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Nine hundred years after the pope stepped in to halt a wrangle over the water in the Na'aman stream between the Crusader orders of the Knights Templar and Hospitaller, the stream that runs through Acre is once again a cause of friction.

The holy orders used to block the flow of water that operated the other's grist mills. Now the battle is between the state's Mekorot Water Company and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

The stream is drying up due to excessive drilling for water by Mekorot, which then sells some of the water back to the INPA to prevent the stream's tributaries from drying up.

The stream's water is allocated mainly for drinking, agriculture and fish farms, and a small part of it goes to the Ein Afek reserve's springs, the Na'aman's tributaries.

The Na'aman's tributaries are in the Ein Afek nature reserve, which is a habitat for animals, water fowl, rare fish and fauna. Located in the Acre valley, once a large swamp, the reserve was supposed to provide sufficient water to the 43 streams in it, ensuring a steady flow to the Na'aman. Some 50 to 60 million cubic meters of water flow in the stream in a good year and 35 million in a dry year.

Reserve manager Giselle Hazan says that before the groundwater reaches the Na'aman's tributaries it is pumped by Mekorot and funneled to households, farms and the fish farms at nearby kibbutzim - Afek, Kfar Masaryk, Ghetto Fighters and Ein Hamifratz.

The 2004 master plan for the Na'aman - an 11-kilometer stream flowing into the sea at Acre - allocates some 7 million cubic meters of the drilled water to the fish farms and 35 million cubic meters to the farmers and households around Haifa and a number of West Galilee communities. The remainder is directed to the stream.

In a dry year like this one the drilling increases and the already low water levels are plunging.

"To keep the tributaries from drying up we have to buy about 1 million cubic water meters a year from Mekorot," says Hazan.

The Water Authority said that the water pumped from the Na'aman's tributaries is earmarked mainly for drinking, while the farmers receive treated wastewater and a small quantity of freshwater. By 2009 a new desalination plant will provide more water, and two others are to be built by 2013.