says Glazman. "I can't believe we have lost this stream. It has disappeared."

Shifra Ben David, director of the West Galilee River Drainage Authority, which encompasses 38 local authorities, recently wrote to Water Authority Chairman Uri Shani, demanding to ensure a water supply to save Bezet Stream.

"Bezet Stream is one of the most beautiful streams in the West Galilee and is extremely important in terms of nature and scenery preservation. The rich flora and fauna alongside it, which can only survive with a steady water flow throughout the year, is disappearing and is in danger of extinction," she wrote.

Last week Shani and the River Drainage Authority officials toured the area. Uri Arnon, deputy head of the Mateh Asher Regional Council said, "I hope in the next months we'll begin to see a light at the end of the tunnel."

Glazman says it is vital to reduce the drilling but this is only a short-term solution. He proposes to connect the West Galilee to the National Water Carrier and to build a desalination plant in the area. He says there was a plan to erect the plant near Kibbutz Shomrat north of Acre but it was shelved due to the high cost.

"We believe that not only can Bezet Stream be saved but that nature and the streams in the region can be rehabilitated for the future generations. It's only a matter of making the right decisions," he says.

Water Authority sources say they are familiar with the Bezet and the other West Galilee streams' problem, but that is a long way from making a decision to reduce the water drilling or to halt it altogether. The demand for water is far greater than the natural supply and in dry years even greater, they say.

After four dry years the water sources have dwindled to such an extent that Israel's three main water sources - Lake Kinneret, the coast aquifer and the mountain aquifer - are all expected to plunge beneath the "red lines" this year.

The state has decided to build desalination plants in addition to the two large ones in Ashkelon and Palmahim to supply some 505 million cubic meters of water by 2013.

"Until then the huge shortage is felt in all areas. Every drop of water is important. We want to make use of every drop and to prevent waste. Looking at the streams' situation without taking into account the water demands of all the sectors gives a distorted picture and does not reflect reality," one official said.

Since the Water Authority wishes to rehabilitate the streams and to preserve nature, it has appointed a regional planner to prepare a plan to rehabilitate the Bezet Stream, he said.