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The Pathology of a Polluted River
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REVIVING THE YARKON

After twenty-five years of total dormancy, the Streams Authority Law was finally given some life with the establishment of a Yarkon Streams Authority in 1988. (It took the better part of another decade for the next River Authority to be declared.) The idea behind the 1965 statute was to introduce a watershedwide approach to river reclamation in Israel. The responsibilities of the Authority include pollution prevention enforcement, planning, licens-ing, and drainage. These responsibilities extend beyond the meager 20 meters of land on each river bank over which the Authority exerts direct control.

David Pargament took over the Yarkon River Authority after one too many photogenic “fish kills” hit the Israeli press and left top brass at the Environmental Ministry dissatisfied with his predecessor.[35] Pargament, a surprise appointment, strikes an unconventional figure in Israel's environ-mental bureaucracy. A physically imposing man, his long beard and ponytail (still red), preference for jeans, and American education give him a rugged cowboylike persona.

Selected for the Yarkon River Authority position, after working as a rel-atively aggressive nature reserve field inspector, Pargament had all the requisite ecological qualifications, enforcement orientation, and rapport


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with environmental groups to make him a relatively popular figure. He downplayed expectations after his appointment, explaining that much of the reported improvement in the river's quality was exaggerated. The re-cent spate of fish kills was largely due to the fact that previously there had simply been no fish in the river at all.[36] No one expected miracles, but they did want progress. And they got it.

A comprehensive master plan was drafted to preserve the river. Pargament, with the help of a broad coalition, got the strategy passed in principle through the labyrinth of planning procedures and the affected city councils. The operational objectives that the plan set for itself included drainage, ecological rehabilitation, preserving the “green lungs” for the most populated area in Israel, and changing the Yarkon's image “so that the public perceived it as a front yard rather than a backyard.”[37]

With the personal interest of a concerned, Tel Aviv–based Minister of the Environment and his director general, the River Authority's budget grew. The restoration of the upper seven kilometers made great progress, becom-ing one of the better-kept recreational secrets of the greater Tel Aviv area. Many of the recalcitrant cities, such as Kfar Saba and Ramat ha-Sharon, began to make a serious commitment to sewage treatment upgrading.

Even before this, the Yarkon rehabilitation efforts were already hailed as a success story by Israel's Ministry of the Environment. A 1994 propaganda piece reads:

The success of the rehabilitation program is already evident in the re-turn of flora and fauna to a restored seven-kilometer stretch, in the de-velopment of boating and fishing areas, and in the eradication of mos-quitoes using biological control. A few kilometers upstream, near Petah Tikvah, the National Parks Authority officially inaugurated the Mekorot ha-Yarkon (Sources of the Yarkon) National Park in October 1993. The park includes historic sites, a pastoral atmosphere, and river-bank vegetation with public access.[38]

Reconciling this rosy picture with the poisoned athletes is not simple. However, in small countries such as Israel it is not uncommon to have pris-tine natural enclaves adjacent to significant contamination.


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The Pathology of a Polluted River
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