Swiss Agricultural Experts Visit Kfar Saba Biofilter

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 3:35 PM

"Water pollution in our country is definitely on the rise, and we have much to learn in Israel.”

A delegation from the Swiss Association for Farm Machinery (SVLT) pays a visit to the Kfar Saba biofilter, a KKL-JNF supported pilot project that cleans polluted urban runoff for recycling.
“This visit to the biofilter is very interesting and important for us because while Switzerland may be known as the “Water Tower of Europe” due to our immense clean water resources, water pollution in our country is definitely on the rise, and we have much to learn in Israel,” said Dr. Roman Engeler, Vice Director of SVLT, on a 2-hour tour of the pilot Biofilter installation in Kfar Saba.  
Dr. Engeler was accompanied by two other senior members of SVLT: Mr. Willi Zollinger who was accompanied by his wife Marianne, and Mr. Ulrich Günthardt. They came to visit and observe the Kfar Saba biofilter, which lies at the center of a green park surrounded by residential buildings.
The biofilter consists of a shallow depression of earth filled with consecutive layers of vegetation, sand and gravel. As urban runoff flows into here, each layer naturally filters out the pollutants until the water is fit to replenish Israel’s coastal aquifer.  
The delegation was met by the Head of the Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel, Dr. Yaron Zinger, who led the tour and presented them with a detailed overview of the facility. All the Swiss participants were clearly familiar with the problems caused by city runoff and took great interest in the intricacies of the Biofilter solution.
Zinger explained in great details how the contaminated water is channeled to the catchment area above the biofilter and then fed through the different layers until it is purified and piped into the aquifer some 90 meters below. He said that the entire process takes two hours. The group lingered at the apparatus that enables accurate sampling of the purified water.
The Kfar Saba Biofilter was the first of three pilot facilities that were erected in Israel, the other two being in Ramle and Bat Yam. The biofilters were built with the support of JNF Australia and KKL Mexico.
“We work closely with the local authorities and tailor the hardware to the specific site. First we devise a plan to trap and harvest the runoff from a neighborhood, then we create a proof of concept, and finally, we provide an end solution, i.e. a way to make the captured and cleaned water beneficial for the local council”, said Zinger.
Zinger also revealed that there are plans in the works to promote government incentive programs for local councils to clean and funnel recycled water to the aquifer through the biofilter system, similar to the program in which solar energy suppliers sell their electricity to the national electric company.
During the tour, a local resident who had stopped to listen to the explanations demanded to know why the nearby stream still smelled of contamination after heavy rainfall. Zinger explained that that was exactly what the Center for Water Sensitive Cities was trying to prevent.
“However,” he added, “this is a pilot facility and it is not designed to capture all the runoff in the area. We would need a much larger biofilter for that.” Other residents nearby praised the project, saying that the beautiful park and amphitheater that was created above the facility for their use is reason enough to be supportive.
SVLT delegation leader Dr. Roman Engeler told his host that their visit to the biofilter was part of a fact-finding trip to Israel ahead of several large tour groups that they intend to bring to the country. He explained that the Swiss Association for Farm Machinery is a huge organization that represents much of the Swiss farming community. “We have tens of thousands of members and we look after their interests, and provide professional training, literature and social activities. The association also takes its members on educational trips to different parts of the world, and we are now planning to bring 120 people to Israel in the near future.”
Delegation member Willi Zollinger said that the visit to the Kfar Saba biofilter was the final part of their weeklong itinerary in Israel. “During these 7 days, we traveled across the entire country, including visits to Kibbutzim and Moshavim in the Golan and the Negev, as well as tourist sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and the Dead Sea region.  We also visited two startup companies which are developing products called “Pickapp” and “CropX”, both of which could be useful to the farming community in Switzerland -CropX promises to enable farmers to grow more with less water, and Pickapp is a system that helps farmers improve farm management and efficiency.”
Towards the end of the tour Zinger told his guests about the role of KKL-JNF in Israel and said that the entire biofilter project including the beautiful park would not have happened without the funding and close support of KKL-JNF and JNF Australia. He also credited   Monash University in Australia, where some years earlier he had joined ongoing research into the subject of biofilter water purification and had received his doctorate.
Before leaving the biofilter facility, Dr. Roman acknowledged: “Israel was never on our list of destinations. This trip has convinced us to change that.”