A giant ball of thorns crossing an empty desert road in the east wind of the wilderness – there is no doubt that this is the arid image of Israel among many people who have never visited our beautiful country. Indeed, Israel is an arid country with wide stretches of desert, and our forests are a kind of big wood in the eyes of a European tourist. But little Israel is rich in varied forms of scenery, and although the desert image is not totally unfounded, it has much green to offer. No less than 200 springs, both large and small, emanate in KKL-JNF forests.
Photograph: Dr. Orit Schotalski
According to Dr. Orit Skotelsky, an ecologist in KKL-JNF's Chief Scientist's unit who specializes in the subject of rehabilitation of rivers and springs, these wonderful water sources are located in river basins throughout the country. In the north of Israel – in the forests of the Golan Heights, the Hula Valley, the Upper and Lower Galilee, the area of Emek HaMa'ayanot (the Valley of Springs), in the Ramot Menashe forests and also in the Jerusalem Mountains. In fact, a refreshing spring is hidden in nearly every one of KKL-JNF's forests. The biggest of them – springs that flow throughout the entire year – rely on the deep aquifer layers that carry much groundwater, whereas the smaller ones are seasonal springs, which emanate from a local aquifer between the rocks and from shallow groundwater. The seasonal springs flow with water mainly in the winter, and at the height of summer they dry up and disappear.
And you? You love them! Particularly the large springs that connect to a section of a river. A picnic in the shade of an oak tree and a dip in the cool water when the sun blazes in the skies... In a small, crowded country, with many days of sunshine and not much water, these springs are an amazing escape for all nature lovers, but... not only for them.
One of the challenges facing KKL-JNF's experts and the foresters who deal with rehabilitation and conservation of springs and rivers is finding the delicate balance between meeting the needs of enthusiastic visitors and the needs of the animals who need water to sustain them. On the one hand, in many KKL-JNF forests enjoyable pools were built in the past for paddling, which enable people to refresh themselves in the popular springs among animals of the species "Homo sapiens" (in many of the large year-round springs there are archaeological buildings, which remind us that our ancestors also collected water for their sustenance, and enjoyed splashing water on their friends on hot days).
On the other hand, KKL-JNF is committed to preserving nature – and to looking after the diverse species of plants and wild animals that rely on the natural water sources for their existence: birds, mammals that live in the forests, wetland species that live in the water such as water beetles, crabs, water snails, dragonflies and many other species that cannot survive without permanent water sources in the forest. KKL-JNF is committed and makes immense efforts to preserve amphibian species such as Levant water frogs or tree frogs, which live in the spring when they are tadpoles.
Most amphibian species are very sensitive, and some, such as the southern banded newt and the beautiful salamander, have become very rare species that are in danger of extinction in Israel due to drying up and pollution of the springs and because of the pressures of development and the pressures of visitors. They all need the water of the springs that emanate in the forests. We must not reach a situation where the newts and frogs are downtrodden and disappear from KKL-JNF forests!
So, who do we choose? Humans or animals? A safe and friendly refreshing stop for visitors or a clean water source for wild animals and water plants? The answer, of course, is both. Finding the right balance between rehabilitation and conservation of the springs and rivers and making water accessible for visitors and holidaymakers in the forest is one of the greatest challenges facing the forest planners, the ecologists and the foresters of KKL-JNF.
The springs in Israel have been greatly damaged by pumping water, pollution and development. KKL-JNF foresters face the big, important challenge of rehabilitating and looking after the springs – for the benefit of the wild animals and water plants for which the spring is home and the water is essential for their existence.
In recent years we have witnessed a process that has contributed greatly to preserving the rivers and has made the work significantly easier. When the state was founded, founding new settlements and agricultural development relied solely on natural water sources – the water of the springs and the Sea of Galilee, and most of the springs in Israel were "captured" and their water served for drinking and agriculture. However, we are glad to say that in the past decade, large plants for desalination of seawater for drinking have been built, and plants have been built for purifying and treating sewage that today is used for agriculture. This advancement has created an entirely new situation: most of the water that we drink today is desalinated seawater, and most of the water used for agriculture is purified wastewater. In other words, suddenly we have water like... water.
This new situation enables us to "release" the water of the springs for the benefit of nature, in a process called "water replenishment," in the framework of "nature's right to water." Yes, nature has such a right, and we are very glad that in recent years it has been realized all the more forcefully.
As part of the process, KKL-JNF's experts make sure that the released spring water flows the most natural way "from the source" – where it is the cleanest and most suitable for the needs of nature preservation, and will connect to the river's natural course. Downriver, KKL-JNF works on rehabilitation of the river banks and ensures that we can paddle safely and enjoyably in cool water. The goal: to balance optimal rehabilitation for the benefit of nature and animals with making the spring accessible to visitors. We're going with the flow.