Yarkon River – A Waterway in Revision with a Tragic Past

yarkon river israelOnce you could lose your life if you fell in. Rowing in cleaner waters? The Yarkon River has been upgraded – so they say!

This installment of articles on Israel’s coastal waterways, deals with the Yarkon River, one of the country’s shortest, as well as one of the most publicized. It begins at Tel Afek, also known by its Greek name Antipatris near the suburban community of Rosh HaAyin, just outside Tel Aviv; where we noted recently that signs of oil were discovered here.

The Yarkon’s total length is only 27.5 km with an actual “straight distance” of only 17 km. The river has had a very colorful and sometimes tragic past; and is also known as the river where 4 Australian athletes lost their lives when a bridge they were crossing collapsed into the river during the opening ceremonies to the 1997 Maccabiah Games. They died from the pollution in the river.

This tragedy was instrumental in bringing the environmental issues of the Yarkon to the attention of the Israeli public. Since then, efforts have been made by the Yarkon River Authority and various government bodies to find ways to reduce the amount of pollution in the river, caused mainly from industrial and storm wastes, and by diverting most of the river’s natural supply of fresh water into the country’s National Water Carrier. As has occurred with the Lower Jordan River, less than 2% of the Yarkon’s original flow reaches the sea.

Established in 1988, the Authority is now headed by David Pergamant, who we spoke to concerning its efforts to improve the quality of the river water, as well as make the river safe for activities such as boating and fishing.

Both Pergamant, and his assistant Yonathan Raz insist that the Yarkon is now much less polluted that it was in previous years. When asked about the deaths of the 4 Australian athletes, Pergamant said that 3 of the athletes actually died from drowning.

He said that what did cause many to get sick, including a young Australian named Shasha Elterman, was a river fungus that attacks the lungs and causes a condition similar to a severe case of pneumonia. Elterman survived the accident, but suffered permanent damage to her lungs. Raz noted that the fungus involved “is a very common one often found in the silt of slow moving rivers and streams”. He added that the athletes’ deaths “had nothing to do with actual pollution”.

Investigations conducted in the aftermath of the Maccabiah tragedy, appear to indicate otherwise, however.

Both Pergamant and Raz insist that since the completion of the Hod Hasharon sewage treatment plant, the water quality of the Yarkon has greatly improved, and that now “no industrial wastes are intentionally channeled into the Yarkon.”

The new sewage treatment plant enables a “three time use” of the water, and the amount that is returned to river is much cleaner. Projects that the Yarkon River Authority is presently involved in include the construction of a water park and recreational area in Hod Hasharon, as well as projects in the greater Tel Aviv metro area.

“The Yarkon is now safe for all kinds of boating activities including those like kayaking, when secondary contact with the water is made,” Pergamant insists.

A number of local and national entities are involved in the upgrading and maintence of the Yarkon river including local city councils (Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Bnei Brak, Ramat Gan, Hod Hasharon, Ramat Hasharon, and Petach Tikvah); Government Agriculture, Environment, Health and Infrastructure Ministries; The Israel Highways and Railways Authorities, the Israel Electric Company; and the Mekorot Water Company, a very big “contributor” to the river’s extremely low natural flow.

The Yarqon River Authority’s annual operating budget for the year 2010 amounts to NIS 4,445,000 (more than $1 million USD). According to data in the Authority’s Annual Report (in Hebrew), the amount of funds allocated for their use has not increased significantly since the year 2003, and has even decreased by 22% in real terms.

“For this reason, we requested a budget increase of 37%, including 17.75% for increases in the COL Index. Without such an increase, we will not be able to successfully complete the projects we are currently undertaking,” Pergamant added. Of the current operating budget, nearly half, or NIS is 1,880,000 is earmarked for upgrading and strengthening the Tel Afek river source area as well as the area of the new Hod Hasharon River Park.

As with the Kishon River Authority’s annual budget, a significant part (NIS 1,675,000) goes towards paying salaries and administrative expenses.

Information about projects the Yarqon River Authority is currently engaged in can be found on their website:  It’s good to learn that this river is now on an upbeat side, after having such an unsavory past.

Photo credit:   Yarkon River Authority

Read more on  pollution issues affecting Israel’s fresh water sources:
Israel Pollution and Political Issues Often are Intertwined
Unholy Waters: The Lower Jordan River is Nearly Dead
Interview with Mekorot Water Company’s CEO

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