4th Water Sensitive Cities Conference in Israel

“Water sensitive cities deliver water security in both water-poor and water abundant futures."
The 2018 Water Sensitive Cities Conference took place at Tel Aviv University on July 10, 2018. The Water Sensitive Cities initiative is supported by JNF Australia. The conference, which focused on the management and recycling of urban runoff, was hosted by KKL-JNF, the Center for Water Sensitive Cities and the Zalul organization.

L-R: With Prof. Asher Brenner, Prof. Roni Wallach, Prof. Ana Deletic, Dr. Yaron Zinger & Dalia Tal

L-R: With Prof. Asher Brenner, Prof. Roni Wallach, Prof. Ana Deletic, Dr. Yaron Zinger & Dalia Tal


Management and recycling of urban runoff was the subject of the fourth Water Sensitive Cities in Israel Conference that took place on July 10, 2018, at the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University. Participants included leading hydrology experts, drainage engineers, landscape architects, town planners, water authority officials, students in these fields, and others. KKL-JNF hosted the event together with the Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel and Zalul, the organization dedicated to protecting the country’s seas and rivers.

The Conference was opened by KKL-JNF Central Region Director, Dr. Haim Messing, who is also the Chairman of the Center for Water Sensitive cities in Israel. He said that the problem of city runoff during the rainy season is already well known, and while a lot is said about it, the relevant authorities are not doing enough. He called for action:

“I am not pointing a finger at any one or any one authority, it is a communal problem. KKL-JNF, together with JNF Australia, is investing enormous sums of money to research this phenomenon and to find solutions. We have shown that there are solutions but they are not being implemented. The time has come for the relevant bodies to get together and get down to work.”

Conference organizer Dr. Yaron Zinger, the founder of the Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel, told the participants that during the conference proceedings, the floor would be open for everyone to discuss, question and comment. He requested that they relate to the event as a workshop rather than an academic meeting.

The first session, chaired by Dalia Tal of the Zalul Association, was on the situation in Israel at present. She explained that Zalul is an NGO that strives to bring the issues of water preservation and environmental protection to the forefront of Israeli public awareness through conservation, activism, research, awareness-raising, and education.

“Zalul was established some 5 years ago when concerned citizens became fed up with the condition of the country’s beaches and sea, and decided to do something about it”, she said. “Since then, awareness has grown and their activism has moved into many other areas of preservation as well.”

Micky Zaide, a strategic planning engineer at the Israeli Water Authority, delivered the opening paper, “Integration of Management and Restoration of City Runoff in the Planning of the Water Sector”. He said that the water authority in Israel is fully aware that storm water is a resource and not a nuisance.

“‘Storm water drainage’ as a concept does not exist anymore. Today we talk about ‘storm water management’. The objectives of the Israel Water Authority in this respect are the reduction of flood damage, an increase of water reserves, soil conservation and environmental protection activities. We are working to change the structure of the storm water sector in the country as well as pertinent laws.”

Eran Ettinger, Senior Vice President of Soil Conservation and Drainage at the Ministry of Agriculture, spoke about the interface connecting the city and the surrounding countryside. He said that it was not just by chance that he was invited to address the conference, since the agriculture sector is a key participant in the issue of storm water control and regulation.

“Our fields are damaged by storm water flooding on the one hand, and on the other, they can benefit enormously from storm water control and regulation. It is clear to us that there is a problem in the plethora of regulatory bodies dealing with city runoff and we call for a solution. Just a short time ago KKL-JNF’s Dr. Haim Messing called for the relevant bodies to get together and get down to work. We will do our part”.

Next at the podium was Dr. Shula Goulden of the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, who presented research she conducted concerning water-sensitive cities while she was still at the Technion:

“It was called ‘Barriers on the Way to a Water Sensitive City’ and describes the obstacles which have to be overcome in order to control and regulate city runoff and posits possible solutions. I began by studying the changes that took place in Israel over the past 25 years and tried to understand which of the changes would be more supportive for a sustainable way of managing storm water, and which act as barriers. I also took into account a wide range of factors such as regulations and legislation in my attempt to understand the problem. We found that over time the goals and needs of Israel’s water sector have changed and the authorities have not kept up with this.”

Following the talk on the barriers to efficient water management in Israel, Professor Avital Gazit, also of the Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University, described his study “Opportunities in a Water Sensitive City”:

“Water sensitive cities deliver water security in both water-poor and water abundant futures. They contribute towards healthy aquifers and help improve local climate and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.”

Celebrated hydrology engineer Professor Ana Deletic of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, delivered the keynote address. Joe Krycer, former Director General of JNF in Victoria, who now lives in Israel, introduced her:

“Professor Ana Deletic comes from a family of engineers. It’s hereditary, starting with her grandfather then her father and now her daughter. She leads a large research group that is working on multi-disciplinary urban water issues, focusing on storm water management and socio-technical modeling. Her main research topics are related to urban hydrology and urban water systems, field monitoring and metrology. She works all over the world but seems to have a special passion for visiting Israel.”

Prof. Deletic gave a detailed visual presentation of her work, but beforehand, she agreed with what Joe Krycer said, saying that each year, she was drawn back to Israel. She said that despite the difference in size of the two countries, conditions and city growth in Israel and Australia are very similar, so it is not surprising that the two countries have such tight cooperation in matters such as water sensitive cities.

“After hearing some of the speakers here I can comment that one of the things we found in Australia is that the issue of management and maintenance is crucial. We learned the hard way that the end user should have a greater say in water issues and water usage and not be left only to the national or local water authority. This may be an important lesson for Israel. We must remember that the parks authority want to keep the parks green. They know what they need. The water authority is interested in saving water and saving money. They think of optimizing pipes. Ecology and greenery is not on their minds. They are not multifunctional. They may be the best in their specific field but that is not the best for everybody.”

The third session was more technical and was led by Dr. Yaron Zinger, who invited the audience to challenge and question the experts while they delivered their papers.

Professor Roni Wallach, of the faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented a characterization of urban runoff in the cities of Israel.

Professor Eviatar Arel of Ben Gurion University's Desert Research Institute illustrated possible planning and design with water sensitivity issues in mind.

Professor Asher Brenner, head of the unit of environmental engineering at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, described the development of hybrid biofilters.

Professor Tal Mozes of the Technion presented the central elements of municipal planning of water sensitive cities in Israel, saying that her research, which spans some 25 years, investigates planning “from the scale of a single home to that of an entire city”.

The final paper of the day, delivered by Dr. Yaron Zinger, focused on water sensitive technologies for managing and recycling urban runoff. Dr. Zinger presented solutions currently in use in Israel and Australia.
“When considering flood water as a resource, one has to consider its potential quality and quantity in order to know how to handle the water. It is important that a city enables the system to access its diverse water sources. A properly-operating water sensitive city adopts and integrates both decentralized and centralized solutions to provide water security.”

At the end of the program, which went on for much longer than planned, conference organizer Yaron Zinger looked out at the large audience and said that he was surprised and pleased to see that so many people had stayed until the end. He invited them all to the 5th Water Sensitive Cities in Israel Conference, which will take place next year.