KKL-JNF Innovations in Water Conservation Technologies

Israel is an arid country, and water is a precious commodity. KKL-JNF bolsters the Israeli water economy through building and developing alternative sources of water which save the economy millions of shekels each year, promoting agriculture in Israel and saving potable drinking water.

  • Water is not something we can take for granted in an arid country like Israel, and the innovations of KKL-JNF play an important role in supporting Israel’s water economy. 

  • Reservoirs that store treated wastewater for recycling, biofilters for purifying runoff, agricultural research and development for economizing in irrigation, rehabilitating polluted streams, recreating ancient methods for planting trees in the desert - these are only a few examples of the extensive work being done by KKL-JNF for the benefit of Israel’s water economy.

  • The vast knowledge on water conservation amassed by KKL-JNF can benefit the whole world.


How is it that a hot and dry country like Israel, with scant precipitation and meager water sources, succeeds in maintaining a green, forested environment and developing prosperous agriculture?
 
Evidently, the work being done in water technology by KKL-JNF has been playing a key role in this astonishing success story.
 
Israel has four main water sources: Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the highland aquifer, the coastal aquifer and desalinated sea water.
 
Israel also has KKL-JNF, a venerable organization with an innovative and groundbreaking spirit that is always seeking new technologies for developing alternative water sources and for using water more efficiently.

Reservoirs: Recycled Water

The 230 reservoirs constructed by KKL-JNF all over Israel store floodwater and treated wastewater that is later conducted for agricultural irrigation. This is how expensive, potable freshwater is saved, how inexpensive water is supplied to farmers, and how agriculture can succeed in arid regions. 260 million cubic meters of water are added to Israel’s water economy annually thanks to these reservoirs.
 
Israel is the world leader today in the use of reclaimed water, far ahead of its runner up, Spain, which recycles 19% of its water. More than 85% of its effluents are treated and used for agriculture, and the aim is to reach 90% within the next few years.
 
Most of the agriculture in Israel is irrigated with reclaimed water. Large areas, which were once desolate due to water scarcity, especially in the Negev, are now green and covered with groves and field crops. Purified wastewater is relatively cheap and available for farmers, which enables them to profit from their labor.
 
Thanks to the reservoirs, effluents are not dumped in the streams or into the sea, so the reservoirs also make a significant contribution toward preserving the environment and preventing the pollution of natural water sources.

Biofiters: Purifying Runoff

The runoff from rainfall on urban streets gathers toxic substances that flow into streams and into the sea. 200 million cubic meters of rainwater are wasted annually in Israel, washing into the sea and polluting the beaches, the water and the fish. This is one of the environmental issues of the modern era.

The aim of the biofilter project was to utilize this rainwater, prevent pollution and replenish the groundwater. The technology was developed in conjunction with Monash University in Australia, and KKL-JNF has been promoting its application in Israel with support from Friends of JNF Australia.

Three biofilter facilities have been constructed in Israel to date, in Kfar Saba, Ramla and Bat Yam, and they have proven to be effective in collecting runoff, purifying it through biological and physical means that are environmentally friendly, and conducting it to the aquifer or to be used for irrigation.

The control systems installed at the three biofilters indicate that the technology is working proficiently. The polluted runoff that goes into the facility comes out of it almost good enough to drink.

What about in the summer when there is no rain? Water from polluted wells can then be pumped, purified and reintroduced to the groundwater, something like dialysis for an aquifer.

Haim Messing, the Director of the Southern Region for KKL-JNF, explains the principles of the biofilter process: The facility has several layers of sand, gravel and plants. The upper layer is covered with a bed of special plants that assist in purifying the water. The lower layers are not aerated, so they develop a population of bacteria that can thrive in an environment with very little oxygen, consume toxins and facilitate processes that purify the water. The complex system is effective in eliminating assorted pollutants, such as heavy metal particles, organic substances and lubricants.

This innovative project is defined as an experimental pilot, and it is being followed by several research studies investigating different aspects of biofilters on varying scales, different types of plants, and water quality. The studies are being done under the auspices of the Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel, which was founded jointly by KKL-JNF Israel, JNF Australia and four academic institutions -the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva and Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

A visitor to one of the biofilters expecting to see a dreary wastewater treatment facility is in for a pleasant surprise. It is an esthetic pool covered with green plants, and is encompassed by a park with walking and cycling paths. “It’s a fringe benefit of the biofilter project, the creation of pretty, green, urban parks that benefit the local community,” says Messing.

Constructed Wetlands: Imitating Nature

One could say that wetlands are nature’s wastewater treatment facilities. KKL-JNF has been trying to imitate natural wetlands by constructing artificial ones, and these sites have become attractions for nature lovers who like to hike.

The Constructed Wetlands project in Hod Hasharon, which is supported by JNF Australia, is one of the most important ecological projects being implemented in Israel today. Purified effluents from the Hod Hasharon and Kfar Saba wastewater treatment facility undergo a special process in the Constructed Wetlands and are then conducted to the Yarkon Stream to improve its water quality. The reclaimed water may also be used to irrigate lawns and cultivated fields.

David Pergament, the Director of the Yarkon River Authority, describes the environmentally friendly technology: “The polluted water is conducted to shallow pools with aquatic plants and different kinds of gravel. Water flowing through the wetlands generates chemical, physical and biological processes that eliminate toxic particles, which improves the water quality. Actually, it is a system of manmade marshes that imitate the purifying processes of natural marshes.”

Some technical data about the Constructed Wetlands in Hod Hasharon: The project is comprised of 3 filtration pools, the largest having a capacity of 6000 cubic meters. Each of the pools contains 1.2 meters of water and 1.1 meters of gravel. There is a three-layered system of pipes, including pipes that conduct air, a system of receptor pipes and a system of pipes with extensions of water sprinklers. Broad pipes with a diameter of 90 centimeters conduct the water to the stream.

The treated water attains a quality close to that of potable water and is then conducted to the nearby Kaneh Stream. From there it flows to the Yarkon and helps keep it free from the effluents and pollutants that were dumped in it for years, causing a great deal of harm. According to Pergament, “Not only are people benefiting from the project, but so is the whole natural environment, including animals and plants whose survival depends on the rehabilitation of the stream.”

Beyond its ecological advantages, the site will be part of an urban park that is currently being developed by the Hod Hasharon Municipality to benefit residents of the vicinity and visitors from all over Israel.

Forests in the Desert: Damage Prevention

40% of the world’s land mass is defined as arid or semi-arid. One third of the world’s population is coping with the challenges of life in these regions. The processes of desertification, which are caused by climate change and human conduct, are arousing a great deal of concern among experts.
 
Israel is an arid country, with the Negev desert covering two thirds of its area, so these issues are very relevant in the State of Israel. Due to desertification processes in vast areas of the world, more and more countries are contending with similar challenges, so the knowledge amassed by KKL-JNF could very well assist the entire world.
 
KKL-JNF has developed advanced techniques based on the ancient agricultural methods of the Nabateans, ancient residents of the Negev, for harvesting floodwater and combating the processes of desertification. Pooling water with liman inlets and rows of ridges enables the directing of the sparse rainwater and concentrating it in limited areas. Forests can be grown this way in areas where the annual rainfall is less than 200 millimeters.
 
The best scientists in Israel joined forces to create the specialized infrastructure that is so essential for the prosperity of the forests. KKL-JNF invests in advanced research and development for dealing with the challenges of afforestation in arid regions and in developing tree species that are resilient to aridity and prolonged drought.
 
Yitzhak Moshe, the Deputy Director of the Southern Region for KKL-JNF, describes the extraordinary forests in the Negev: “They are different than other forests in the world, in density and in the complex of trees. They have from five trees per dunam to a few dozen, whereas dense forests elsewhere can have up to hundreds or even thousands of trees per dunam.”
 
Loess soil, which is typical to the Negev, becomes impermeable when rain falls directly on the ground. As a result, extreme rainfall events generate violent flooding. The water gets wasted and causes erosion and damage to residential areas and to infrastructure.
 
Ultimately, forests play an important part in soil preservation and in damage prevention. According to Moshe, “Various research studies indicate that floodwater rarely leaves a forest, especially due to the cover of the trees. The water is caught in the foliage, which reduces the runoff significantly. When the ground is covered with vegetation, water seeps into it much better. The water improves the soil quality, thickens the vegetation, penetrates the groundwater, reduces the loss of organic material and prevents damage caused by flooding and erosion.”

R&D: Promoting Agriculture

The agricultural research & development centers established by KKL-JNF all over the country help Israel’s farmers deal with harsh conditions and succeed in their agricultural enterprises. These centers work in conjunction with the best research institutes and universities in Israel and employ field guides who help the farmers apply the knowledge on location. The R&D centers develop technologies for expanding the range of agricultural products that can grow in arid conditions and improving profitability for farmers by realizing the natural potential of the climate, soil, water sources and human resources.

“The experiments undertaken at the agricultural R&D centers help farmers deal with the climatic and soil conditions, save water, control pests and improve the profitability of their different crops,” notes Liana Ganot, the Director of Plant Protection at R&D South, which is located in the western Negev Besor region. Thanks to the innovative methods and distinctive cultivars developed by research scientists at the R&D center, agriculture is prospering in this region despite the hot and dry climate and the water scarcity.

Examples of some of the experiments being done at R&D South include growing strawberries suspended in air, which facilitates harvesting and impedes pests, protecting vineyards by heat shock instead of pesticides, testing the suitability of fruit, vegetable and flower cultivars, and developing proliferation protocols for boutique fish, and irrigation interfaces for increasing yields in conditions of extreme heat and saline water.

The Central and Northern Arava R&D center, which is substantially supported by KKL-JNF, is located in the center of an agriculture-intensive region. The R&D scientists there develop crop varieties and agricultural technologies for adjusting the agriculture to the severe conditions of the Arava, to the extreme temperatures, aridity and saline water. “Our job is to support the Israeli farmers so that they can make a living from their labor,” stresses Boaz Hurwitz, the Director of the Arava R&D center, “but the expertise we develop here is useful not only to us but also to other countries for promoting food security.”

Rehabilitating Streams: Preserving Nature

Many of Israel’s streams were polluted over the years by local effluents and those flowing from the territories of the Palestinian Authority. KKL-JNF refused to view the degraded state of the streams as inevitable and has been investing great efforts in their rehabilitation and cleanliness.

The work undertaken by KKL-JNF focuses on treating the stream banks, preventing soil erosion, planting trees alongside the streams, landscaping parks, attracting visitors to natural sites and supporting research studies on the subject of ecosystem rehabilitation.

Planting trees on stream banks helps preserve the water and the soil and prevents flooding and pollution. Fertilizers and pesticides get trapped in the vegetation instead of flowing into the stream.

In Italy Park along the Alexander Stream, a segment of the stream was rehabilitated as a model, with support from Friends of KKL-JNF in Italy. The park has hiking routes for walking and cycling, accessible paths, benches with shade, green lawns for recreation and picnics, and landscaped gardens. As a result of the rehabilitation of the stream, not only have the people been coming back, but the world of nature has also been flourishing there again. The lush flora on the stream banks, the unique aquatic soft-shell turtles, the nutrias, ducks and catfish all affirm that the neglect and the pollution are bygones.

Of the streams that have been rehabilitated, it is important to mention Nahal Beer Sheva. With support from Friends of KKL-JNF from around the world, the Beer Sheva Stream has been transformed from a neglected, polluted locality to a beautiful, green park that is improving the quality of life in the Negev. The park has lawns, promenades and landscaped gardens, and a manmade lake is currently under construction.

Where did the water come from for developing such a park in the desert? From the reservoirs constructed in the area by KKL-JNF that store reclaimed water, of course.

Drilling for Water: Digging Deep

There are countries that have an abundance of water flowing everywhere. In Israel, when there is no other choice, deep boreholes are drilled to reach the water, just as people in other places look for petroleum. An example of this is the drilling project in Shamir, in the Upper Galilee, which was developed and expanded with support from JNF USA.

There are three wells there, the deepest of them almost 1600 meters deep, one of the deepest in the world. The purpose of these wells was to produce water from an ancient aquifer that had not been tapped. The ancient water is trapped in the Jurassic layers, and when tapped by the well, artesian pressure occurs, where the water is able to reach a higher level than when it was first encountered, enabling it to flow out of the well unaided by a pump Due to the great depth the water temperature is 47C.

The boreholes in Shamir are expected to yield something like 25 million cubic meters of water annually for the irrigation of orchards and vineyards in the Golan and field crops in the Hula Valley. The high temperature of the water is enabling its use not only for agriculture but also for developing a spa resort.

The water will be stored in a local reservoir that is under construction, where the sulfur compounds in the water will evaporate. Thanks to this drilling project, a new water source has been created for dry years when the natural water sources of the Galilee and the Golan are insufficient

Sharing Knowledge: Contributing to the World

The expertise acquired by KKL-JNF does not serve Israel alone but also contributes to many other countries such as the neighboring Arab countries.

Innovative technologies developed at the agricultural R&D centers are shared with developing countries trying to maintain agriculture in arid regions. A remarkable example is the KKL-JNF contribution to a collaborative project in Turkana, Kenya, where all previous attempts to develop agriculture failed because of water issues, soil that was not conducive for cultivation, high temperatures, droughts and pests.

In cooperation with KKL-JNF, a training farm was set up, where local residents work with Israeli specialists. Crops suitable for the local conditions were selected, materials for fertilization and pest control were brought, and liman inlets were dug to pool rainwater, as KKL-JNF has been doing in the Negev for planting trees. Since the project began, 132 farms have been established in Turkana County. Vegetables and fruits are being produced there, including chickpeas, beans and melons, and there are plans to plant date palm groves.

At the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training (AICAT), more than 1000 students a year from different countries in Africa and Asia come to learn. Alongside academic studies, the students also get practical experience on the farms in the Arava.

“When they complete their studies here, they return to their countries with expertise in modern agriculture and confidence that agriculture can succeed in harsh conditions,” says Hanni Arnon, the Director of AICAT.

As the processes of desertification are accelerating around the world, more and more people in more and more places are dealing with water challenges. KKL-JNF’s expertise and willingness to share it may be no less than instrumental in ensuring the future of the world, and of the people, animals and plants that live in it.