water pumping station - Tomer Neuberg - 28082011
A water pumping station near Kfar Masryk. Photo by Tomer Neuberg
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Environmental groups are to be involved from now on in decisions about how much water can be pumped from nature reserves for other uses, following a precedent-setting decision last week by an Interior Ministry committee.

The decision, made by an appeals committee of the ministry’s northern district, applies to the nature reserves in the area of the Na’aman Stream east of Acre and constitutes a threat to the powers of the Water Authority, which opposed the decision.

Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk, located near the Na’aman Stream, has plans, coordinated with the water authority, to build a desalination plant. According to the Water Authority, the five million cubic meters of desalinated groundwater the plant would produce annually would be an essential source of potable water for the region’s inhabitants. But the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel says the plant will dry out the reserves and that international conventions to which Israel is a signatory oblige it to protect.

After it’s objection was overruled last year by a local planning committee, the SPNI successfully appealed to the district committee.

According to current policy, the Water Authority consults with government bodies such as the Israel Nature and Parks Authority on water to nature, but the Water Authority has the last word.

The appeals committee decided that a building permit will be granted to the desalination plant on condition that a document is produced determining how much water can be pumped for desalination by the plant, how it is to be monitored and what its environmental impact is. The document will be prepared by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry in cooperation with the SPNI.

The committee made its decision after the Environmental Protection Ministry agreed to be part of the process, and demanded that additional water sources be provided to the reserves in times of drought.

In recent years practically no water has flowed naturally at one of the major streams, Ein Afek, and the Mekorot Water Company has directed water to it via a special pipeline.

The Water Authority did not respond for this report by press time. However, in a letter to the appeals committee prior to its decision, the Water Authority said an agreement was already in place with the Nature and Parks Authority and the Environmental Protection Ministry to ensure the reserves would not be harmed, and that nature and landscape were part of its considerations when it issued water production permits.