KKL-JNF and Monash University

This unique encounter was the result of an initiative on the part of JNF Australia, which has fostered a research relationship between KKL-JNF and Australia’s Monash University

June 13, 2010 15:52

kkl. (photo credit: kkl)

KKL-JNF and Monash University
Promoting Sustainable Water Management

How can an urban water economy be managed in such a way as to ensure that the water that comes out of the faucets and runs in the streets will be reused for secondary purposes, and thereby both improve the quality of the urban environment and protect the ecology? Dozens of scientists specializing in ecology, water engineering, urban planning and agricultural research met under the auspices of KKL-JNF to try to provide an answer to this complex question.

This unique encounter was the result of an initiative on the part of JNF Australia, which has fostered a research relationship between KKL-JNF and Australia’s Monash University, one of the most important environmental research institutions. The collaboration with the University began several years ago, with the introduction of the bio-filter water-purification method and secondary use of rainfall collected from urban streets. KKL-JNF launched the first project of this kind in Kfar Saba, thanks to contributions of JNF Australia. The project was managed by Yaron Zinger, as part of his doctoral studies at Monash University. This marked the beginning of extensive bilateral scientific relations, which this conference has proposed should now be broadened to include joint research projects for the benefit of both countries. These would be conducted in research groups operating under the umbrella of KKL-JNF Israel, JNF Australia and Monash University. A delegation from Monash University, led by Professor Tony Wong, has arrived in Israel for an initial visit. The delegation members toured leading Israeli research facilities and observed at first hand the variety of environmental and water research projects underway. At KKL-JNF’s instigation, some of Israel’s leading water and environmental scientists came to meet the visitors and discuss the issues with them. The Israeli participants included Professor Avital Gasith of Tel Aviv University, who served as academic chairperson for the conference on behalf of KKL-JNF; Professor Uri Shani, Director General of the Israel Water Authority; Professor Uri Shamir and Professor Uri Shavit of the Technion’s Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Professor Naomi Carmon, of the Technion’s Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning; Professor Yeshayahu Bar-Or, Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Environmental Protection; Professor Richard Laster, a specialist in environmental law from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Law; Professor Rachel Alterman, of the Technion’s Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning; Professor Avner Adin, of the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, and President of the Israeli Water Association; Dr. Sara Spiegel of the Volcani Centre; Dr. Hadas Maman of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Engineering; Dr. Shlomo Wald, Chief Scientist at the Ministry of National Infrastructures; Yael Shaltieli, Director General of KKL-JNF Israel; David Brand, KKL-JNF Chief Forester and Head of International Research; and Avri Kadmon, KKL-JNF Head of Water Development Projects.

All the above, together with many other highly-respected experts, convened to hear the details of the research framework within which Monash University suggests pursuing this collaboration, under the heading Water-Sensitive Cities – research collaboration with Israel. The meeting was opened by Yael Shaltieli, who declared that KKL-JNF is proud to provide the platform for this important scientific collaboration. She congratulated Professor Avital Gasith on having been awarded the Environmental Protection Minister's Prize for Environmental Excellence, because, to quote from the summary of the panel of judges, “As the pioneer of research into the ecology of Mediterranean rivers, Professor Avital Gasith has laid the scientific foundations for the rehabilitation of Israel’s waterways. His groundbreaking research has influenced a great many students, and his outstanding activities and perseverance have played a decisive role in shaping Israel’s environmental policies.”

Professor Avital Gasith assured those present that by the end of the conference all its many participants would be convinced that the planned collaboration had an excellent and worthy objective: “On the agenda is a proposal for multi-disciplinary research into water-economy management, with urban water use as the prime focus. The plan is to bring the various fields of research into contact with urban planning and social sciences; the aim is to obtain practical results from the research, which will eventually promote more effective use of natural resources, and, at the same time, improve the quality of urban life.”

Professor Wong, CEO of the Center for Water-Sensitive Cities at Melbourne’s Monash University, presented the main research trends underway at present at the institution he heads: “Urban sewage and rainwater flow directly into the rivers and other water sources, and pollute them,” he said. “We have created constructed wetlands that filter the water through suitably adapted vegetation, enabling it to be reclaimed for use in municipal parks and gardens. This is a nature-based filtering system that can purify polluted water to the point where it can be used for irrigation both within the city and on the surrounding agricultural land. In our conception, the cities of the future will operate like kidneys: all the water discharged by the urban environment will pass through a natural purification system that will be an integral part of the urban landscape. One of the questions is whether to release this reclaimed water back into the rivers or use it to rehabilitate dwindling water sources.”

Professor Wong presented a series of major issues that require scientific investigation, and added, “It is very important to understand the relevance of this technology to challenges that face us worldwide, such as fast-growing urbanization, ecological change and other factors whose future influence on the environment is still uncertain. We are already adjusting to the prospect of drought in the future; in the same way, we must also be prepared for flooding. We already know that attempts to strengthen river banks adjacent to cities, in an attempt to increase flow and prevent flooding, have had unfortunate consequences – such as the deterioration of water quality in urban rivers – and these, in turn, have had a negative impact on the environment.    

“The city is the melting pot where all the complex challenges that confront us as researchers and planners, meet and combine. By the time our research is complete, I should like to see all the various branches of research come together to facilitate the construction of healthy cities.  But we cannot propose workable solutions unless we understand the parallel processes that are underway, and how they affect one another. I hereby propose that, if we agree with the appropriate measure of seriousness upon the essence of the changes that such combined research will bring to humanity, we must enlist scientists from different fields, so that we can act together to draw practical conclusions. Before taking more water from desalination plants, for example, we have to decide how to make use of the rainwater that runs off roofs. The development of desalination technology has bought us extra time, which will allow us to come up with innovations that will significantly reduce our dependence on desalination in the future. We must also construct models that will enable us to assess to what extent water-economy deterioration is the result of climate change, and what effect over-urbanization has had on this problem. We have to see how much water enters a city, and how much comes out of it – and also how urban water reclamation can be increased in the context of what I call ‘the urban metabolism’.”

Professor Wong concluded by emphasizing that, in the final analysis, cities develop only if people want to live in them: “A city’s vitality is composed of a large number of elements: some of these are inflexible, but many others can be influenced. When all’s said and done, it’s not a matter of technology – rather, it all comes down to human beings and human society. In Israel there’s a lot of talk about cooperation, but I get the impression that everyone’s talking about technologies that bring in money. I should like to talk about the influence of this research on our way of life and the society we live in.”

During the debate that followed Professor Wong’s speech, the participants raised questions and offered comments. Professor Uri Shani pointed out the basic difference between Israel’s water economy, which operates as a closed system, and that of countries like Australia, which have access to water from a variety of sources, both natural and artificial. “In Israel urban water economies can bear the additional costs of desalinated water, while the state has to ensure water supply to both the south and north of the country, as a national necessity. People cannot settle in the periphery unless they are supplied with water,” he said.

As Professor Gasith remarked after the main concept had been presented, the participants will need to examine the various ideas, each according to his or her particular area of specialization, and estimate their feasibility. They will then be asked to formulate the topics for collaborative work in the context of joint Israeli-Australian workshops, which will be held in Israel in the near future.

For Articles, comments or use please contact
 Ahuva Bar-Lev
KKL-JNF – Information and Publications
Email: ahuvab@kkl.org.il
 Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493

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