EPC Delegation Studies Water Management in Israel

Thursday, February 20, 2014 1:15 PM

“I have no doubt that there are places in Europe that could make good use of Israeli expertise.”

Representatives of the EPC (the European Policy Centre) arrived in Israel on a study trip devoted to water issues. In the course of their visit, they learned at first hand how KKL-JNF helps to manage Israel’s water economy and develop new water resources, even in Israel's arid climate. The delegation’s itinerary began in northern Israel at Mount Gilboa, the River Jordan and Lake Hula. In the south, they visited the Dan Region Sewage Reclamation Plant, the Aryeh Pools, Tifrah Reservoir and the Besor Research and Development Station. Their route through central Israel took them to the Ashdod Desalination Plant and to Jerusalem, where they toured the city and met with KKL-JNF Chairman Efi Stenzler.

Group photo. Photo: Yoav Devir

Water in the North of Israel

Yossi Schreiber and Annika Ahtonen. Photo: Yoav Devir

The European task force was headed by Policy Analyst Annika Ahtonen of Finland, who explained to her Israeli hosts that the group monitors European policy on a variety of different issues. With regard to the importance of the visit to Israel, she said: “The water issue is common to many different spheres with which we are concerned, and this visit will help us to examine the challenges presented by water issues both within Europe and on a global level.”

The delegation members began their visit in northern Israel, where they looked out over the view from Mount Gilboa and listened to an explanation on how the management of water resources affects the environment. They met the director of the South Jordan Drainage Authority, who told them about the rehabilitation of the River Jordan. At Lake Hula, they heard how KKL-JNF had formerly helped to drain the lake to enable the land to be used for agriculture and how, once the ecological damage caused by draining had been understood, KKL-JNF had stepped into the breach once more in order to rehabilitate the area and create today’s Lake Hula, which is now one of the world’s leading bird-watching and eco-tourism sites.

Delegation in Jerusalem with Efi Stenzler. Photo: Ancho Gosh, KKL-JNF Photo Archive

On the second day, the delegation members visited southern Israel to follow the route taken by reclaimed water – from the sewage system, through purification plants and reservoirs, all the way to the farms, where the use of this water enables residents of the Negev to grow crops and develop a thriving agriculture.

“Our intention is to learn from what’s happening in other places and to share our knowledge with the rest of the world,” said KKL-JNF Development Project Director Yossi Schreiber, who is a water and environmental engineer by profession. “As an environmental organization capable of initiating complex multi-partner projects, KKL-JNF possesses expertise that can be of service to many other countries. The western world is now beginning to face water problems similar to those that KKL-JNF has been dealing with for a great many years now,” he added.

The Dan Region Sewage Reclamation Plant: What happens underground

At the reclamation plant with Tomer Kreizer. Photo: Yoav Devir

At the Dan Region Sewage Reclamation Plant in Rishon LeZion, the visitors got a chance to see what goes on in the underground regions beneath the city. Chief Engineer Tomer Kreizer told them about the activities of Israel’s national water company Mekorot and of the Dan reclamation plant itself. “We can manage the system in such a way as to channel water into different parts of the country at any time, as required,” he said, and explained that the reclaimed water is used for agriculture or pumped into groundwater reserves. He also made favorable mention of the professional cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, which is working to introduce these Israeli water management methods into the Gaza Strip.

The European delegation members were not the only visitors at the water reclamation plant, whose ecological education center is designed to raise public awareness of environmental issues and attracts visitors from all walks of life, from Israeli schoolchildren to experts from all over the world. The interactive experience offered by the learning center includes educational films, a simulated journey along an underground pipe and an introduction to wastewater purification processes. A three-dimensional model of the reclamation plant is included in the video film that documents the water purification processes it performs.

“It was fascinating to hear how you do things differently while at the same time collaborating with farmers and educating different sections of the population,” said Marika Paavilainen, a lawyer from Finland who specializes in environmental issues.

The Aryeh Pools: Using every single drop

The Aryeh Pools. Photo: Yoav Devir

Developing water resources in the Negev is a major challenge that KKL-JNF has faced squarely by constructing reservoirs and wastewater reclamation plants that provide farmers with water to irrigate their crops, thus freeing up potable water reserves for drinking. At the heart of the reservoir system, which was established with the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends throughout the world, are the Aryeh Pools, built with the help of funds donated by KKL-JNF’s Friends in Australia.

Each of these three pools has a capacity of around 50,000 cubic meters. One pool receives the incoming effluent, the second purifies it and the third pool serves as backup and is used in cases of overflow or technical problems.

Sheep grazing in green fields around Aryeh pools. Photo: Yoav Devir

When the water arrives from the Beersheba Wastewater Treatment Plant, it has been purified to the secondary stage; at the Aryeh Pools it undergoes further treatment until it attains the tertiary stage, at which it can be used to irrigate public parks and all types of agricultural crops. The pools’ purification facility is composed of both a filter system and a UV radiation system, which kills the pollutants. After cleaning, the resulting water is almost fit for drinking.

The visitors displayed a keen interest in the subject and posed a great many knowledgeable questions about the pipe system, the water purification techniques, agricultural uses of the water, its cost, and other related topics.

From the Aryeh Pools, the water is channeled into the nearby reservoirs of Tifrah and Nevatim, which were likewise established with the support of KKL-JNF’s Friends in Australia. In an arid area like the Negev, the presence of a system that allows all reclaimed water to be used and distributed in accordance with the farmers’ needs is of paramount importance.

Walking around the Aryeh Pools. Photo: Yoav Devir

“The projects that KKL-JNF is implementing in the Negev have brought about a revolution in the region,” said Eran Atner, Deputy Director of KKL-JNF’s Southern Region. “They enable agriculture to flourish in the Negev, they allow new communities to be built and they let us make the desert bloom.”

Dani Berman, Director of the Irrigation Department of the Negev Moshav Association, to which thirty-four local agricultural communities belong, explained that, thanks to the reservoirs, all kinds of fruit and vegetables can now be cultivated in fields formerly used only for growing cotton and animal fodder: potatoes, carrots, celery, cauliflower, radishes, corn, citrus fruits, pomegranates and almonds are just a few of the crops now under cultivation. “We need water to work our land,” emphasized Dani Berman. “This reclaimed water allows us to pick and choose what we want to grow, and, of course, it helps farmers to make a living.”

Sergey Moroz
from Ukraine was deeply impressed by the various projects, especially by the water reclaimation projects and by KKL-JNF’s ability to work together with the local farmers. “I have no doubt that there are places in Europe that could make good use of Israeli expertise,” he said.

Tifrah Reservoir: The flow of life

UV cleansing mechanism. Photo: Yoav Devir

Thanks to the high-quality water provided by Tifrah Reservoir, local farmers are no longer limited to the cultivation of cotton and cattle fodder, but can now grow a wide variety of crops, including fruit and vegetables for human consumption. Apart from being used for agriculture, the reclaimed water also serves to irrigate Beersheba’s public parks and gardens, including the Beersheba River Park.

The use of reclaimed water brings a number of advantages: most importantly, by increasing the overall water supply, it reduces the amount of drinking water used to irrigate fields. And, as reclaimed water is much cheaper than potable water, using it keeps farmers’ costs down and helps them to make a living. The introduction of the reservoirs has also allowed farmers to plant once again in fields that were abandoned in recent years because of reduced water quotas. The environment also benefits, as the ground and groundwater are no longer polluted by sewage effluent flowing into the rivers’ as was so often the case in the past.

“What KKL-JNF has achieved here in the way of coping with nature is simply amazing,” said Hungarian water engineer Béla Murányi. “This is a new way of thinking that fits in well with the general tendency to re-use and recycle. Hungary has plenty of water, but we, like other countries that do not suffer from a shortage at present, are beginning to think about the challenges we can expect in the distant future.”

Planting Trees in the Negev: Forests in an arid land

A walk in the Negev. Photo: Yoav Devir

KKL-JNF forester Danny Ben David told members of the European delegation how KKL-JNF has managed to cultivate trees in the Negev with the help of harvested runoff water – a technique based on methods developed by the Nabateans, who settled the Negev in ancient times. KKL-JNF foresters construct limans (dams), shichim (embankments) and terraces to trap the floodwaters. This technique enables them to plant forests even in arid areas that under normal conditions would not be able to support trees.

The Europeans were impressed by the mixed forest, which combines eucalypts with a number of local varieties and paints the yellowish desert landscape with patches of green.

Research and Development in Southern Israel: Adapting agriculture to suit the environment

Orchards in the Besor region. Photo: Yoav Devir

The last stop on this fascinating journey that followed water through the Negev was the research and development station in the Besor region. Mickey Kaplan, who is responsible for this aspect of KKL-JNF activities, explained that this research and development focuses on finding solutions for problems that beset local agriculture, on the long-term development of advanced production technologies and on the introduction of new products that take advantage of the special characteristics of the area.

The visitors were impressed by the peppers, tomatoes and spices they saw growing at the station. Innovative developments and cutting-edge work methods are the secret of success in the world of modern farming. Mickey Kaplan explained that the applied research and experiments underway at the station help farmers develop crops that are well adapted to the difficult climate conditions of the region and preserve Israeli agriculture’s comparative advantage. He added that a variety of experiments are being carried out with regard to water: for example, water salinity levels are being examined with a view to selecting the crops best adapted to the quality and quantity of water available and to the soil type and prevailing local climate conditions.

The delegation members concluded their tour with a visit to the Ashdod Desalination Plant, followed by a trip to Jerusalem and a festive meal with KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler.