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Nature groups deploy cattle troughs in bid to cut pollution near Sea of Galilee

With health and environment ministries regularly warning about polluted streams in Israel’s north, initiative underway to keep cows away, vaccinate them against leptospirosis

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Israelis enjoy boating on the Hatzbani River in northern Israel on June 2, 2010. (Edi Israel/ Flash90)
Israelis enjoy boating on the Hatzbani River in northern Israel on June 2, 2010. (Edi Israel/ Flash90)

More than 50 cattle troughs have been placed around streams in the Sea of Galilee catchment area in northern Israel as part of a program to keep livestock away from the water bodies and reduce pollution.

Working on behalf of the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority is carrying out the project and monitoring its success by following cattle equipped with GPS collars.

So far, according to the INPA, the results are encouraging and another 50 troughs will be put in place in the coming year.

Every summer, when the Galilee is full of visitors, the Environmental Protection and Health ministries issue joint warnings about particular northern streams where representative sampling has shown excessive levels of coliform bacteria, which generally originate in the intestines of warm-blooded animals.

The Health Ministry sets the test parameters and funds water sampling, which INPA inspectors carry out. If pollution is found, the Environmental Protection Ministry is responsible for inspecting and dealing with the problem.

But in most cases, according to an Environmental Protection Ministry spokesperson, the exact cause of high fecal coliform levels cannot be identified. They may be due to sewage wastewater, the presence of animals or wildfowl, or even humans.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority is distributing cattle troughs around streams in the Sea of Galilee catchment area in a bid to lure cattle away from natural waters and reduce pollution. (Yonatan Harari, INPA)

The cattle trough project, to which NIS 14 million ($4.3 million) has been allocated, resulted from government decision 4528 in March 2019 to clean up northern streams.

In parallel, the Veterinary Service is vaccinating cattle against leptospirosis, a potentially fatal disease transmitted via animal urine that broke out last year.

A spokeswoman for the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund said that her organization was helping to cut stream pollution by building reservoirs to collect effluent, building green basins to filter out effluent before it reaches streams and maintaining the Hula Lake, which helps to filter and clean water before it flows into the Jordan River and the Sea of ​​Galilee.

The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said that while in principle, the authorities had limited the presence of coliforms to 400 CFU (colony forming units) per 100 milliliters of water, they had in practice allowed up to 1,000 CFU in recent years, until the leptospirosis outbreak, following which they returned to the stricter 400 CFU.

The presence of coliform bacteria does not in itself necessarily cause harmful illnesses, although their presence can indicate other more harmful pathogens.

The SPNI said that more accurate pollution tests were currently being researched and piloted, and that further research should be carried out into the relationship between pollution test results and actual risk of sickness with the aim of coming up with a basket of indicators out of which a new standard could be established for monitoring stream pollution.

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