The Yarqon River Authority is a statutory authority that was established in 1988 under the Israeli Streams and Springs Authorities Law (1965). It incorporates 18 different public organizations, including seven local authorities bordering the river banks, government ministries, and others. The Authority’s functions include drainage works, rehabilitating the river and adapting it for leisure and recreational purposes. In this article, David Pargament, the General Director of the Yarqon River Authority, reflects on the organization’s role in rehabilitating the urban watershed.
Of the many crucial issues that we needed to consider when we began to tackle the rehabilitation of the Yarqon River, one that stood out was the realization that we will never be able to return the river to its condition before human activity began changing it. Another one was accepting that our decisions will be based on partial understanding of the ecosystem and, farther down the road, we understood that our actions would have to be scrutinized carefully and re-evaluated and adjusted (i.e. adaptive management). I dare say that this is true for the vast majority of rivers impacted by humans, if not all of them, and most definitely for all those that suffer from human-induced water scarcity.
The somewhat new concept of ‘ecosystem services’ increases the significance of human tampering with the environment since by definition ‘ecosystem services’ pertain to the human point of view. To make things more complicated or worse, these services relate to the economic aspects of this point of view. Even if we do our best to adhere to the original river, we know that we can’t quite get there which means that, for all practical purposes, we are creating something new. To me, this is scary, carrying profound implications, heavy responsibilities and many questions.
Here are just a few examples of these questions:
- How free are we, or should we be, to make decisions? What constraints must we impose on ourselves?
- Whose needs are we balancing? Are we balancing our own needs or those of the river?
- How creative or permissive can we be in using resources that are not considered natural?
- How can we prioritize the many factors that need to be considered so that the result of our actions will be the one that we wanted?
- How do the principles of sustainability fit in? Do they?
A common denominator for these questions is that few, if any, of the solutions are provided by governance and regulatory authorities. This has advantages because it leaves room for flexibility, but, on the other hand, it creates difficulties when dealing with the regulatory authorities.
In the case of the Yarqon, decisions were the result of processes that increased our understanding of the river and its interaction with the watershed and the environment – including the human one. As the Yarqon River Authority, we operate as a public entity comprised of 18 organizations including municipalities, government agencies and public organizations. All of our activities follow open debates and we engage in decision-making, funding and implementing projects followed by monitoring and reporting results. The basis for our activity is a Master Plan that was approved in 1996.
The Yarqon flows through the most heavily populated area in Israel and, as such, is extremely important as a factor for improving the quality of life for many. The river is 27 km long and drains a watershed of 1,600 sq. km., 60% of which lies to the east of the “green line”, the border between Israel and the West Bank before June 1967. This location makes the Yarqon a trans-boundary watershed.
We divide our activities into three main fields: ecology and environment; flood mitigation; and recreation. These are some of the main activities in each field:
Ecology and environment – Reducing pollution sources; habitat reconstruction; bank stabilization; vegetation rehabilitation; flora and fauna reintroduction, including rehabilitating the population of Acanthobrama telavivensis (an endangered endemic fish) and successfully reintroducing it into the river; water allocations, including tertiary effluents that are diverted to a constructed wetland before flowing into the Yarqon.
Flood mitigation – Hydrologic and hydraulic modelling on a watershed scale; defining and securing floodplains through the Planning and Building Law; limited work in the riverbed; monitoring and involvement in construction and infrastructure planning processes, permitting and building;
Recreation – Bicycle and pedestrian paths and bridges; rowing, following compliance with water quality requirements and extensive monitoring; tree planting.
In conclusion, rehabilitating the Yarqon is a complex and complicated task on the conceptual level as well as during implementation. We don’t have all of the knowledge that we need nor do we have sufficient tools – water and funds – but many things can and have been done to significantly enhance the river and its corridor.
More information on the Yarqon River can be found at http://www.yarqon.org.il/?lang=en
About the author – Dr. David Pargament is the General Director of the Yarqon River Authority. He has held this position since 1993. Under his direction, the organization has engaged in activities such as creating a master plan for the river and managing the plan’s implementation; initiating and participating in research concerning river rehabilitation and public health issues; being involved in planning and projects in the river corridor related to urban development, transportation infrastructure, electrical power installations, wastewater treatment, water supply systems, natural gas and communication pipelines; and creating protocols for emergency responses to extreme events (among many other accomplishments). David holds a PhD in Geography from Haifa University in Israel.