River dwindles into stream amid water shortages
"The stream was once considered a river," says Raya Shuraki, deputy director of the Nature and Parks Authority's northern district, referring to the Taninim Stream. "Huge quantities of water flowed through it. Today, less than a tenth of that amount flows through it.
"Nowadays, hearing burbling water is a rare occurrence in our country - because nature comes in last place," she says.
If the ecologists and historians understood the water's burbling, they would probably hear a lot from the Taninim Stream about the now-extinct crocodiles, the development of the Roman empire in nearby Caesarea, and the antique water channeling enterprises. Now, the river has been transformed from a gushing river into a trickling stream, whose upper section more resembles a drainage canal.
"The Taninim Stream has a lot to say," said Moshe Yizraeli, director of the Hof Carmel Regional Council's drainage authority.
Pumping of water from the stream has considerably reduced its level.
Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael pulls some 15 million cubic meters of water for its fisheries, and around 30 million cubic meters are pumped from the river's groundwater basin to households around Ramot Menashe, the Hanadiv Valley, Zichron Yaakov and others. In addition, some 3 million cubic meters are pumped to agricultural reservoirs, and the Mekorot Water Company diverts some 5 million cubic meters to the dunes in Caesarea to enrich the groundwater there, so it can be pumped in the summer.
Hillel Glazman, the Nature and Parks Authority's river diversion department director, of the river's former 90 to 100 million cubic meters per year, only 6 to 7 million cubic meters still reach the nature reserve on the western edge of the river.
"Although the water is pumped for drinking and agricultural uses, and some saltwater is also desalinated, it should be recalled that less water is left in nature, and therefore we must be concerned about sustainable water plans, in order to preserve the natural resources and landscapes for future generations," said Glazman.
Shuraki notes that the Romans, who came to nearby Caesarea in the fourth century, discovered the river's potential: "They were big water consumers and specialized in hydrological engineering, and they built one of antiquity's most advanced network of dams, water channels, reservoirs and water conveyors," she says.
Now the Roman dams and wells are part of a nature reserve, which was set up after the area flooded in the winter of 1991-92. Pelicans and storks live there, and irises and reeds grow. However, the river has visibly receded from its banks, even in wintry, wet February.
Due to the pumping from the river and the drop in the groundwater level, the river's eastern section is now dry from the spring until the winter. Only where the river descends, near the Timsah springs, is there still a relatively strong flow.
According to Glazman, the Nature and Parks Authority and Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael have an agreement that assures the river will flow with natural water. Yet, in difficult years, the kibbutz pumps more than the agreed-upon amount for its fish ponds.
"The conflict over water distribution is evident in dry years. The levels drop, the kibbutz pumps more and there's nothing left for us," says Shuraki.
The director of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael's desalination plant, Yossi Brechman, says that deviations are rare. He says the kibbutz's desalination drillings return water that was originally pumped from the river into the ponds, but seeped back into the aquifer. Therefore, 60 percent of the pond water is recycled for use by kibbutz households, he says.
The kibbutz, the Nature and Parks Authority and the Water Authority are now discussing moving the pumping station closer to the sea - it is currently 1.5 kilometers away - so that the river will be more active and the fishery will catch the water before it reaches the sea.
Brechman says that if the plan is approved, work will commence in early 2009. Until then, he acknowledges that if the water shortage continues to be severe, the kibbutz will have to drain the ponds and raise less fish. "We'll adapt ourselves to the situation," he said.
The Water Authority stated: "After four dry years, the water sources are being depleted. That is the main reason why things are drying out. Because of our desire for sustainable management, the Water Authority is increasing the water sources artificially (i.e., desalinating seawater and treating sewage), which increases water prices, promotes and encourages efficient water management, and prevents waste, along with active assistance from Israel's citizens. The Nature and Parks Authority is not exempt from helping in this matter."