After November 2010, the driest November Israel ever experienced since records began to be kept in 1927, torrential rains finally fell in Israel in the middle of December. The rains were more than welcome, as the extreme dryness was one of the causes of the rapid spread of the Carmel forest fire, which destroyed about 35,000 dunams of planted forests and natural woodlands. Even so, Professor Uri Shani, the head of the Israeli Water Authority, is not optimistic: "Even with this rain, it looks like this is going to be the seventh consecutive year of drought," said. "Although we have saved water, desalinated, reduced water pumping and increased the cost of water, we are still in a huge water deficit."
The recent rains brought the water level of Lake Kinneret up to 214.01 meters beneath sea level, which is still dangerously low, since it is over five meters beneath its full capacity, 101 centimeters beneath the lower red line, and only 88 centimeters above the black line, beneath which the lake will be permanently damaged as a water resource. The coastal aquifer is on the verge of becoming contaminated, as the fresh water level drops and the water becomes more and more brackish.
Even when rain finally falls, it's not always possible to take full advantage of the water, especially when it comes down so intensely over so short a period of time, a concurrent phenomenon over recent years. In terms of Israel's water economy, the value of such rain is low. The earth is not able to absorb the huge amounts of water that come down over a short period of time, and the rainwater ends up in the sewage system and from there in the ocean.
The Israeli government, together with the Water Authority, is preparing an emergency plan that mainly includes building desalination plants and pumping from wells that are obsolete, after they have been cleaned and treated. The desalination plants should be able to cover the water deficit within two years, but not everyone is so thrilled about them. "The desalination plants occupy a huge amount of space on Israel's rapidly disappearing natural shoreline, and create a great deal of pollution," said Gilad Erdan, the Minister of the Environment. "The water problem will not be entirely solved by desalination, regardless of how many plants are built," he added.
As has been the case for the past couple decades, KKL-JNF is at the forefront of finding creative and innovative ways of alleviating Israel's water crisis. It has often been said that KKL-JNF is Israel's fourth aquifer, thanks to the water reservoirs it has built over the length and breadth of the country. To date, KKL-JNF has built over 220 water reservoirs, including 21 that have been completed or are in various stages of completion during 2010. These reservoirs, which harvest rainwater or purified effluents, are being built with the help of friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, including from Canada, the USA, Norway, Australia, England and Holland. Thanks to these reservoirs, Israel currently recycles water for agricultural usage more than any other country in the world.
Did we mention creative and innovative ideas? On the northern outskirts of Kfar Saba, Israel's first bio-filter system is waiting for the rains to begin, with the goal of taking advantage of rainwater collected from the city streets and recycling it for municipal use. In an average season, the sewage systems of the coastal plain cities in Israel collect about 200 million cubic meters of water, all of which is channeled into the sea and not taken advantage of. Yaron Zinger, who was completing his doctorate at Monash University in Melbourne, suggested building Israel's first bio-filter system, and JNF Australia took up the challenge, initiating, supporting and promoting this revolutionary project, which was built by KKL-JNF. The bio-filter system is based on integrating unique strands of plants, bacteria with an appetite for substances that negatively affect water quality, and layers of water and soil. As Yaron Zinger said, "The bio-filter is ready. All our monitoring equipment is calibrated and ready to run. We just need a lot of rain, which Israel is so desperately in need of."
In other places in Israel, such as Dimona in the Negev Emek Hefer near Netanya and Yarkon, KKL-JNF has launched constructed wetlands projects. A constructed wetland is an ecological wastewater treatment facility that uses a series of pools, in which a variety of aquatic plants grow to simulate a natural wetland environment, to purify polluted water. As the water flows from one pool to the other it undergoes biological purification, resulting in water that can be used for irrigation of certain crops and watering lawns. Besides their importance for Israel's water economy, constructed wetlands are beautiful nature spots that can be used for recreation and leisure activities.
In the meantime, prayer gatherings and fasts, the traditional Jewish manner of
contending with a lack of rain, were declared. A day of fasting and praying was announced by the Chief Rabbinate, in addition to private initiatives throughout the country. One of them was a mass prayer for rain organized by a producer named Orit Netzer from Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv on December 7. This event took place in a number of sites related to water and agriculture, including KKL-JNF sites and parks. Maybe these prayers helped, since, as previously mentioned, a huge storm began on Friday, December 11.
With KKL-JNF's efforts on the ground and eyes lifted in prayer to the heavens, Israel is hoping that the recent rains are only the beginning, and that there will be copious rains to compensate for the unseasonable dryness that characterized the first month and a half of winter 5711/2010-2011. Unfortunately, no rain has fallen since then, highlighting the importance of KKL-JNF's water projects, which, by providing water for agriculture, free up freshwater for domestic use. The contributions and support of KKL-JNF's friends throughout the world continue to be critical in order to create alternative water sources for Israel.