The landscape of the Evrona Nature Reserve in the Negev Desert can be misleading. It appears to be a typical, acacia-studded desertscape through which gazelles and ibex wander. But below the surface, poison lurks. Although the profound contamination of the reserve and of Ashalim Stream running through it some time after was years ago, the survival of this fragile ecosystem remains in peril and visitors remain unwelcome.
Four years ago the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline sprang a catastrophic leak, dumping oil into the reserve. Two and a half years later, a waste pool used by the Rotem Amfert chemicals company collapsed. Instead of running water, the Ashalim stream ran toxic waste and acid, killing plants and animals alike.
First came the cleanup, which involved much pumping of the contaminants. Then came the more complex work of assessing the damage and trying to deal with it. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority recently presented the data and all the rest remains pending. It is unclear what the outcome will be.
“In the Ashalim Stream, it turns out that all the geological experts got it wrong,” said Dr. Yehoshua Shkedy, head of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority science division, speaking at a conference to mark the 10th anniversary of the Vulcani Institute’s plant gene bank.
Geologists had predicted that the absorbent limestone and dolomite in the wadi walls would counteract the acids in the waste, but the fact is that measured acidity in the wadi remains high, he admits.
Dr. Einav Mayzlish-Gati, director of the gene bank, said that based on preliminary testing, the plants are less able to thrive in samples of contaminated soil compared to uncontaminated soil.
Meanwhile, this has been one of the rainiest Decembers in recent local history, and flooding in the wadi lowered the concentrations of acids and other contaminants. But the wadi is still considered to be polluted and is closed to visitors. When it might reopen remains unclear, but maybe, next year.