2018 ended with one our most significant achievements in recent years: governmental approval for our plan to return natural water flow to seven rivers in northern Israel, at a cost of over 80 million NIS.

For many years Israel has suffered from a severe water-shortage crisis; in recent years, however, large amounts of seawater have been desalinated, providing relief from the ongoing crisis. The seawater desalination system provides a window of opportunity to change the trend of destruction to Israel’s rivers.

SPNI proposes an achievable vision for river restoration based on the following principles: sustainable management of natural water resources, restoring natural spring flow, defining criteria for groundwater extraction, adopting an ecohydrological approach, and changing the administrative structure responsible for river management. This challenge requires resources and an extended period of time, but it is certainly possible if we can manage to prioritize this issue.\

About a decade ago, we initiated a system-wide effort in the area of water and rivers. At the time, a difficult one for the water economy, we advanced many professional aspects of river restoration, as well as extensive education activities as part of the “River Keepers” educational project. This effort led to one of our most significant achievements in recent years: approval of a plan to re-establish the natural flow of seven rivers in northern Israel.

The approved plan is based on one we initiated three years ago, named “Three Years, Eight Rivers – Practical Steps to Return the Water Flow to Israel’s Rivers.” In that plan, we presented our vision and rationale for returning life to these rivers.

In this plan we presented the situation that prevailed in the not-so-distant past, when it was still possible to enjoy the clear water flowering in the rivers near the coast and in valleys. Unfortunately, the ongoing water crisis in Israel led to critical damage to these rivers, which dried up and were polluted. We identified an opportunity when the water economy began to put stock into the establishment of desalination plants – an opportunity to return to nature a little of what we have taken from it over the years, and to promote a general plan for river restoration, with the aim of restoring their natural flow and health. This plan did indeed interest the staff at the Ministry of Energy, including Minister Steinitz in the past. However, the conditions for promoting this plan in practice developed only in recent months; in fact, the opportunity arose in the context of the severe water crisis we find ourselves in.

We requested that the plan to be included in the recent national budget proposal. We even produced a video calling on the Minister to promote the plan, which was shared widely on the internet; however, it was not ultimately included in the budget.

Fortunately, the campaign did not fail to meet its objective! In a meeting that took place in the middle of the year with the Minister of Energy, he told us that his vision includes restoring life to the rivers and the Sea of Galilee, and that he would ask for the plan to be included in a government decision that he would be promoting shortly. Thus began our pressure campaign to obtain the decision proposal, study it, integrate our plan into it, and primarily – to try to raise the funds for its promotion behind the scenes. After a number of weeks, while promoting a public campaign for the rivers intended to put pressure on the Minister to promote the plan, we found out that the proposal promoted by the Minister, which focuses on coping with drought, does indeed include a plan to return water to seven rivers – Betzet, Einan, Ga’aton, Na’aman, Kishon, Tzipori, and Hadera – most of which were recommended by our plan. This involves a budget of over 80 million NIS, intended mainly to release agricultural control of spring water and release this natural water to the rivers.

Educating the Next Generation of River Keepers

For many years we have been working in partnership with the Ministry for Environmental Protection and regional drainage authorities to develop and lead the “River Keepers” educational program. Dozens of groups of children work at rivers around the country. The aim of the program is to instill a feeling of belonging and affinity between the river community and the river, to connect the region’s residents to the natural resources and heritage around them, and to encourage environmental stewardship by combining the physical restoration plan with the educational program.

We support public activities by local residents and activists for the restoration and care of rivers and water sources, for example, the activity to restore Taninim River and the activity to restore Ein Sharona, led by the Western Galilee Field School.

We will continue working to raise public awareness about spring and river restoration at both the national and local scale; to formulate agreements for catchment (ecohydrological) management of the rivers; to turn drainage authorities into catchment authorities; to reinstate the Ministry for Environmental Protection as the highest authority for river restoration – within the framework of the Streams Law, while allocating drainage authorities the role of dominant operational player and strengthening the environmental aspects of their activities – within the framework of the Drainage and Flood Control Law.

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