Water-Sensitive Cities Discussed at Sde Boker Desertification Conference

Monday, November 19, 2012 12:30 PM

The work being done with KKL-JNF to promote water-sensitive cities was presented at the International Conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification, which took place last week at the Sde Boker campus of Ben Gurion University.

Speakers and participants - with Prof. Sharon Megdal; Maya Ben Ami, Prof. Eran Friedler, and Dr Mike Adel. Photo: Yoav Devir 

The extensive work being done in conjunction with KKL-JNF to promote water-sensitive cities was presented at the International Conference on Drylands, Deserts and Desertification, which took place last week at the Sde Boker campus of Ben Gurion University. The conference covered a wide range of topics related to drylands, deserts and desertification, such as agriculture, urban planning, wastewater treatment, climate changes, water economy management, green construction and other topics. The four days of the conference included lectures, workshops and tours to relevant sites in the Negev, including a day of touring KKL-JNF projects in the Negev.
Participating in the conference were the best scientists in the field, professionals and students, Israelis as well as guests from different countries. They all had in common an understanding of the importance of coping with the phenomenon of desertification, and a desire to learn from innovative research studies and projects.
The symposium on the topic of water-sensitive cities was one of the important sessions at the conference, in which a number of leading scientists, members of the applied research team for creating water-sensitive cities in Israel, took part. This program is being implemented with the support of KKL-JNF in Israel and JNF Australia.

Participants on their way to the conference. Photo: Yoav Devir

Water-sensitive cities are characterized by the management of their water economies through the creation of sustainable solutions, utilizing suitable technologies and increasing public awareness. The conference addressed different aspects of water economy management, such as water system characterizations, technology, planning requirements and community involvement.
Speaking at the session on water-sensitive cities were Prof. Eran Friedler, Prof. Rony Wallach, Prof. Tal Alon-Mozes, Prof. Elissa Rosenberg, Prof. Evyatar Erell and Yaron Zinger, who presented the Kfar Saba Biofilter Facility, which was developed with the support of friends of JNF Australia. These scientists had also represented KKL-JNF and Israel at a conference on this subject that took place in Melbourne several months ago, where their participation had been facilitated by Joe Krycer of JNF Australia.
Prof. Eran Friedler presented the vision of developing water-sensitive cities and the need for this in Israel, in view of climate change, growing urban populations and the increasing severity of water scarcity in Israel. “We must find new ways to deal with water issues, while contributing to the water economy, the natural environment and to the vitality of the cities,” he said.

Prof. Rony Wallach/ Yoav Devir

Prof. Elissa Rosenberg/ Yoav Devir

Prof. Tal Alon-Mozes/ Yoav Devir

The problem of pollution caused by the rainfall runoff in city streets was presented by Prof. Wallach, who explained that rainwater sweeps various pollutants with it and sometimes causes more pollution than sewage. He presented a mathematical model he developed for predicting the quantities and compositions of the different pollutants in the runoff. “Understanding the processes of pollution and their conduction by rainwater will help us decrease environmental pollution and improve the treatment facilities,” he said.
Prof. Elissa Rosenberg and Prof. Tal Alon-Mozes, landscape architects from the Technion, spoke about the planning aspects, which include engineering, hydrological, ecological and urban topics. “Planning should be multi-functional and not directed at one particular goal,” said Prof. Rosenberg. She said that it is possible to plan cities with consideration for the existing topography, noting that narrower roads would reduce the quantities of pollution, and recommended unpaved areas for absorbing rainwater, which could serve as parks in dry seasons.

The biofilter in Kfar Saba. Photo: Tania Susskind

Prof. Alon-Mozes presented a number of models of water-sensitive urban planning in Israel—Modiin, Jerusalem, Rosh Haayin and Rishon Lezion. “It is important to combine research and application,” she concluded. Treatment of runoff is essential for urban residents, as was explained by Prof. Erell, who noted that runoff can be used for irrigating public parks, which will contribute to cleaner air, maintain lower temperatures and, of course, add to the beauty of the site.
The Kfar Saba Biofilter was also presented at the session, a facility that enables the harvesting of rainwater and its treatment using various plant species. The clean water is then introduced into the groundwater. This experimental project was undertaken in Kfar Saba about three years ago, with the support of friends of JNF Australia and in conjunction with the Kfar Saba Municipality. The technology was developed in Australia by Israeli doctoral student Yaron Zinger, who was guided by water engineers Prof. Ana Deletic and Prof. Tim Fletcher of Monash University.
Every year, 200 million cubic meters of rainwater are wasted in Israel and washed into the sea, so that the success of this pilot and its application in more cities could significantly contribute to Israel's the water economy. Halting the flow of polluted rainwater into the sea will also improve the quality of Israel’s beaches. “What we are actually looking at is the city as a water pipeline system, where each street is a pipeline,” said Zinger, "and 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." Zinger calls this aquifer dialysis.

Yaron Zinger. Photo: Yoav Devir

The facility is capable of treating around 5,000 cubic meters of water annually, and tests have shown that the quality of the water after treatment is close to that of potable water, far higher than what scientists expected. The upper layer of the biofilter is covered with flora, which assists in the purification of the water, and the lower layers, which are not aerated, generate bacterial populations that stimulate processes that purify the water. The combined system is efficient in eliminating pollutants such as heavy metal particles, organic matter and lubricants. The purified water is then conducted to two reservoirs, one supplying a nearby well and the other a system 90 meters deep for introducing the water directly into the aquifer.
There are similar facilities in planning stages in the cities of Bat Yam and Ramla. “The Kfar Saba Biofilter demonstrates the principle, but this is not enough,” said Zinger. “We would like to expand this work in other places and investigate new technologies in different regions, in order to enable more local councils to harvest water and reuse it.”
Greywater: From the shower to the toilet
A symposium on the topic of greywater discussed the extensive work being done by KKL-JNF in the field of water reclamation—construction of reservoirs for collecting rainwater and effluents, and wastewater treatment plants for reusing it for agricultural irrigation. There are about ten thousand domestic systems for recycling greywater in Israel today, but they are installed without regulations or supervision.
Prof. Eran Friedler from the Technion explained that water shortages are getting worse all over the world, even in countries where it never used to be a problem. He said that using greywater can save 40% of domestic water consumption and 20 cubic meters of water per person per year. This water, derived mainly from showers and washing machines, can be used for flushing toilets, watering the garden and for agricultural irrigation.

Idmit Reservoir. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

According to calculations made by Technion scientists, if by 2030 every family in Israel has a greywater recycling system, more than 170 million cubic meters of water can be saved annually. “This would not resolve all of Israel’s water issues,” said Friedler, “but it would certainly reduce the need for the desalination of seawater.” He also said surveys taken show that people are very open to using greywater, especially in public places. “The technology exists,” he concluded, “but relevant legislation has to be promoted.”
Dr. Mike Adel tried to set up a greywater recycling company in Israel but had to give up due to the legislation difficulties he encountered. These days, he is researching the field with the aim of effecting change. In his presentation of the advantages of using greywater, he also related to the reduction in energy usage, since desalinating seawater consumes a great of energy, and greywater also requires less transport of the water from place to place.
Doctoral student Maya Ben Ami presented her research on the topic of bacterial pollutants and compared the different technologies for greywater treatment. Findings from her study showed that greywater is not the only factor that pollutes the soil in the yard, and she expressed her hope that her research will contribute to the encouragement of greywater usage.
Prof. Sharon Megdal from the University of Arizona presented a Jordan River greywater recycling project for the benefit of agricultural use in the Jordan Valley.
Wadi Attir: Traditional Bedouin agriculture with modern technology
Another symposium at the conference focused on the Wadi Attir Project for developing an ecological farm for agriculture and tourism for the Bedouin community in conjunction with KKL-JNF, JNF USA and other organizations. After four years of planning, the establishment of the farm has recently begun.
The farm is to combine traditional Bedouin agriculture and innovative technology such as a solar energy system for producing electricity and a bio-gas system for treating effluents. The project will offer a model for sustainable desert agriculture, providing employment and contributing to the empowerment of the Bedouin population.
Medicinal herbs and plants for health and cosmetics will be cultivated there, as well as herds of sheep for meat and milk production and organic vegetables. A visitors' center and an educational center will present Bedouin culture and allow students to connect to their heritage.

Laying the cornerstone for the Wadi Atir project. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

KKL-JNF is playing a key role in the project, allocating an area of about 400 dunams for the farm, assisting in the preliminary earthworks, planting trees and providing professional advice on combating desertification and on developing agriculture in the Negev, based on the extensive experience of KKL-JNF in these fields.

Dr. Muhammad Al-Nabari. Photo: Yoav Devir

Dr. Muhammad Al-Nabari
, the mayor the city of Hura, reviewed the challenges faced by the Bedouin populations in the Negev and noted the contribution of the farm project to the Bedouin community. “What we are developing is a model desert community with the participation of organizations that never work together, including the government, academic scientists and the Bedouin community,” said Al-Nabari.
“Our goal was to contribute to the Bedouin community, but not less important to demonstrate the principle of sustainability in different dimensions—technology, economy, ecology and community,” explained Michael Ben Eli, who also said that the entire project, from the outset, was undertaken with the participation of the Bedouin community, with men and women from different clans.
Prof. Yitzhak Meir spoke about green construction considerations in developing the project, in view of the complicated environmental conditions of the desert such as extreme heat, scorching sun, large differences in temperature between day and night, and sand storms.
Dr. Stefan Leu spoke about improving the soil on the farm. Prof. Amit Gross discussed transforming waste into a resource or, in less delicate language, turning goat turds into gas energy. It seems there is no better example than this project for combining traditional desert life and modern technological society.

Mariam Abu Rakeek. Photo: Yoav Devir

Bedouin herbalist Mariam Abu Rakeek emphasized the contribution of the project towards the status of women in Bedouin society and the preservation of Bedouin tradition in utilizing medicinal plants, vegetable and herbs. Abu Rakeek is responsible for the first Bedouin brand of cosmetics, which will be based on the plants used in the past by Bedouin women, many of which have almost been forgotten as a result of the transition to a modern lifestyle.
Mariam said that she learned about medicinal plants from her grandmother and noted that the farm project could improve the employment conditions of Bedouin women and thereby also help support their families. “Even women who are unable to leave the village will be able to work close to home by growing plants and seeds,” she said.
Abu Rakeek’s dream is to establish a seed bank for distribution in Israel and abroad, for the benefit of the Bedouin communities that have not preserved knowledge about traditional cultivation. A group of women took a training course over the year in growing winter and summer vegetables. From seeding stage to harvesting, they grew, among other things, a special cultivar of wheat which has not been grown in the Negev for sixty years. It is hard to describe the excitement of everyone involved in the project when they saw the wheat growing and coming back to life.