Mexican Parliamentarians Visit the Biofilter for Urban Runoff in Kfar Saba

Sunday, June 22, 2014 5:08 PM

“This system is very interesting for us, especially for the central Mexican states, where we have deserts.”

In Israel as the guests of the Israel-Mexico Friendship Association of the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, a group of Mexican parliamentarians paid a visit to the JNF Australia-supported biofilter system in the central city of Kfar Saba on June 15, 2014.

Group photo at the biofilter - L-R: General Raul Macias Sandoval, Dr. Yaron Zinger, Alfredo Botello, Fernando Belaunzaran, Cuahtemoc Galindo, Guide Pedro Rothman, Allende Cano, Adolfo Karam, Renee Dayan-Shabot, Salomon Achard, Mauricio Lulka, Ariel Goldgewicht. Photo: KKL-JNF

“The biofilter system is very interesting for us, especially for the central Mexican states, where we have deserts,” said Ana Isabel Allende Cano, a member of the Chamber of Deputies and the president of the Israel-Mexico Friendship Association. “Israel has very important technology in desalinization but Mexico is so big it would not be very cost affective for us. This type of technology may be one of the alternatives of the future for us.”

JNF Australia recognition sign. Photo: KKL-JNF

The group of six deputies also included Division General Raul Macias Sandoval, Cuahtemoc Galindo, Alfredo Botello, Fernando Belaunzaran, and Adolfo Karam. They were joined by Mexican Jewish Community members Renee Dayan-Shabot,
Executive Director of Tribuna Israelita - the analysis and opinion institution of the Jewish Community in Mexico, Mauricio Lulka, the executive director of the Central Committee of the Jewish Community in Mexico, and Salomon Achard.

Greeting them at the site, KKL-JNF Latin American Department director Ariel Goldgewicht noted that though KKL-JNF has planted more than 240 million trees in Israel and is the only country that had more trees at the end the century that it started with, KKL-JNF also dedicates itself to advancing environmentally sustainable programs such as the biofilter, which is now in its fourth year of a five year pilot project.

“The idea is that in cities where water is a critical issue, this project can improve the situation, and help others improve their situation,” he said. “It is not only meeting the water needs of the city but it is also creating a beautiful place where people want to come to and enjoy.”

Dr. Yaron Zinger explains to the group about the biofilter. Photo: KKL-JNF

The technology for the pilot biofilter system in Kfar Saba was developed by Dr. Yaron Zinger of the Monash University Water for Liveability Centre in Australia and is being tested in Kfar Saba for Israeli conditions with the cooperation of KKL-JNF.

Zinger, who accompanied the group, said that by 2015 it is estimated that 40 percent of all of Israel’s drinking water will come from desalination, but the process is very expensive. The biofilter system is 14-20 percent cheaper than desalination per cubic meter of water, he stated. The current pilot project including the research and infrastructure cost about half a million dollars, he said.

Two more pilot projects using the biofilter are now being planned, one for the coastal city of Bat Yam and the other for the central city of Ramle. They are also working with the government to create regulations and incentives for the system, said Zinger.

View of the biofilter. Photo: KKL-JNF

Located in a beautifully landscaped park with an intimate stone amphitheater, a walking and cycling trail and a grassy lawn in a new ecologically oriented neighborhood of Kfar Saba, the biofilter is the first engineered “green” water treatment system in Israel. It collects and treats urban runoff during the wet season of November-March, while during the dry season of April-October, the system is used for treatment and recovery of nitrate contaminated groundwater. In both cases, the water is then injected into the groundwater aquifer where it is stored.

The system consists of five different layers of engineered filter media that support healthy growth of plants selected specially for their pollutant removal capacities. Urban runoff is brought to the biofilter via gravity, while water from contaminated groundwater wells is pumped into the system.

By the technical testing unit of the biofilter. Photo: KKL-JNF

Samples of the water treated by the biofilter are taken automatically from the system to test the efficiency of the system and the quality and quantity of water, Zinger told the group. Running through the system, it takes the water about 2 ½ hours in total to reach the aquifer, he said.
“When we have all this rainfall it runs off to the sea and we are losing it,” said Zinger, a hydrologic engineer. “But with this system which was brought to Israel with KKL-JNF's help, we can collect it, treat it, and use it for the city’s needs and irrigation. We have a new source of water for Israel which used to be discharged into the sea. In Israel, cities are growing and there are growing water needs, so we are pumping more water from the groundwater aquifer, which is being depleted to sea level where sea water intrudes into the aquifer. The biofilter recharges the aquifer and pushes back the sea.”

The environmentally friendly design of the system also serves to convert a public space into a functional open space, Zinger said.
“I think it is very important that we do everything we can to improve the situation in Mexico. This system is very impressive and something that can be done in Mexico,” said Dayan-Shabot.

Layer of vegetation filters out metals from urban runoff. Photo: KKL-JNF

Such systems are being set up in Australia, Singapore and now China, Zinger said, and a comprehensive study center for the system is being planned in Israel with the help of KKL-JNF.

“Mexico has serious problems of water contamination and wastage of its water resources,” said Lulka “This type of system where the water is recuperated can work very well in Mexico. It is marvelous.”

When some of the deputies expressed interest in the ability to use the system for treating contaminated river water, Zinger noted that biofilter systems can be created to meet the needs of specific locations and situations.

“The natural resources in Mexico have been greatly contaminated and this program can really solve this problem,” commented Karam. “Mexico is rich in resources but we don’t have the technology. Cooperation would be very interesting.”

Allende Cano noted that a biofilter system was already being designed by Zinger in the Mexican state of Metepec.

“I am very interested in applying this in Mexico. I care about my country,” said Gen. Macias Sandoval.