Text size

A couple of hungry cormorants circled last week above a school of fish at the mouth of the Kishon Stream running through Haifa. Several fishermen on the banks were also waiting for fish, which were tough to spot. In the past month, the water has grown murky from the booming algae growth that resulted from high concentrations of chemicals in the stream. Despite the cleanup efforts, the Kishon remains polluted.

For decades the Kishon was one big sewage canal. The chemical plants and refineries in Haifa Bay dumped their waste into the stream, and the water fowl and fish disappeared. When it looked like the waterway was past saving, the government decided to clean it up - and succeeded. By 2003 dozens of fish species had returned, along with the soft-shelled turtle, cormorants and coots, and rare flora.

But the momentum didn't last. More than five years ago the government ordered a stop to the dumping of industrial effluents into the Kishon, yet these continue to pollute the stream. The adoption of strict pollution standards also remained on paper, while the pollution is growing.

The Kishon Stream Authority, which monitors the stream periodically, recently ruled the Kishon's health status as "extremely bad" because of poor water quality. Pollution measured downstream along the final 7-kilometer stretch reached a substantially higher level than the standard set for the Kishon. The nitrogen level was 450 percent higher than allowed; the concentration of ammonium nitrate, a substance dangerous to animals, deviated from the standard by 280 percent; 21 kilograms of phosphorus are dumped in the stream every day. These substances encourage algae growth, which disturbs the stream's ecosystem.

Last year five plants - the Haifa Oil Refineries, Gadot Biochemical Industries, Deshanim, Haifa Chemicals and Carmel Olefins - as well as the Haifa waste management plant, dumped some 7.7 million cubic meters of waste into the Kishon. The dumping meets the guidelines of the Environmental Protection Ministry, but these demand that plants meet pollution standards suitable for dumping waste into the sea, which are significantly more lenient than the standards required for streams.

Last October, the ministry returned to a solution it had suggested years ago: building a pipeline to the sea for dumping industrial waste. The office of Minister Gideon Ezra told Haaretz yesterday that the plants will pay for the pipeline's planning and construction, in accordance with the ministry's requirements and under its supervision. But there are still no signs of the pipeline's construction.

In the meantime, the stream is forced to absorb massive amounts of industrial waste, endangering the ecological triumphs achieved at the beginning of the decade. Last year, waste thought to have come from Haifa Chemicals killed large numbers of fish. In response, the Environmental Protection Ministry linked the plants' monitoring systems online to the Kishon Stream Authority headquarters. The link-up is expected to be completed shortly. Hopefully this step is not too little, too late.