State begins rehabilitation of polluted Haifa stream

Pumping station will divert pollutants from Saadia stream, which flows through northern city’s industrial area. But, says activist, it won’t solve winter sewage flow

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A section of the Saadia Stream that flows through the northern city of Haifa. (Haifa Municipality Spokesperson's Department)
A section of the Saadia Stream that flows through the northern city of Haifa. (Haifa Municipality Spokesperson's Department)

A beautiful but little-known stream whose mostly clear waters flow year-round through the industrial area of the northern city of Haifa and out into the Mediterranean Sea is to undergo an initial stage of rehabilitation to remove pollutants, the city announced Monday.

Six springs feed the Saadia stream. The first and biggest is located near the busy Checkpost Junction. The water comes from rainfall that has percolated through the Carmel mountains into the groundwater.

The stream goes under Route 4 and the Carmel tunnels, which allow passage between between the west and east of the city. It then enters open land, passing through an area of light industry before meeting the Kishon River and draining out to sea.

Next week, construction will begin on a pumping station to operate during the dry summer months to remove contaminated water that enters the drainage infrastructure from industries such as printing presses, vehicle repair shops, and ironmongeries. The pumping station will divert what is in the drains away from the stream to a sewage treatment plant, close to the nearby Bazan oil refinery complex.

The project, which involves the environmental protection and agriculture ministries, the Kishon Drainage Authority, and the Haifa Municipality, will also see the removal of invasive plants and planting of native species, the laying of paths, and the installation of seating corners.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said the pumping station marked the first step of a comprehensive plan to restore the stream.

The Saadia Stream in northern Israel’s Haifa flows through an Ottoman bridge. (Aaadir, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

A separate, major program to overhaul the entire Haifa Bay and turn it into a clean, green residential and business hub for the entire metropolitan area foresees large, high-tech buildings on nearby land along the route of the stream.

The stream, its banks, and the moist meadows around it are home to a variety of mammals, birds, and aquatic creatures, including softshell turtles, kingfishers, and fish species.

This richness is afforded in part by the fact that the stream starts as freshwater and becomes increasingly salty as it nears the sea, providing a range of habitats.

A blue water lily. (JMK, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

According to environmental activist Arik Drobot, however, the project does not yet address the main source of pollution, which is sewage. This flows into the river in winter when the rains overwhelm the sewage treatment plant.

Drobot, who grew up in Nesher, just outside Haifa, only discovered the stream when looking for natural areas during the coronavirus epidemic.

Appalled at the neglect, the sewage, and the building waste in and around the waterway — which is still the cleanest along this part of the coast — he set up the not-for-profit Clean up the Saadia Stream organization to raise awareness, bring people for cleanup days, and organize tours.

He has partnered with botanical experts to start returning waterlilies, including the blue lotus, also known as the sacred blue lily of the Nile, which was once common in the stream but is rare today, throughout Israel.

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