Refuse at Alexander Stream along the northern coast.
Refuse at Alexander Stream along the northern coast. Photo by Nitzan Shorer
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Almost two decades after the government started its project to clean Israel's streams, most of the country's waterways remain sullied due to failing sewage systems and waste from Palestinian cities. They also need a fresh dose of water after years of poor rainfall.

These are some of the conclusions of the 2009 report by the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority on the status of Israel's streams.

But there is some good news: The overall amount of pollution reaching the streams is declining, and in some, including the Yarkon River in the center and the Dalia Stream in the north, water quality has improved. Another breakthrough is in the offing on Sunday, when the cabinet is expected to approve a plan to connect army bases to waste-treatment plants.

The most common description of the streams in the new report is "the water is murky or black, froth on the water and the stink of sewage." In major streams - the Na'aman, Hadera and Harod - where new waste-treatment plants have significantly helped cleanup efforts, pollution is flowing in from still-untreated sources and treatment plants that are not operating.

Water quality in the Na'aman Stream has declined due to the flow of excess sewage from the Galilee city of Carmiel and smaller quantities of rainfall that have constricted the flow of freshwater. The city of Tamra is now connected to a waste-treatment plant, but because of problems with its main pump, raw sewage continues to reach the stream.

Some portions of the northern coastal Alexander Stream have dried up due to years of drought, while sewage continues to flow into it from the lands of the Palestinian Authority, polluting both the stream and the aquifer.

Sewage from Palestinian cities is also polluting the Kishon Stream near Haifa, the Besor and its tributaries on the southern coastal plain, and the Sorek Stream in the Judean Hills.

Communities near a severely polluted tributary of the Hadera Stream, the Iron Stream, are not cooperating to solve the problem, according to the report. "Pollution is getting worse due to new users of the waste-treatment plant and its neglect," the report says.

The report decries the fact that separate water-treatment associations for Jewish and Arab communities are currently in charge of stream cleanup, and the city of Baka al-Garbiyeh and rural communities are not cooperating with each other.

However, the report also says that with proper cleanup, within a few years the stream "could become a center of nature, heritage and recreation."

At a recent conference on water quality hosted by the environmental group Tzalul, the Environmental Protection Ministry presented statistics showing a significant decline in the pollution of streams and rivers due to the construction of waste-treatment plants. But the head of the ministry's department of water and streams, Alon Zasak, concedes that the new report shows that "there is still a lot of work to do."

Zasak says some of the problems highlighted by the report are about to be solved; for example, improving the waste-treatment plants at the Hadera and Na'aman streams. Zasak says the ministry is about to institute harsher regulations on waste treatment.

Regarding the frequent breakdowns at expensive waste-treatment plants, Zasak said that "mayors don't usually boast about a new waste-treatment plant, but rather about new sidewalks. We mustn't let up the pressure on [mayors] to maintain these plants, because it's the responsibility of the local authorities."