While Israel is already by far the global leader in wastewater recycling, Jewish National Fund (JNF) is determined to see the country reuse nearly all of its sewage in the years to come as its population continues to expand from North to South.
“For decades, JNF-USA has been involved in the water economy of the State of Israel,” Talia Tzour Avner, JNF-USA’s chief Israel emissary, told The Jerusalem Post.
“Our long-term intention is to increase Israel’s recycled water from 85% to 95%.
This is an aspect that JNF, as a Zionist organization and as a charity, can touch and improve.”
For the past 20 years, JNF has been working alongside Israel to support a variety of projects to retain, enhance and purify Israel’s water system.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a coalition of willing partners to get a water innovation project off the ground, Dr. Morton Mower, chair of JNF’s National Water Task Force, explained.
“The government doesn’t have enough money to do everything and that’s where JNF comes in,” he said, citing the $30 million Shamir Drilling project near the Golan Heights as an example of such an endeavor.
Ahead of the upcoming United Nations World Water Day on March 22, JNF has both near and long-term visions for Israel’s wastewater treatment, river rehabilitation, water reservoir, irrigation, and water education activities.
One such project for 2017 is a water reclamation and recycling program at the Beduin community of Um Batin in the Negev desert. JNF plans to connect Beduin households to on-site wastewater treatment and reuse systems to minimize environmental and public health risks, while providing high-quality wastewater for the community’s irrigation needs.
Since many Beduin villages are not connected to a sewage treatment facility – what industry insiders refer to being “offgrid” – many dispose of their sewage in non-environmentally friendly ways resulting in ground water pollution that’s a public health hazard, Dr. Clive Lipchin, director of the Center for Transboundary Water Management at The Arava Institute, explained.
One possible solution would be linking communities to a localized water treatment facility to make sure wastewater is disposed of properly.
“For the community,” Lipchin said, “agriculture is an important part of their livelihood. So irrigation is a very important issue for them.”
An additional water project on the horizon for JNF in 2017 is the Arava Wastewater Treatment Plant, which will collect sewage from six kibbutzim and dairy farms in the Eilot Regional Council, situated just north of Eilat. The treated effluent will be pumped to JNF’s existing Elifaz Reservoir, which provides water for agricultural use to 10 area kibbutzim.
The treatment plant, according to JNF, will help stimulate the growth of a region that is isolated from the national water supply grid.
“One of the greatest things about water is that it allows for the resettlement of people, and we have initiatives to bring 300,000 people to the north as well as 500,000 to the south,” Mower predicted.
One major river restoration project still under way is the Beersheba River and the accompanying Beersheba River Park.
While JNF has already succeeded in cleaning up the river and constructing most of a planned eight-kilometer (five-mile) promenade, the organization is still at work on the rest of the park. JNF is planning to use recycled water from the city to fill a 23-acre lake designed for boating, bird watching, and other activities.
JNF is also involved in a planned water-drilling program at Halutza, a JNFbuilt network of three communities in the Negev bordering Egypt and Gaza that is not connected to the water grid. Due to the area’s isolation and the need to use expensive desalinated water for agriculture, the crops grown there have been “almost unprofitable,” Tzour Avner said.
“We found a new method to recycle sewage that will be located in the Negev using wetlands to purify the sewage,” Mower said.
“It’s a much cheaper way of purifying sewage.
It also provides water for agriculture that doesn’t have any restrictions from the Health Ministry.”
Farther north, near Yokne’am, JNF is partnering with the organization LOTEM – Making Nature Accessible, to build a wetlands pond at the Emek Hashalom Farm.
JNF and LOTEM, an NGO that enables people with disabilities to enjoy nature, will be constructing an intricate rainwater collection system to gather water into a pond.
This year, JNF is also continuing to focus its efforts on two water education projects.
The organization intends to expand its existing Rainwater Harvesting Program, which already provides schools throughout Israel with an interactive means of teaching students water conservation.
The second education initiative is JNF’s sponsorship of the Israeli International Stockholm Junior Water Prize Competition, which recognizes the work of young people on water research.
“As World Water Day rolls around on March 22, JNF will be planning activities in all of its US communities, sending speakers to campuses and synagogues to discuss Israel’s water landscape,” Tzour Avner said.
“JNF,” she explained, “aims not only to continue to improve access to water in Israel, but also to expand awareness of the larger role the country can play in bringing such solutions to a water-starved world.”
In June, the organization will be holding a series of events at a variety of consulates and missions to the UN, in order to discuss Israel’s progress in the water economy and the knowledge the country has brought to the world, Tzour Avner added.
Looking beyond 2017 and toward the long-term future, in addition to raising Israel’s water reuse from 85% to 95%, Tzour Avner stressed the importance of cleaning up all of Israel’s 31 rivers. “Each and every one of these rivers has been victim to pollution over the years,” she explained.
Mower, too, is also eagerly looking ahead to the future and envisions a reality where Israel will export excess water to countries in need.
While the future is bright, it’s not without its challenges.
Lipchin is particularly alarmed over the state of Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) in the North and the residents’ dependence on it as their sole water supply. “With climate change and the problems it causes on the rise, depending on consistent rainfall is risky business at best,” Lipchin said.
There are now “discussions at the Water Authority to build a desalination facility near Acre to provide water to the population and to even sending a pipeline from that desalination plant to the Kinneret to help raise the water levels of the lake,” he said.
Also, the water levels of the Dead Sea and Jordan River are dropping at an alarming rate and can only be solved if the three parties involved – Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority – are able to reach some sort of diplomatic agreement regarding this transboundary water issue.
Mower, for his part, is optimistic, though. “I don’t think there are any problems that are unsolvable,” he asserted, pointing out that other places – like California – have a lot to learn from Israel’s water woes 20 years ago.
“Our influence now in the world is terrific in terms of new technology, water conservation and reuse. We’re already making so much impact,” he said. Noa Amouyal contributed to this report.
This article was written in cooperation with JNF-USA.