Rains Leave Sharon Farmers With Toppled Trees, Bridges

The Poleg Stream and its tributaries in the heart of the Sharon region usually look like narrow canals that gradually disappear into the surroundings. However, several days of heavy rainfall have caused the streams to engulf large tracts of agricultural land, leaving behind destruction so extensive it has astonished local drainage experts.

On the rainy days of early November, heavy rain clouds gathered to the east of Netanya and more than 200 millimeters of rain fell over a few days. The result was a current stronger than any that had previously been recorded.

In many parts of the Sharon, the strong currents have uprooted trees and collapsed bridges, while some of the roads used by farmers have completely vanished. Some water and sewage pipes have been exposed, and large stretches of agricultural land have become part of the streams, leaving behind swaths of ruined crops.

Near the Poleg streambed, close to Moshav Udim, a huge canyon now gapes in the midst of an olive grove. Nearly all the banks of one of the Poleg tributaries have collapsed, and several makeshift bridges have been built so farmers can reach all parts of their land and continue to earn a living. There has also been serious flood damage near the Alexander and Hadera streams.

"Downstream sediment has piled up and is blocking the channels," Sharon Drainage Authority head Nissim Almon said yesterday. "This could mean that the next time there is heavy rain, extensive areas will be flooded, including major roads. Heavy vehicles in agricultural areas could fall into pits."

The drainage infrastructure has been almost entirely destroyed, said Almon. He cited the heavy rains as a major factor, but also blamed the farmers' land use practices.

"They don't use land-preservation methods that would have prevented soil from being swept away and would have caused the force of the flow to be weaker," he said.

The heavy rains last week exacerbated the damage caused by earlier rainfall, and the drainage authority is warning that additional intense rainfall will cause major roads and residential areas to flood and will endanger essential infrastructure.

However, the authority has been unable to secure a budget to fix either the current or prospective damage.

The Sharon Drainage Authority says it needs NIS 6 million immediately for initial measures like opening channels that have been clogged, but that fixing all the damage is estimated to cost a total of NIS 26 million.

"In addition to repairing bridges and opening channels, we will have to move tremendous amounts of dirt in order to repair and stabilize stream banks," said Almon.

The Finance Ministry has so far not acceded to the drainage authority's requests for help.

The drainage authority needs to provide the funding from the taxes it collects from the local authorities, the treasury told the Agriculture Ministry. Shaul Meridor, the treasury's water and agriculture coordinator, accused the authority of not investing enough in infrastructure and said it should have set aside funds even for statistically improbable flood damage.

Almon, however, says the drainage authorities routinely collect all the money they have coming to them from the local authorities but that the national government has not been providing its share of the funds in recent years.