New bill seeks to protect Israel's marine ecology

Palmachim beach Photo: Eyal Yizhar
Palmachim beach Photo: Eyal Yizhar

Adam Teva V'Din calls the proposed sea authority the most significant and comprehensive environmental legislation since the 2010 Clean Air Law.

A study prepared by Adalya Consulting and Management for the Adam Teva V'Din environmental organization states that the damage caused by current practices in Israel's territorial and economic waters amounts to at least NIS 731 million a year. The report was commissioned as part of the work of drafting the sea protection bill being readied for transfer to the Knesset Legal Bureau. The cost of the bill, which includes the establishment of a Sea Authority, is NIS 10.5 million a year, of which NIS 5 million is already being allocated for activities that will be transferred to the Authority.

Adam Teva V'Din calls the bill "The most significant and comprehensive written in the environmental field since the 2010 Clean Air Law." The chairs of the relevant Knesset committees - Finance Committee chairman MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism), Internal Affairs and Environment Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud), and Economic Affairs Committee chairman Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union) - together with Special Committee to Discuss the Bill for Increasing Competition and Reducing Concentration in Israel's Banking Market chair Rachel Azaria (Kulanu), Kulanu faction chair Roy Folkman, and Knesset environmental lobby chair MK Dov Khenin (Joint List), are sponsoring the bill. Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon supports the bill, and Adam Teva V'Din believes that it should be a government bill.

Adam Teva V'Din executive director Adv. Amit Bracha says, "This is a rare rallying of the coalition and opposition on behalf of Israel's most important natural resource - the Mediterranean Sea. It is inconceivable that the state neglected its energy, commercial, communications, and tourist base for years." According to Gafni, the proposal is a continuation of the coastal preservation legislation: "We'll continue to use legislation to take care of natural resources and the ecosystem, which belong to all of the people, and to put this situation right."

Instability and chaos

The preamble to the bill states, "Management of Israel's marine natural resources has suffered from instability and lack of binding long-term planning… the instability, combined with multiple regulators and interested parties operating in this sphere, leads to chaos that is damaging the ecosystem, governmental and private parties operating in the area, and the public in general."

The bill mentions the establishment of a new independent authority for managing the maritime region that will regulate the variety of uses for the marine environment and unite the authority currently dispersed among different agencies, which sometimes have contradictory interests. The authority will have five salaried positions with an annual cost of NIS 1.37 million out of a budget totaling NIS 10.5 million. NIS 5.9 million will be spent annually on monitoring the sea.

Under the proposed bill, the authority will be responsible for a general assessment of the marine environment, to be updated every five years. At the same time, the authority will prepare a national marine plan, to include general environmental preservation targets; environmental, social and economic considerations; various interests and their potential effect on the environment; and indices for assessing whether the plan is achieving its targets.

The authority will have a council with 13 members, the majority of whom will be directors general of the relevant government ministries. The authority will be authorized to issue permits and licenses in accordance with the national marine plan, and to instruct the various public authorities concerning the environmental conditions they should include in this process. The authority will also prepare a national outline plan for the Mediterranean Sea, define protected marine areas, and promote the extension of environmental legislation to Israel's economic waters.

The authority will also establish and a provide a budget for a national monitoring program, including the long-term gathering of scientific information that will provide an up-to-date and comprehensive picture of the state of the marine environment. It will establish a national marine information center incorporating all the information, which will be accessible to the general public, and audit the quality of the information. A marine enforcement administration will be established and made responsible for prioritizing and coordinating between all the enforcement agencies relevant to marine enforcement.

Adam Teva V'Din marine management head Adv. Tammy Ganot says that preservation of the ecosystem is important not only "in the classic sense of a variety of species and nature that are important in themselves, but also for our ability to makes use of the ecosystem, the use of water for desalinization, for example. Water contaminated with oil cannot be used for desalinization, and 70% of the drinking water today is from desalinization. That means that the sea cannot be used for fishing, which harms tourism, and requires taking notice of the enormous damage that can result from oil and gas exploration and drilling.

"The economic analysis does not include what happens if desalinization facilities are suddenly closed down for several days, and the damage to the economy," Ganot says. "This is not included in the opinion, because there is no such information about the probability of a malfunction causing desalinization plants to close down."

Such a shutdown took place last March at the Soreq desalinization facility, following contamination of seawater by treated wastewater. A serious case of pollution occurred last February, leading to the closure of the Palmachim beach to bathers and a recommendation not to visit the Soreq nature preserve.

"The Ministry of Health and the Israel Water Authority give approval for using water, and when there are high sewage values in the sea, they tell the desalinization plants to stop working. After this, the Water Authority fines the desalinization plant for not supplying the quantities of water they are obligated to supply. It's not a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing; it's a case of the right hand against the left hand," Ganot says.

The Water Authority said in response, "This involves surplus wastewater, not sewage. The solutions for proper removal of wastewater created in the Greater Tel Aviv region are complicated. They include finding additional consumers for treated wastewater, increasing the storage capacity for the wastewater produced in order to make it possible to use it during the irrigation season, and enlarging the percolation basins. The Water Authority is working on a plan to find long-term solutions for the problem, but such solutions are by nature complicated and expensive, and take a long time to implement.

"The Water Authority believes that the phenomenon can be significantly reduced within a few years."

Probability of a damaging leak

An economic analysis by Adaly calculated the damage caused by a leak, including three elements: the quantity of gas leaked, the probability of a leak based on studies of the probability of malfunctions in marine energy facilities, and calculation of the costs of the public damage from a leak, based on a model developed for the US Environmental Protection Agency. The bottom line is that the annual cost resulting from a leak is calculated at NIS 645.7 million.

The calculation of the cost of damage to the marine ecosystem was based on a model devised by a team of international researchers. The report states that it is not free of methodological problems, but is the sole relevant model that can be used. According to this model, the weighted value of a marine hectare (2.5 acres) is NIS 1,040. Assuming that the state of the system deteriorates by 3%, the damage is NIS 85 million.

According to Adalya, since the added cost of establishing the sea authority is NIS 5.5 million, i.e. 0.75% of the expected annual damage, it is enough for the authority to reduce the probability of damaging events by 0.75% to make it economically worth while

Published by Globes [online], Israel Business News - - on March 28, 2017

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2017

Palmachim beach Photo: Eyal Yizhar
Palmachim beach Photo: Eyal Yizhar
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