Planning a Sustainable Future through Water Sensitive Cities

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The way we manage urban water shapes almost every aspect of our urban environment and quality of life.

On Thursday the 9th of June 2016, the Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel, an inter-disciplinary scientific program dedicated to creating sustainable urban environments through innovative urban water management, was launched in Kfar Saba, the site of Israel’s first biofilter, which was built by KKL-JNF in 2009.
The way we manage urban water shapes almost every aspect of our urban environment and quality of life. A Water Sensitive City is one where the journey of water through the urban landscape is managed with regard for its origins and destinations, along with its social and environmental significance. Water Sensitive Cities adopt and combine water management solutions to deliver water security in both water-poor and water-abundant futures, to rehabilitate aquifers and urban streams, to improve urban climates and landscapes and reduce cities’ carbon footprints.

At the launching of the new Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel, which took place at the Geler Center in Kfar Saba, KKL-JNF Fundraising Director Ze’ev Kedem recalled how KKL-JNF’s connection with urban runoff began: “In 2008, we received a call from JNF Australia to tell us that an Israeli research scientist who was studying the subject of water sensitive cities in Monash University in Melbourne was trying to decide whether to carry out a biofilter pilot project in Israel or in Sweden. I spoke with Israel’s leading experts on water, and they were all of the opinion that this was a project that deserved KKL-JNF’s support. That is how it all began, and it continues to this day with the help of our friends from JNF Australia.”

KKL-JNF Central Region Director Haim Messing supported the project from the beginning and was very instrumental in its implementation. “To realize a vision, you need patience, forbearance and a lot of strength. I want to especially thank Joe Krycer, former State Executive Director of JNF Victoria, who believed in the biofilter from the outset and whose involvement was critical to the project’s success. The launching of the new Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel is the beginning of what I believe will be a major contribution to Israel’s water economy.”

Tzvika Tzarfati, the Deputy Mayor of Kfar Saba, said that any project led by Haim Messing was sure to succeed. “Kfar Saba is proud to host the project and the new center. We are the first city to have installed a biofilter in Israel, which is an integral part of our mayor’s goal of making Kfar Saba a green city.”

A very special guest at the conference was Cheryl Batagol, the chairperson of the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Water Sensitive Cities in Australia. “I want to congratulate KKL-JNF for opening this center,” she said. “It will change the way water is managed in Israel. It’s important to champion a cause, you need champions of change. Everyone has to unite and collaborate in order to realize a dream.”
Dr. Yaron Zinger introduced the research projects that were presented at the conference and spoke about the center’s goals in general. “A growing population means more and greater challenges. The more a city is built up, the less water is absorbed into the soil and the less water finds its way to the underground aquifer. We want to make urban runoff into a resource rather than a problem. The biofilter is local, but its potential is national. The new center will provide a platform where industry, academia, and local and national planners will meet and envision the future from an interdisciplinary perspective. KKL-JNF demonstrated true leadership when it decided to adopt what was a very new idea at the time. This is what will make the change happen.”

Researchers who presented their findings at the conference included Prof.Eran Friedler, who detailed the vision for water sensitive cities in Israel, in view of the fact that by 2050 the population will have doubled; Prof. Roni Wallach, who characterized the chemical and mineral components of urban runoff in Israel’s cities; Long-term urban planning that takes innovative water sensitive technologies into consideration based on the research of Prof. Evyatar Erel; Prof. Asher Brenner, who described hybrid biofilters that treat both urban runoff and polluted underground aquifers; and Prof. Tali Alon-Moses, who reviewed water sensitive urban planning in the Israeli context.

After the lectures were concluded, Dr. Zinger invited participants to join him for a guided tour of the Kfar Saba biofilter, the first of its kind in Israel. This facility enables the harvesting of rainwater and its treatment using various plant species. Every year, 200 million cubic meters of rainwater flow along Israel's streets and are washed into the sea, causing tremendous waste.  The success of this pilot and its application in more cities could significantly contribute to Israel's water economy. Halting the flow of polluted rainwater into the sea will also improve the quality of Israel’s beaches. The biolfilter does not only treat rainwater. In the summer, when there is no rainfall, water from polluted wells is pumped, cleaned and then returned to the wells or to the groundwater, a process that Zinger calls aquifer dialysis.

At the end of the day, KKL-JNF Central Region Director Haim Messing and Kfar Saba Deputy Mayor Tzvika Tzarfati were honored with opening the faucet of the new irrigation system that waters the park around the biolfilter with the water it purifies.