Israel’s natural water sources remain under threat despite the increased use of desalinated water and purified sewage, a new report said.
Moreover, the ecology of the Sea of Galilee is in danger due to its falling water level, according to the state of the environment report, issued by the Environmental Protection Ministry.
The report also warned that Israel’s coastal waters are increasingly being used for energy production and infrastructure for ports and fishing, which could damage the marine ecology.
The report was compiled by the ministry’s chief scientist, Dr. Sinaia Netanyahu. It is based on data collected by the ministry and other professional agencies since the last such report was issued in 2010.
Two decades ago, natural water sources supplied 77 percent of Israel’s household and agricultural consumption. Today, however, only a third of consumption comes from natural sources; the rest is either desalinated seawater or treated sewage.
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Yet despite this overall decline in usage, lack of rain combined with increased usage of natural water in certain areas has left Israel’s natural water sources in worrying condition, the report said. The Sea of Galilee’s water level has been falling for years, which negatively affects its “sustainability index,” a measure developed by the Kinneret Limnological Laboratory.
The index is based on several variables, including algae growth and the concentration of fertilizers, which affect water quality and the lake’s ecology. It has a scale of 10 to 100, with the optimum level being over 60, but it has been below 60 for the past several years. The limnological laboratory’s 2016 annual report said the index indicates instability in the lake, which makes it difficult to manage it and prevent developments like algae growth.
Other water sources also remain vulnerable to pollution. The coastal aquifer has seen a rise in salinity in recent years, because both seawater and treated sewage, which is very briny, have seeped into it. But the transition to desalinated water is expected to reverse this trend.
The report also discussed recycling. Despite the passage of legislation mandating recycling and the construction of a few large sorting and recycling facilities, progress on this issue has been slow and partial, it said. Today, less than a quarter of household waste is recycled.
The report also noted that paper, cardboard and plastic constitute a growing proportion of Israel’s waste, whereas the proportion of organic waste declined from 1975 to 2013. This reflects changes in both consumption and production habits.
As for construction waste, the report said that some 1.5 million tons are dumped illegally every year, constituting one of the country’s most common environmental hazards. The Environmental Protection Ministry hasn’t yet managed to pass legislation to improve collection of this waste. But on Monday it unveiled a bill that would require every creator of construction waste to take it away for treatment.
The report also cited several improvements over the past decade. In particular, air pollution has declined, thanks to the use of more advanced cars and the switch to natural gas.
From 2000 to 2104, it said, the number of miles driven by cars and other vehicles rose 44 percent, yet concentrations of the main vehicular pollutants fell 60 to 70 percent over this period. A good example is Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road, where introduction of the light rail and the consequent reduction of car traffic significantly reduced air pollution.
Nevertheless, in many places, there is still a serious problem of ozone pollution, which is caused by pollutants emitted by cars and factories. And in some places, concentrations of pollutants exceeded the permitted level, which can increase the chance of sickness or death.
Another big improvement was in the amount of pollution flowing into streams and beaches. The concentration of nitrogen and phosphorus in streams – two key indicators of pollution – fell by 70 to 90 percent from 1994 to 2016. The decline stems in part from increased use of advanced sewage treatment plants.
“The report shows that determined and persistent work by the ministry produces results, and in many cases, there are improvements,” Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin said. “It also underscores the challenges, including dealing with waste and preserving our marine resources.”