Israeli Nature Reserve Dries Up, Putting Unique Vegetation at Risk

Implementation of a plan to return a local spring to its natural state has stalled, leading to deaths of trees hundreds of years old at the Nahal Betzet nature reserve.

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Plane trees dying in the Nahal Betzet nature reserve, March 2017.
Plane trees dying in the Nahal Betzet nature reserve, March 2017.Credit: Hillel Glassman / INPA
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Nahal Betzet nature reserve in the Upper Galilee is languishing due to a lack of water, putting the area’s unique vegetation at risk of disappearing after the 4-year-old drought in the north of the country.

Officials of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority who toured the reserve last week said they noticed clear signs of deterioration. For example, plane trees hundreds of years old are dying amid a water shortage that began in 2000.

If the problem is not rectified, all the plane trees some North American species are known as sycamores in the area could die out, the officials said.

For many years the Nahal Betzet stream received its water from a groundwater spring, nurturing an area rich in wildlife.

But in 2000 the spring began to dry up due to the pumping of groundwater to provide the local people with water. Since then the Nature and Parks Authority has supplied the stream via pipes belonging to Israel’s national water company, Mekorot.

Still, the amount of water is less than the amount that flowed from the spring naturally.

In the last decade the Water Authority told the Nature and Parks Authority that within seven years an alternative system for providing the area with water would be implemented. This would return the spring to its natural state and provide the nature reserve with water water would no longer have to be diverted to the local population.

But implementation of the plan has stalled.

“In the past few years, due to the lack of natural water being replenished by rainwater, the stream bed has dried up further, and the water supplied by the pipes is seeping into adjacent areas and not reaching the plane trees,” said Hillel Glassman, who supervises the streams managed by the Nature and Parks Authority.

“There’s no more wildlife in the stream’s water at all. In a tour of the stream in the past week we found that, for the first time, three big plane trees had died. We can assume that their deaths can be attributed to the severe lack of water and the drying up of the bed.”

For its part, the Water Authority agreed that “for some time the Nahal Betzet stream has not received an abundance of natural water from the spring.”

“In addition the stream is receiving water artificially in order to prevent its complete drying up and the death of the local flora and wildlife,” the Water Authority said in a statement, referring to the pipe system.

“As far as we know, there has been no change in policy regarding the replenishment of the stream’s water, and we have not received any request for increasing the amount of water,” it added.

“There is no doubt that the whole north of the country is suffering from a great scarcity of water due to our four consecutive years of drought in the north that have resulted in the drying up of streams and water sources.”

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