French Journalists Inspired by Israel's Water Conservation

Thursday, February 11, 2016 11:21 AM

“It’s an opportunity to see a different side of Israel.”

A delegation of journalists and media personnel from France embarked on a 3 day journey around Israel to learn about KKL-JNF projects related to water technology and agriculture. The trip was a joint effort between KKL-JNF and B’nai B’rith International.
“It’s an opportunity to see a different side of Israel,” said Gil Rivière from the newspaper Agriculture et Environment. “It’s inspiring to see how Israel is succeeding in the management of its water resources and in the development of agriculture in arid regions.”

The mission was organized jointly by KKL-JNF and B’nai B’rith International. “Our goal is to present reality in Israel in the field of sustainable development,” said Norbert Lipszyc, the B’nai B’rith representative in Israel. “Our hope is to change the image of Israel in the media. People have to visit Israel in order to truly know the country.”

His colleague, Veronique Hauptstein, the representative of B’nai B’rith in France, said, “It’s important for us that they get to know the true face of Israel and the complicated reality here.”

Shafdan: A Giant Waste Water Treatment Plant

The tour began in Shafdan, the central waste water treatment plant (WWTP) for the Dan region and one of the largest water reclamation plants in the world. The Shafdan site in Rishon Lezion also has a visitor's center for ecological education that features videos, simulated tours of an underground pipeline, and information about the processes involved in recycling water.

The members of the French delegation learned how Israel has become a world leader in the reuse of water, with 75% of its effluents treated for use in agriculture and a goal of 90% within a few years.

More than 50% of Israel’s agricultural irrigation is derived from recycled water. The increase in water sources enables cultivation of the fields in the Negev. The purified water is relatively inexpensive and available for farmers, which helps them profit from their labor.

Water reclamation not only conserves valuable drinking water but also prevents pollution of the streams, the aquifers and the sea water. Strict monitoring procedures ensure continuous quality control, so that the treated water comes close to the quality of potable water and is suitable for irrigating all kinds of crops and public parks.
“Water is a fascinating field that is vital for all of us, for all living beings,” said Martine Le Bec, the founder of www.h2o.net, a website that focuses on different aspects of water. “Everywhere I’ve been, all over the world, people have approached me to discuss the water problems in their countries. Here in Israel, I’ve been hearing about solutions, and I have no doubt that many countries can benefit from Israeli expertise.”

The Gilat Nursery: From Seed to Forest

The tour proceeded southward to the Negev, passing green fields covered with beautiful winter flowers. The Darom Adom (Scarlet South) Festival, which is taking place at present, is held every winter in the Western Negev and attracts tens of thousands of visitors, who arrive for a month of excursions and activities for all ages amidst the masses of blooming red anemones.

During their visit at the KKL-JNF nursery in Gilat, the journalists were impressed by the variety of trees and garden shrubs for planting in forests, parks and public areas. Eight hundred thousand saplings, from about 300 species, are produced in the nursery every year.

Pablo Chercasky, the Director of the nursery, described the stages of plant production, from seed gathering in the forest to growing the plants in the nursery until they are replanted in a forest, park or garden. Forest plants are usually propagated by seed germination, garden plants by rooted cuttings. Seeds are gathered from select trees in the forests and in the nursery. Some of the seeds are treated with refrigeration, soaking or other mechanical processes for increasing the sprouting rate.

Germination is implemented in a container where the conditions of humidity and temperature are controlled by computer. The seeds are cleaned and then planted in trays. They are then grown in a greenhouse with an irrigation system. Cuttings are rooted on heated tables, moved to growth containers under shade netting and watered by drip irrigation or sprinklers. When the saplings have matured enough, they are removed for planting throughout the Negev.

On Tu Bishvat, the New Year for trees, which was celebrated in Israel this month, hundreds of thousands of people from all sectors of the population took part in outdoor tree planting events organized by KKL-JNF all over Israel.

Darom R&D: Agriculture in the Negev

At the Western Negev R&D in the Besor region, the journalists met Liana Ganot, the Plant Protection Coordinator, who told them all about the research conducted there in assisting local farmers in coping with the climate and soil conditions, saving water, controlling pests and increasing the profitability of different crops.

Thanks to the innovative cultivation methods and the unique cultivars developed by the R&D research scientists, the agriculture in the region is prospering in spite of the hot, arid climate and the water scarcity.

The visitors from France toured the R&D station and were impressed by the different agricultural produce. The tomato greenhouse is one of the more important focuses of the R&D, since 70% of all tomatoes produced in Israel are grown in that region. In the strawberry greenhouse, they saw the unique innovation developed at the R&D for growing strawberries suspended in the air, which facilitates harvesting and deters pests. In the flower greenhouse, they enjoyed the splendid blooms in many colors.

Francis Pisani, from the newspaper Le Monde, had visited Israel once before. “I thought this would be a great opportunity to get to know the country better,” he said, explaining his motive for joining the mission. “Water is a key issue all over the world, and Israel certainly has a great deal of knowledge in this field.”

Nir Am: Water History

At the Water Museum in Kibbutz Nir Am, they met resident Yael Prozhen at an observation point with a view of the Gaza Strip and understood how close these Israeli localities are to the border. Prozhen spoke about life in the shadow of the constant threat. She pointed to a field on the edge of the kibbutz, less than a hundred meters from where the journalists were standing, and told them that a terrorism tunnel had been discovered there. The tunnel had been exposed when one of the farmers from the kibbutz was harvesting wheat.

The Water Museum was established in an historic building that once served as a pumping station for the first water pipeline in the Negev, which was installed in 1947. In the auditorium, Prozhen told the visitors from France about the history of inhabitation of the Negev and stressed the importance of water in the region’s development.

When the first eleven outposts in the Negev were founded in 1946, the question was how water would be supplied to all the new locations. Ben Gurion’s answer was, “With six-inch pipes!” and that’s how it was. From then on, to this day, water is the key for developing the Negev, for turning the desert green and for bringing more life to region.

The Sderot Reservoir: Bringing the Fields to Life

At the Sderot Reservoir, which was constructed with support from friends of KKL-JNF in the United States, Canada and Belgium, the journalists were briefed about KKL-JNF projects for developing water sources. KKL-JNF has constructed more than 230 reservoirs all over Israel, which store purified effluents and rainwater that is later conducted to fields and orchards.

Meir Bruckenthal, the Director of the Kolchei Sderot Water Association, explained that the Sderot Reservoir intakes the water from the Sderot WWTP. In the winter, when the fields do not need to be irrigated, the treated water accumulates in the reservoir, which has a capacity of 1 million cubic meters, and then, in the summer, the water is used for irrigation.

Their fascinating day in the Negev was over. The next day, the group proceeded to learn about other KKL-JNF projects related to water technology and agriculture, including the bio-filter facility in Kfar Saba, the constructed wetlands in Hod Hasharon and the ARO Volcani Institute.

Vincent de Feligonde, a journalist from La Croix, a Catholic newspaper, was visiting Israel after more than thirty years since his last trip to the country. “Israel is an innovative country with advanced technology initiatives, and it is achieving impressive success in dealing with many challenges,” he concluded at the end of the day.