Swamps to Be Reflooded, 80 Years Later

Though the draining of swamps in Israel has long been recalled with fondness, only a few nature activists and scientists have been aware that when Israel's wetlands disappeared, so did a rich world of flora and fauna.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has now decided to act on the matter, initiating a program in the area of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael to re-flood some of the region's historic wetlands. If the plan is successful, the authority will copy it in other parts of the country.

The members of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael are to decide at the end of this month whether to take park in the program to re-flood parts of the Kabbara Swamp, which was settled some 80 years ago. These areas are now part of the kibbutz farmlands, with the Timsah Spring Nature Reserve (the water source for Taninim Stream) as the only remnant of the Kabbara wetland.

"Over the years it turned out that part of the areas that were drained have a high saline water table and are no good for farming," the nature and parks authority's water expert Nissim Keshet explained. "We want to remove the upper level of soil and use water from the aquifer to flood two areas of 200 dunams (50 acres) each."

The outcome, Keshet said, will be a nature and tourism site that will attract various animals and particularly birds, and will bring back some of the animals and plants that thrived in the swamps in days gone by.

The authority's model for the project is Lake Agmon in the Hula Valley, which was once part of the Hula Swamp. The swamp was drained, re-flooded is and now one of the country's most popular tourism attractions.

"We toured there with the members of the kibbutz so they could see how farmland could be used for tourism to create a source of income for the kibbutz," Keshet said.

Nadav Raz, who is dealing with the matter for Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, declined to comment yesterday on the project except to say that the kibbutz members will be discussing it and deciding.

According to experts, development in Israel has led to the disappearance of more than 90 percent of the country's lakes, wetlands and seasonal rain pools that are an important source of biodiversity in plant and animal life.

About three years ago a regional masterplan for the Taninim Stream and its surroundings proposed a 1,000-dunam (250-acre) park that would include areas re-flooded with water from the aquifer.

If the kibbutz gives the nod, the authority will be able to finalize the plan and determine economic arrangements for management of the future park. The plan will highlight a number of nature and archaeological sites in the area of the Taninim Stream, the kibbutz fish ponds, the Mediterranean shoreline and ancient Roman dams and aqueducts.