The Sewage-to-sewage Trek

The traditional "sea-to-sea" trek, from Lake Galilee to the Mediterranean is now buried underneath a pile of refuse.

Many years ago, when I was a member of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, one of my favorite hikes was the traditional "sea-to-sea" trek, known to past and present members of other youth movements as well. It is a journey through breathtaking landscapes in the Galilee region, from the Mediterranean to Lake Kinneret. The hike's low point was the depressing sight and stench of Safed's sewage flowing in the perennial stream of Nahal Amud.

Over the years, the sewage problem in Nahal Amud was solved, but the sense that Israel was a purposeful nation, which protects its natural treasures, did not last for long. In recent years, and particularly in recent weeks, Galilean streams and springs, in the western path of the sea-to-sea hike, have been transformed into sewage channels. White, foaming remains of cleaning fluids, which arrive with sewage, have become an almost daily sight in the Ga'aton and Nahal Kaziv Springs. To paraphrase a well-known song, one might say that, in the Galilee, everything returns to the depths (waste water) except for the white suds that simply refuse to trickle down.

Now, a fifth of the drinking water available to residents of the Western Galilee region is seriously threatened by pollution. Next summer, the Mekorot Water Company will apparently have little choice but to transfer water from the southern parts of Lake Kinneret to supply those residents with water.

All the animals in the polluted streams died, and the Nature and Parks Protection Authority officials fear that exquisitely beautiful and rare dolev plane trees (Platanus orientalis) at the Nahal Kaziv spring will suffer a similar fate. If raw sewage is not enough, toxic metals, naturally present in the ground, have also invaded the once-potable water in these springs. The metals were released from surrounding earth in a chemical reaction caused by flowing sewage.

This is not an instance of sudden pollution, but a result of the chronic financial crisis that makes local councils incapable of adequately managing waste water in their jurisdictions. That is the case in the villages of Beit Jann and Hurfeish, which polluted Nahal Kaziv, and the villages of Yanoach and Jatt and Jewish communities with adjacent industrial zones that polluted other streams in the Galilee region.

Ministries appear to have taken necessary measures to rectify this situation. In recent years, they accelerated establishment of sewage infrastructure, and established a system of transport and management of liquid waste, in Yanoach and Jatt, but the system is not currently operating because of debts owed by those local councils. Ministries were also quick to examine pollution problems, and the water commissioner issued a strict order to the Yanoach and Jatt local councils demanding they address their sewage problems.

But the severity of the crisis and its persistence indicate these measures are insufficient, and that greater determination and deeper involvement in local council issues are required. In a country where water resources are severely limited and nature preserves are ultra-sensitive to pollution, we must not permit these chronic hazards.

The Infrastructure, Finance and Interior ministries now have the means and the plans necessary to assure that local councils do not waste residents' money for purposes other than water and waste management. Among other measures, there is the option of creating regional corporations that directly collect fees to handle water and sewage and to operate necessary infrastructure.

In some currently polluted areas, there are plans to connect sewage pipes with central purification systems that do not rely on those same problematic local councils. Swift implementation of these plans would save nature from the plague of pollution.

Next month, a government water administration, with many avenues of authority, will begin operations and replace the water commissioner. Until now, one of the main factors that contributed to inefficient water management was the multiplicity of ministries and bodies that dealt with water. One organization measured above ground and one measured below ground. One body handled infrastructure and another handled local council leaders. If the new administration fails to formulate efficient policy and fails to coordinate the efforts of various local councils, Israel will continue to wallow in pollution, and the enormous budgets invested in sewage infrastructure and water will continue to sink into our streams and springs.