Water Sensitive Cities Conference Held in Tel Aviv

Monday, November 06, 2017 12:26 PM

Tackling stormwater runoff that flows through city streets until it reaches the rivers and seas, causing wastage and pollution.

The need for a sustainable and unified environmental policy to deal with the escalating problem of urban water contamination was the message that came from this year’s Water Sensitive Cities Conference, which was held at the Kfar Maccabiah hotel on October 29, 2017. The Conference was hosted by The Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel and KKL-JNF. Amongst the participants were city planners, heads of local and regional councils, water authority officials, landscape architects and drainage engineers.
Head of the Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel Dr. Yaron Zinger, who was the driving force behind the conference, said that the main idea behind the event was to showcase the achievements in the field of water sensitive cities, and to talk about the way forward.
“The problem has become acute. Our weather has become extreme, with short fierce rainfall after long dry periods. Today some 90% of the residents of the country live in cities which are expanding fast.  As a result there is more runoff which means more pollution and our ecology is suffering. We regard the city water basin as a water supplier, and the challenge is to deal with flooding in the basin and to make that water usable. We want to promote awareness amongst the relevant parties of the problem resulting from untended water runoff, especially the government and local authorities, because they ultimately have to deal with the problem. They are the planners and the developers.”
The conference was opened by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who said that Israel’s current expertise in water technology was born out of a need, however with all the expertise there is still a serious need to deal with the issue of storm water and runoff pollution.
“We have begun, but what we have achieved is not sufficient. Every year when the rains start we see how the runoff gathers up the dirt that had built up during the summer and delivers this contamination to the Yarkon River and to the sea. Due to its geographical location, Tel Aviv is on the receiving end of pollution that comes from cities further east. During rainfall, pollution from Petach Tikva streams into to the Big City. We want to put an end to that, and we will cooperate with everybody that can deal with it.”
KKL-JNF Central Region Director, Haim Messing, who is also the Chairman of the Center for Water Sensitive cities, set the tone of the conference when he read a quote from the Globes newspaper that was published two days earlier.
“It’s time to roll up our sleeves. We cannot wait for things to work themselves out because that will not happen. Israel has a great water problem with an annual deficit of two and a half billion cubic meters of clean natural water. The amount of water evaporation today is greater than what is received.  As a result of this situation water salinity is on the rise and the sea is becoming more and more polluted. There are fewer fish in the sea and the list goes on. If we remain idle there is no doubt that the problem will become worse.”
Prof. Richard Laster of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is an expert in environmental law, told the audience that he was invited to explain the situation concerning the multitude of different governmental and local authorities and other departments connected to the field of drainage and runoff planning. He listed some 15 bodies and said there are much more, including the authorities dealing with building, health, environment, roads, agriculture, water and more.
“That is the situation and you have to live with it. There must be team work. My suggestion is that the statutory authority, called a basin authority, which already exists in Israel, be empowered to call in all these different bodies when planning and development is needed.  Today we experience paralysis due to a severe lack of coordination amongst all the relevant departments.”
CEO of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel Shlomo Dolberg suggested that there is a misunderstanding regarding which authorities are responsible for making sure that proper drainage is taken into account, and that the part of the local municipal authority should not be underestimated.
“There is no doubt that the local and regional councils are a major part of the solution. Even though most of the water sector is run by the various local water corporations, those corporations are unable to drive the issue forward. Environmental planning and strategy is the realm of local councils. However the local councils need to be motivated, and financed.  In many cases KKL-JNF has offered to foot the bill, but KKL-JNF can only do so much. There is perhaps a need for appropriate legislation.”
Sounding a different note, KKL-JNF Director General Amnon Ben Ami said he was pleased by the full cooperation KKL-JNF received from a host of departments and sectors.
“Our pilot projects in Kfar Saba, Ramle and Bat Yam have proven that it is possible to convert runoff from being a nuisance to an asset, and as such to enrich our water supply. We obviously could not have done that without the cooperation of the Water Authority, local councils, and all the relevant government authorities. In light of this I hereby call for the establishment of a joint team to take the lead in finding ways to deal with runoff on a national level. Meanwhile KKL-JNF plans to issue tenders for the establishment of more biofilters to enrich the countries water reserves.”
KKL-JNF Chief Scientist Dr. Omri Boneh warned that there is no time to lose. “By the year 2030 the urban areas of Israel will have doubled. Expanding cities mean more buildings, more concrete covered earth, more roads and thus more runoff and more pollution.” He thanked JNF Australia and Monash University in Australia- which is a pioneer and world leader in the realm of water sensitive cities - for their support and cooperation. It was with JNF Australia’s support that KKL-JNF and Monash University collaborated on Water Sensitive Cities in Israel, leading to the creation of biofilters in three Israeli cities as a pilot project.
The need for better legislation was echoed by Tel Aviv District urban planner Naomi Angel. She said that the local water corporations should be more responsible in controlling storm water runoff.
“The basis of all town planning must revolve around topography and storm water control. It is not sufficient to leave so much responsibility just in the hands of the local authority. Other bodies such as the local water authorities should be involved.”
Urban planner and sociologist Prof. Naomi Carmon of the Technion spoke about the issues of water sensitive planning for the benefit of both humankind and nature. Carmon said that she believes that legislation must be tightened to encompass wide scale interdisciplinary planning.
Ongoing studies on issues connected to storm water runoff were presented by researchers from 3 Israeli universities. These were Professor Eran Friedler from the Technion Institute of Technology, who spoke about “The Vision of Water Sensitive Cities”; Professor Roni Wallach of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who described the characteristics of urban water runoff in Israel; and Professor Evyatar Erel who described integrated solutions for planning water sensitive cities.
KKL-JNF land conservation and drainage planner Chaim Sahar has been monitoring KKL-JNF design and construction for years. He showed pictures, gave explanations and told anecdotes from many KKL-JNF environmental projects that were undertaken and honed to perfection. “We have learned to move from defect to effect in many fields including storm water runoff. Now it’s simply a matter of creating the proper administrative architecture on the local and national level to implement the solution. It can be done and will be done.”