By Zafrir Rinat and Fadi Eyadat

Visitors to Tel Aviv’s Tzuk Beach likely noticed signs warning that bathing was prohibited due to water pollution. But a report released yesterday by the environmental advocacy group Zalul ahead of the summer beach season states that water quality at Israel’s beaches actually has improved significantly over the past year.

The report, released in conjunction with the health and environmental protection ministries, indicates that between 2007 and 2009 the number of pollution-induced bleach closures dropped dramatically, from 64 to 12. Moreover, the total closure time last winter was only half of that the winter before.

“The primary reason for this improvement is the success of consistent public pressure on the authorities,” said Zalul interim director Ezer Fischler. “In the past we had to chase after local authorities to deal with [water-quality] problems, but now they quickly report to us about any problem with the sewage system, and how they intend to deal with it.”

Zeev Fish, the Health Ministry’s national public health inspector, said government bodies and local authorities had created a system for individuals to quickly report contamination, leaks or other problems with their sewage systems.

“We can’t deploy someone next to every pipe, so we need to receive information from various sources,” Fish said, noting that the national government has still not devoted enough resources to address water quality issues. “There is no budgeting – we’re dependent on the motivation of a few people whose services we employ.”

Currently no large Israeli coastal city dumps unpurified waste into the sea, and only a handful of cities dump purified waste.

Yesterday, a faint whiff of sewage hung in the air as Zalul representatives toured Naot Beach in the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Haim, but Fish assured them that samples taken from the seawater were free from dangerous levels of pollutants.

Farther south, on an undesignated beach opposite the Telma-Unilever factory, high concentrations of fats were found that could potentially lead to dangerous pollution levels. An Environmental Protection Ministry representative, Galia Pasternak, said however that the contamination levels measured were within government-authorized limits.

Fish said that Acre Beach – often closed due to contaminants emitted from nearby Galilee communities – would open this week. The announcement came after the Health Ministry reached an understanding with Carmiel city hall that the municipality would report every instance of waste dumped from its purification facility into waterways leading to the sea.

Pasternak noted that the Environmental Protection Ministry is continuing to fund a project for cleaning up undesignated beaches.

Ministry data indicate that most such beaches remain relatively clean, with the notable exception of those in the Acre and Galilee area.