Restoring the Soil and Ensuring Israel's Future

Article courtesy of the Channel 7

Over the past few years, KKL-JNF has been working extensively to preserve Israel's soils and prevent drift, while creating significant collaborations for the benefit of nature and the country's residence.

Important terms as soil drift and channels retreat may not be too familiar to the public at large, but it's important to understand that KKL-JNF holds extensive soil restoration activity based on these terms, aimed at maximizing the use of land and the benefit of travelers in open spaces, all while protecting nature.

We spoke with leading experts on the field of soil preservation at KKL-JNF to learn of this important subject and its implications.

Yaron Ohayon, director of land and development at KKL-JNF, explains that the issue of soil preservation made large progress in the past few years: "There was a basic misunderstanding and it turned out that soild preservation is an important factor in restoring and managing open fields. The interface between the streams and the agricultural fields and the KKL-JNF roads and forest activities requires an action on soil preservation. This includes proper and professional handling of the upper run-off, handling the interface between the agricultural fields and KKL-JNF fields, handling the connection between the streams and the areas that KKL-JNF manages and more." He adds, "Today, there is an excellent work in soil preservation in all areas."
Ohayon explains that in the southern region, the unit became highly professional, achieving its goals with the help of professionals from the northern and central region. "This move holds long-term significance throughout the entire spectrum of KKL-JNF activity, in landscape roads, cycling tracks, parks and other sites that are open to the public. All this while restoring drifted and desert areas, along the adjustment of floods near agricultural and urban areas. 

נחל צידה לפני הטיפול. צילום: איציק משה, קק"לTzeida stream before the restoration. Photograph: Itzik Moshe, KKL-JNF

Motti Shriki, director of the Negev Mountain and the soil preservation divisions the southern Israel of KKL-JNF, is dealing with the subject since 1987, and he is a specialist in the field of soil restoration. He explains that "soil is there basis for the existence of man, plants and wildlife. As a result, of mankind's actions in the northern Negev – in wadis, and in agricultural fields, deep channels were created and banks retreated along the strems. People have also created problems by cutting down trees and plants, leading to accelerated run-offs and drifts. Along the wadis there is a big problem of unauthorized garbage dumps. In many cases, the streams that suffer from drifts become the "back yard" of nearby towns. Garbage dumping increases drift, the soil drifts and blocks the movement of travelers we wish to bring to the area."

Shriki lists several actions required to preserve the soil: stopping agricultural processing at the stream strip, taking care of all the garbage damage, and taking care of drift damage that piled up throughout the years. "We take care of garbage damage, arrange educational activities, and plant in the field with the collaboration of the local community, allowing restoration of the natural flora."

Restoration of the soil and the flora helps bringing back wildlife to the streams strip. In addition, landscape roads, recreation areas and appropriate signs along the streams allow members of the local communities and travelers to enjoy the restored sites.

Two successful examples at the southern region are the Zeda and Hanun streams restoration projects. The two streams are near the towns of Sde Tzvi, Klahim and Zrua. In collaboration with the local councils of Merhavim and Sdot Negev, agricultural processing in the streams have stopped, and the piles of garbage along the wadis have been cleaned.

At the margins of the streams, children from nearby towns participated in planting, and roads were paved along the wadis. According to Shriki, all throughout the year and especially during the blooming of the anemone (the "Red South" period), the tourism projects in the area draw travelers from all over Israel. "This tourism activity is of great social and economic contribution to the local residents. We aim at having families able to travel with their private vehicle near the streams and enjoy the site of running water during the floods of the winter."

Over the years, KKL-JNF has restored dozens of miles of wadis at the northern Negev area. All wadis are located in an agricultural area or in the back yard of towns. "We have restored the streams and turned them into forest strips that contribute local residents and the environment. In fact, the restored stream strips became the only unfertilized lands within active agricultural fields. There are plenty of wadis that we have not reached yet, but we will get to them later. We work according to approved plans and in collaboration with local communities, take care of garbage and drift damage and restore the streams that provide important ecological services to the local residents," says Shriki.

ניהול נגר עילי ממשק חקלאי במעלה נחל גחר. צילום: כאמל עליאן, קק"לManagement of upper run-off at the Gahar stream. Photograph: Kamel Elian, KKL-JNF

Haim Sahar, soil preservation and drainage planner at KKL-JNF's central region, explains how he and his friends work. "Soil preservation planner has varied jobs. He touches upon almost every area that KKL-JNF deals with: planting, trimming, chopping, restoration of burned forests, forest roads, cycling tracks, crowd and community, streams, infrastructures, interface with agriculture, urban spaces and more. All these varied roles are related to soil preservation. In fact, any action related to soil makes it vulnerable to drift." According to him, there is an effort to prevent these process, some occur naturally, but in other people play key roles.

Sahar provides an example from the project: "I was in the Ramat Menashe and Ein HaShofet area, where I presented KKL-JNF's interface with the agriculture. The area saw between 60 and 70 centimeters of the best soil disappearing in the fields and orchards. In order to reduce the soil drift problem, KKL-JNF collaborates with many other parties as the Kishon Drainage Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture. We organized incredible projects and we see a stabilization in the soil drifts. We slowed the process considerably, and the problems we run into now are mostly from urban, industrial and agricultural sources." Sahar also notes that the expansion of towns and physical infrastructures hurts the forests and creates serious problems in different aspects of soil preservation.

As far as Sahar is concerned, his leading mantra is "Turning a hazard into resource." One major example comes from the city of Ma'ale Adumim. For many years, the municipal council holds a highly successful collaboration with KKL-JNF: "Together, we created a unique project in the field of managing urban upper run-off – which represents the interface between the city, the forest and the run-off wherever it concerns rainwater that can cause damage."

"Ma'ale Adumim is at the desert frontier area, with an annual raindrop median of about 300 millimeters, and using "upper run-off harvest", the amount of water for the fields is doubled and sometimes even tripled. In addition, there is also an oasis project in the area based on upper run-off, turning a hazard into resource. We manage the whole upper run-off, creating a new ecosystem." The urban spaces are water factories, with the drainage systems handling huge amounts of rainwater that fell on the city (upper run-off).
KKL-JNF is working on many other restoration projects aimed at preventing drift damage, and plan ahead so that the public can enjoy a wider variety of sites, trails and recreation areas throughout Israel.

Originally published April 7, 2024