Rivers and Streams

Israel’s rivers are in a state of crisis. Problems include drainage – draining water from the waterways for industrial, agricultural and residential use; sewage dumping – sewage and other waste, often toxic, is being dumped in the rivers; lack of enforcement – plans to protect the rivers and streams are postponed; and rapid development – unsustainable land development along stream banks cause serious harm to rivers, streams and water habitats.

SPNI's River Rehabilitation Campaign strategically researches the problems, suggests solutions and networks with the various organizations to agree on a master plan, while running a public awareness campaign on river, stream and water management issues. At this time, a dedicated SPNI team, including hydrologists and ecologists, are examining the current state of the ecosystem, working to define the quantity of water needed to rehabilitate streams and ensure long-term security to Israel's natural ecosystem. Results will be used as a basis for quota requirements which will later be requested from the Israel Water Authority.

Reviving Streams and Wetlands in Israel

Due to human action only 3% of Israel’s aquatic habitats remain. Of this remaining 3% most of Israel’s rivers are polluted by sewage and industrial waste water. Most of this damage can be attributed to three government policies: straightening rivers to create fields for crops at the expense of flood plains, diverting spring water for use in agriculture and direct drilling of groundwater. However, by 2020 Israel is expected to desalinate over 650 million cubic meters of water per year, enough to supply the entire water demand of the urban sector. This new source of watercoupled with a planned increase in using treated waste water in agriculture has created a unique opportunity to restore water flow in Israel to its natural state and reverse the damage of the previous century. SPNI has developed a three pronged strategy to achieve this.

Restoring Water Flow to Rivers
Israel’s spring and ground water system is currently overexploited due to poor policy making by the Israel Water Authority. SPNI plans to institute red lines and restrictions to eliminate over-extraction and allow Israel’s underground reservoirs to refill. SPNI also demands that in places where there is a threat to spring flow that no new drilling permits are agreed. Limiting groundwater drilling should see an increase in spring flow and flow renewal in dried up springs. This process should also see an increase in the water level of the Sea of Galilee. If successful this will fresh water flow along over 600 km of river beds in Israel, an increase and improvement from the current situated of polluted water running along approximately 218km of Israel’s rivers.
 
Integrated Management of River Systems 
SPNI plans to instigate an eco-hydrological approach to river management, replacing the current drainage approach. The eco-hydrological approach advocates broadening the riparian corridors (areas of vegetation around rivers) allowing for the restoration of meanders and floodplains in the upper reaches of rivers. Israel’s current river management policies straightens rivers, reducing or removing riparian corridors which increases agricultural space but increases the risk of flash flooding and destroys habitat. Restoration of the riparian corridors will allow aquatic and river ecosystems to recover increasing the value of rivers for conservation and recreation.
 
Changing the Managerial Structure and Merging Authorities for River Management
Many of the problems currently facing Israel’s river systems can be traced back to the river system’s management bodies. There is currently no unified body or set of laws that governs Israel’s river systems. SPNI proposes that Israel’s government should adopt the conclusions of a policy study the Open Landscape Institute (run by SPNI) and create a single management entity to deal with Israel’s rivers. This new body would be responsible for above-ground water management, reducing soil erosion and conservation of natural resources in river drainage basins.

Executive Report: Reviving Streams and Wetlands in Israel