NIS 88 million to go to rehabilitation of streams, with an eye to flood prevention

Funding will be used for drainage to ensure that excess water can be absorbed by natural measures or sustainable manmade ones

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

Dredging slurry from the Nablus Stream before it flows into the Alexander River. (Courtesy, Alon Heyman)
Dredging slurry from the Nablus Stream before it flows into the Alexander River. (Courtesy, Alon Heyman)

The Environment and Agriculture ministries on Sunday announced an unprecedented NIS 88 million ($25 million) to be spent this year on the rehabilitation of streams and their environs to reduce flooding.

The Agriculture Ministry will provide NIS 55 million of the sum and the Environmental Protection Ministry NIS 33 million.

A joint statement said the money would be given to projects that rehabilitate streams, reducing surface runoff in floodplain areas and in residential neighborhoods nearby.

Throughout history, rivers and streams have burst their banks after heavy rainfall, sending water into floodplains — the adjacent absorbent wetland areas.

In Israel, as in many other countries, most of those wetlands have been dried out to allow for agriculture and construction.

This means that when streams overflow, much of the water will reach asphalt surfaces as runoff. Unless there is infrastructure in place to absorb the water, it will flood roads and buildings.

Flood prevention measures can range from building and maintaining manmade drains or biofilters in urban areas or installing permeable pavements to dredging sediment from the bottom of streams to enable them to hold more water and building ponds between streams and nearby neighborhoods to absorb any excess.

In a further move, the Environmental Protection Ministry has agreed with planning authorities on the creation of a national zoning plan for flood-prone areas. This is aimed at mapping and then protecting streams and other areas of land that perform an important role in absorbing winter rains.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg welcomed the opportunity not only to reduce flooding but also to rehabilitate the country’s streams which, she said, had long suffered from neglect and dirt.

Agriculture Minister Oded Forer noted that flooding was on the increase because of the climate crisis, global warming and urban development.

Israel is an arid country without any large rivers. It has some permanent streams fed by springs, but most are seasonal ones that fill up during the winter and form dry streambeds during the summer.

Many streams have long suffered from pollution and neglect. The need to rehabilitate them is now on the agenda thanks to increased environmental awareness and an uptick in floods.

Sometimes, the flow of streams is blocked by the dumping of refuse. In other cases, streams are polluted from various sources, among them industrial waste, waste entering Israeli streams from the West Bank, waste from cattle grazing nearby, pesticide and herbicide runoff, and bacteria from treated sewage water from reservoirs that overflow during heavy rainfall.

Cows at the Tavor Stream nature reserve, March 19, 2021. (Yahav Gamliel/Flash90)

During the summer, Israelis are regularly warned not to enter certain streams in the north of the country because of the presence of bacteria.

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has been installing water troughs 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.

The cash announced Sunday comes on top of another unprecedented sum — NIS 1.2 billion ($345 million) — agreed on in March between the Agriculture and Finance ministries and the Israel Lands Authority Ministry to fund 13 drainage infrastructure projects between now and 2026.

The NIS 1.2 billion is in addition to the NIS 275 million ($80 million) previously budgeted for these years and will focus on reducing flooding in existing urban areas and locations with the potential for major housing development.

A Israeli man tries to open a sewer drain as water floods a street during a storm in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, on October 25, 2015. (AFP/Jack Guez)

A year ago, the state comptroller issued a stinging report on the lack of flood control measures by four local authorities from March to October 2020.

It focused on Nahariya in the north, where flooding in January 2020 inundated large parts of the city center and killed one person, Ashkelon in the south, Kfar Saba in the center, and Jisr az-Zarqa, a crowded Arab hamlet on the coast south of Haifa.

Seven people lost their lives to flooding during torrential rains over several weeks in late December 2019 and early January 2020, particularly near the coast. Among the dead were two young people who drowned in a flooded elevator in a Tel Aviv apartment building.

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