Better control of sewage inflow could make the Alexander River even more attractive.
The Jordan River (which is dying) is not the only waterway in Israel, the PA, and Jordan, that has been in the center of environmental controversy. Virtually all of the region’s streams and rivers have their share of ecological problems, more notably the ones in the western part of Israel, a country whose rivers empty into the Mediterranean Sea. Following my previous article concerning the dire situation of the Lower Jordan I decided to check out another well known coastal stream, Nahal Alexander (the Alexander River), located a few kilometers south of Hadera River.
This stream has become a very popular picnic spot, despite it continuing to be very polluted; most of which comes from West Bank Arab cities and villages. A large West Bank olive oil processing plant is also partially responsible for the streams pollution, notes Moshe Perlmuter, a field ranger for the environmental NGO, Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). “A lot of work and money has been invested in trying to clean up this stream; but despite everything, it is still very polluted,” he says.
Near one of the area’s kibbutzim, Kibbutz Maabarot, a picnic area called Italy Park was constructed alongside the stream. And despite its continued pollution, the stream is still “home” to a population of giant soft-shelled turtles that are now located in a nature reserve managed by the Israel Nature Reserves Authority.
Nissim Almog, whose Alexander River Authority, in connection with the Ministry for the Environment is involved with the stream’s rehabilitation, says that the stream is contaminated with salt water all the way from the sea to Highway No. 4.
In addition, a lot of raw sewage and other wastes enter the stream from West Bank towns like Tulkarm, whose residents don’t seem to mind that their wastes are sent towards Israel. Almog noted that a sewage treatment plant built by Israel near Tulkarm, before it became part of the Palestine Authority, is not being maintained properly; even though the Israeli government pays money towards its upkeep. Almog notes the main pollution problem rests with the Palestinian Authority:
“They (the Palestinians) receive the money to take care of the facility, but do not use these funds to maintain it. Because of this, their sewage finds its way into the Alexander and other streams. I have no idea how much money is involved, but whatever it is, it is obviously being used for something else.”
Spillway on Alexander “up river”
Almog believes that a very good way to reduce the amount pollution in the Alexander is to create some marshy areas or wetlands to treat the pollution before it reaches Highway 4 and the section where most of the turtles are at.
He believes this will aerate the water and reduce levels of E-coli and other bacteria.
This seems like a good idea, especially following a Green Prophet article on September 8, 2009 which noted a very simple yet effective method of purifying water by filling plastic bottles with water and exposing the water to the sun’s radiation.
River residents: don’t feed them!
The part of the stream containing the giant Nile softshelled turtles is called “l’Yad ha Nahal” (By the Stream) and is now a park with picnic tables, a river walk with bike paths, and an observation tower which gives visitors a beautiful panoramic view of the stream and surrounding county-side.
The giant turtles, some with a length of as much as three quarters of a meter, are the star attraction here. Other wildlife present in and around the stream include coots and other water fowl, nutrias, swamp cats, and various indigenous fish such as catfish, tilapia (musht), river eels, and mullet.
Signs posted in various locations forbid feeding the turtles and fishing in the stream. When I visited the site recently, numerous people could be seen feeding parts of their picnic lunch to the large reptiles.
Contributors towards the restoration of the Alexander and other regional streams include the Jewish National Fund, the Israel Environment Ministry, and the Emek Hefer Regional Authority.
“The Alexander Stream Authority has invested more than N.S. 18 Million to rehabilitate the Hadera and Alexander streams, and we receive an annual budget allotment of N.S. 3 Million, which just isn’t enough to do our job properly,” Almog laments.
Photos: Maurice Picow
Read more on river and other forms of pollution in the Levant region: