Environmentalist says although a third of the springs are dried up, they are important to showing the area’s 3,000-year-old history.

Residents of the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, Beit Shemesh and Abu Ghosh areas are calling for the establishment of a national body to coordinate the plethora of institutions involved with spring rehabilitation.

“There is a feeling that even though there are a lot of people, no one is taking care of this,” said Uri Ramon of the Open Landscape Institute, who is an environmental planner for Mateh Yehuda.

Ramon was addressing a group of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians during a recent workshop session at a conference focusing on regional groundwater maintenance.

Although many different local and national government bodies are charged with caring for the country’s springs, the lack of coordination among them results in ineffective rehabilitation schemes, Ramon and his colleagues argued. Ultimately, he said, while the government should establish a national network that coordinates cooperation with all of the relevant parties, the actual treatment of the springs should be the job of the body in whose jurisdiction a spring is located.

The conference, which took place on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea, was organized by regional environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) and the European Union’s European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument Cross-Border Cooperation in the Mediterranean (ENPI-CBCMED).

There are about 70 springs in the Mateh Yehuda region, including in the Beit Shemesh and Abu Ghosh municipalities, Ramon explained. While the springs are not significant in terms of water quantity – a third are actually dried up – they “present the history for 3,000 years of the people who lived in Mateh Yehuda,” he said. He added that despite dwindling water levels, these springs had great ecological importance and were beacons for treks and tourism activities.

Among the many bodies responsible for taking care of the springs are the local municipalities, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), the Environmental Protection Ministry, the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.

“Each body has its own policies,” said Avraham Bracha, director of the Shorek Environmental Unit, which covers the Mateh Yehuda, Beit Shemesh and Abu Ghosh areas.

Of the 70 total springs, 33 are designated as INPA and national forest territories, while the other springs fall in municipal agricultural areas, he explained.

In the past few years, the Shorek Environmental Unit has begun to bring all of the responsible parties together to devise policies that work for the benefit of the springs, Bracha said. In addition, groups of volunteers have been coming to the springs to participate in cleaning.

Yet bureaucracy is constantly slowing down the development of rehabilitation policies and plans, he explained.

The environmental planners have chosen to focus on seven of the region’s springs, studying each one and determining what most demands development.

The seven springs are located in three areas: Even Sapir, Mevo Betar and Abu Ghosh-Ein Rafa, Bracha said.

According to Ramon, those evaluating the springs will conclude their surveys shortly and will then begin devising plans with all of the relevant authorities.

“These springs seem really clean, but in reality, the community found near Ein Sapir [Moshav Even Sapir] has no sewage network, and therefore you can see that there are different types of pollution,” Ramon said, citing the presence of nitrates as well as carbomeziphine, which is a clear indicator for domestic sewage.

Ultimately some of the springs will require extensive rehabilitation, while others will simply need preservation and protection, Bracha explained.

Meir Balayish, deputy mayor for Mateh Yehuda and Beit Shemesh, described the beauty of the region’s landscapes, emphasizing that Beit Shemesh should not be known simply for the ongoing conflicts among its ultra-Orthodox and national-religious populations. The state, he said, must take responsibility for the springs, which are so much a part of the region’s tourism.

“There needs to be a national law in which the government makes a decision for all the relevant bodies to work together,” Balayish said.