Israel’s Fourth Aquifer

Israel has three main water sources: Lake Kinneret, the Mountain Aquifer and the Coastal Aquifer. The country also has KKL-JNF, which has increased Israel's water economy to such an extent that it has been dubbed "Israel's fourth aquifier".

During recent years, Israel's water crisis has been gradually worsening. There are several reasons for the water shortage:
 
  • Israel is a semi-arid region with few sources of water;

 

  • the population is growing rapidly;

 

  • the standard of living with its accompanying consumption of water per capita is rising;

 

  • there have been several consecutive years of drought.  
 


A reservoir in Mitzpe Ramon. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

For many years, KKL-JNF has been working to bolster Israel's water economy by developing alternative water sources, saving the economy millions of shekels each year, advancing Israeli agriculture, and saving palatable drinking water.
 
KKL-JNF’s collects and treats water from agriculture, sewage, flash floods and urban runoff for recycling, saving precious fresh water sources for drinking. With its 220 water reservoirs throughout the country, KKL-JNF has enriched Israel's water economy by a total of 260 million cubic meters.
 
The water produced by KKL-JNF activity is used by Israeli farmers for agriculture and for rehabilitation of polluted rivers, streams and stream banks, contributing significantly to the improvement of Israel’s environmental quality.

Israel’s Water Sources

 

Israel’s sources of water include underground water from the mountain and coastal plain aquifers, ground water from Lake Kinneret, rivers, lakes, floodwaters and now, water reservoirs. Underground water is the largest reserve of water in the country. Approximately two-thirds of the water in Israel originates from underground water that remains stored naturally underground and is pumped from wells or springs.

 

Read more about Israel's water sources.

 

Alternative Water Sources

 

The water shortage in Israel has resulted in use of alternate sources of water in addition to underground and surface water sources. There are three types of alternative water: Sewage water that has been purified for irrigating crops, floodwater that is trapped by dams, and desalinated water. There are tremendous amounts of sewage water, floodwater, salt water and saline water in Israel that are not being optimally utilized. Storing this water and improving its quality using suitable technology will significantly increase the amount of available water.

 

KKL-JNF's 220 reservoirs store about 150 million cubic meters of water. Since each reservoir usually has two filling cycles, this means that the reserviors provide 300 million cubic meters of water for agricultural usage. Some of the recycled water reservoirs fill up several times a year, so that a capacity of 160 million cubic meters actually produces 260 cubic meters annually. Now that freshwater quotas are being cut and orchards are being uprooted, this water is the hope for agriculture in the future. In 2010, the water in reservoirs built by KKL-JNF provided about half of the water consumed by Israeli agriculture.

 

Nirim Reservoir. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

 

Recycled Water Reservoirs
 
It has often been said that KKL-JNF is Israel's fourth aquifer, thanks to the water reservoirs it has built throughout the length and breadth of the country. To date, with the help of its friends throughout the world, KKL-JNF has built 220 reservoirs for recycled water and floodwater at both local and regional levels. The recycled water reservoirs are actually the final stage in a complex process for purifying sewage that includes breakdown of organic pollutants, removing suspended particles by sedimentation and then storing the recycled water in reservoirs from where it can be piped out for use in irrigation.
 
The Negev Desert is a good example of how reservoirs bring about a real change in the quality of life for local residents. Due to a 40% cut in water allocations over the past few years, many farmers had been forced to stop working their fields. It is a sorry sight to drive through the Negev and see the abandoned fields that no one farms anymore. The recycled water makes it possible for these lands to once again bloom, along with fields that were not previously tilled. This is not only a contribution to Israel's water economy, but also the best way to free up valuable freshwater for drinking and domestic use rather than for agriculture. Recycled water costs 50% less than freshwater, which helps Negev farmers to make a living and to take full advantage of their land.
 
Projects undertaken with the help of friends of KKL-JNF from Australia during 2010 include construction of six new reservoirs in the Negev for storing purified effluents from Beersheba and nearby villages, along with sewage from the Palestinian Authority in the Hebron region. With the help of these reservoirs, all Beersheba and Ofakim's sewage will be recycled for agricultural use, thereby contributing both to agriculture and also to protecting the water quality of the aquifers that provide drinking water. In the words of Dror Karvani, the director of the Unit for Economic Development in the Bnei Shimon Regional Council: "The water reservoirs will make it possible to increase agricultural areas, providing a source of livelihood for hundreds of families in the Negev, including farmers and manufacturers of agricultural accessories."
 
The reservoirs have many benefits: they improve the water economy, solve the problem of wastewater disposal and leave more fresh water available for domestic use. They also provide farmers with a regular source of inexpensive water.
 
Recycling Sewage Water
 
One of the solutions to the water shortage is to increase the use of purified sewage water. Two thirds of the sewage water in Israel is purified and used mainly for irrigating crops. Re-using this water after purification and improving its quality not only saves water but also decreases pollution of the environment. The rate of recycling and re-using sewage water in Israel is among the highest in the world.
 
The water crisis that Israel faces today has increased pressure on farmers to use alternative sources of water. Together with continued cutbacks in available quotas of water, there is a constant increase in the cost of drinking water, which pressures may become even more severe in the coming years.  The reservoirs of sewage water that the KKL-JNF has build throughout the country make it easier for farmers and free palatable drinking water for use by the entire Israeli population.
 
For example, the Sderot reservoir, which was built with the support of friends of JNF USA, recieves sewage water diverted from the Shikma stream. This means that not only will the stream be restored, but also that polluted water no longer seeps through the ground into the underground aquifer. The Sderot Reservoir has a capacity of about one million cubic meters, and it purifies effluent from the town of Sderot, Kibbutz Erez, Kibbutz Or HaNer and nearby factories, which will in turn be used to irrigate some 5,000 dunam (approx 1,250 acres) of orchards and citrus groves.
 
Another example is the Ma’ayan Tzvi water reservoir in the north of Israel, providing twelve million cubic meters of purified effluents to irrigate local agricultural fields thereby alleviate the water shortage in Israel. This reservoir, along with its ‘twin sister’ and the sewage purification plant located next to it, brings triple gain: They collect the sewage of the Carmel beach communities, thereby averting pollution of the streams and the ocean; they provide water for agriculture for the farmers; and lastly, they harvest the floodwaters of Nahal Dalia, thus increasing the water in the reservoirs and improving its quality.
 
Desalination
 
The dream of using seawater as an unlimited source of fresh water has been circulated for many years; desalination could make unlimited amounts of water available. The technology of desalinating seawater has existed for several years and there are already several desalination facilities in Israel.  However, the difficulties lie in desalinating large quantities of water, since in Israel, the main limitation is the cost. The process is extremely expensive and requires large amounts of energy which that will therefore create air pollution and waste other natural resources. Nevertheless, owing to the present water crisis in Israel, it seems that more and more sea water will be desalinated in the future and this may become one of the solutions to the severe water shortage. 
 
Floodwater Reservoirs
 
During the rainy season, Israelis flock to the Negev rivers to watch the magnificent sight of flash floods that suddenly fill dry riverbeds with tremendous volumes of water, carrying soil and vegetation with it. City streets too are often flooded after hard rain, causing injury to people and damage to property. Observing a flash flood from a safe distance is a fascinating experience, but despite the relatively high quality of floodwater, much is lost as it flows through the riverbeds to the seas or, in the case of the cities, into the municipal drainage system. 
 
Catching floodwater and storing it is another possible solution for enhancing the water economy in Israel but storing water is not a simple process. In a flash flood, the flow of water is extremely intense and sudden. Despite this, even in ancient times people would build dams in the river channels with reservoirs nearby to trap the floodwaters before diverting the water from these reservoirs for irrigating the fields. 
 
KKL-JNF reservoirs contribute to the water economy of Israel and bring life in the desert, great beauty to the scenery, provide a habitat for many birds and fish in ecological hubs and create an environment that delights the eyes and souls of local residents, farmers, hikers and all visitors. These blue pools make an economic-ecological-environmental contribution that can only be described as priceless.

Water Consumption in Israel

 
The distribution of the consumption of water in Israel is as follows: 7% for industrial use, 38% for household use and 55% for agriculture.
 
According to data from the Mekorot Company, the average daily household rate of consumption in Israel ranges from 100-230 liters per capita, an increase of 23.3% over the previous decade.
 
Of the general water consumption, the most significant increase has been in household consumption – an increase of 95%, while industrial use has increased by only 4.3% and agricultural use has actually decreased by 9.4% due to the decrease in water allotment for agriculture.
 
Increased demand for water stems from an increase in population, a higher standard of living, increased consumption of Arab and Bedouin sectors owing to increased standards of living, and increased supply of water pumped from Israel to the Palestinian Authority and Jordan as part of international agreements.
 

Merav River. Photo: Kalil Adar, KKL-JNF Jerusalem

A New Horizon: Research Innovations

 
KKL-JNF's contribution towards helping alleviate Israel's water crisis is not limited to building reservoirs. Cutting edge research is critical for efficient water usage. One example of this was the Second Annual Manitoba-Israel Water Symposium, which began on January 10, 2010, and was hosted by KKL-JNF.
 
KKL-JNF and the Province of Manitoba have been collaborating and sponsoring joint projects and research on water-related issues for a number of years. The conference focused on opportunities for mutual exchange of knowledge, and the promotion of joint research on matters relating to water resources management. Although the scale of water is very different between Manitoba and Israel, there are many elements in common. For example, despite the difference in size, Israel faces some of the same nutrient management issues in Lake Kinneret as Manitoba faces in Lake Winnipeg.
 
Theory into Action
 
Research must also be translated into action. With the help of KKL-JNF Australia, KKL-JNF launched the Kfar Saba biofilter project, which harvests storm water and treats polluted urban groundwater. The treated water will be injected into the groundwater aquifer, where it is stored. The water can then be recovered at any point along the aquifer for a variety of uses. The technology, which was developed by Monash University in Australia, is being tested in Kfar Saba for Israeli conditions, and if proven, could be applied for production of large quantities of fresh water in other urban areas. In this manner, KKL-JNF contributes to the recovery of one of the most valuable fresh water sources that Israel has.
 
Another example is the Dimona constructed wetlands project, which is being carried out in this Negev town thanks to the support of friends of KKL-JNF from the USA. 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 water. As the water flows from one pool to the other it undergoes biological purification, and the resulting water can be used to irrigate commercial short rotation forest. The project combines ecology (recycling wastewater) with research to eventually yield an economically feasible forestry venture.
 
No one can know for certain how any winter will end. Besides prayers for more rain before the winter is over, the people of Israel know that they can rely on KKL-JNF and its friends around the globe to do whatever is possible to provide the means and the knowledge to discover new and innovative ways of alleviating Israel's chronic water shortage.

 

Biological Water Purification Systems

 

1. Urban runoff harvesting -  Utilizing urban runoff has the potential to supply tens of millions of cubic meters of water annually. Utilizing this water however requires a biofilter,  a sophisticated purification system. In this manner the water is purified and channeled back into the aquifer and for irrigating city parks and gardens.

 

2. Constructed Wetlands - Wetlands are a system of artificial swamps that imitate the purification processes performed by natural swampland and filter out organic material, suspended solids and heavy metals. The constructed wetlands are the means of rehabilitating the river ecosystem and its surroundings. The water is then pumped and piped out for use in crop irrigation and urban landscaping.

 

3. Shamir Drills - The drills are intended for extracting water from an untapped fossilized (non-renewable) aquifer. This source of water will be used to irrigate fruit tree groves and vineyards in the Golan Heights, and field crops in the Hula Valley.

 

Wetlands in the Negev. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive

International Cooperation

 
Urban Runoff Harvesting
 
Utilizing urban runoff has the potential to supply tens of millions of cubic meters of water annually. Utilizing this water however requires a bio-filter, a sophisticated purification system. KKL-JNF is leading the process together with JNF Australia and Monash University in Australia, whose staff developed this method of purifying urban runoff.
 
KKL-JNF gathered water experts to formulate recommendations for integrating the system in Israel’s urban infrastructure. Since the issue is of national significance, a steering committee in which KKL-JNF, the Israel Water Authority and the Mekorot Water Company and the Ministry of Environmental Protection participate is advancing the subject. JNF Australia is funding a significant proportion of the costs involved in integrating the topic in Israel’s local government structure.
 
Water Management in Large Reservoirs
 
KKL-JNF and the State of Manitoba in Canada are working together to advance the field of water management in large reservoirs. This activity was initiated by Christine Melnick, the Manitoba Minister of Water Stewardship following the pollution of Lake Winnipeg. The lake is larger than the entire State of Israel, but the Canadians want to learn from Israel’s experience in managing Lake Kinneret. KKL-JNF as Israel’s major environmental organization provides the platform for cooperation between experts from both countries, for the benefit of all parties involved.
 
One of the actions was the signing of a partnership agreement between Lake Agmon and the Oak Hammock Wetlands in Manitoba. Information is exchanged in fields such as scientific research, visitor center management and activities for the public. The participating Israeli scientists belong to MIGAL (Galilee Technology Center) and the Tel Hai College. This cooperation helped establish the exciting new visitors center which has been built near the entrance to Lake Agmon.

Other International Water Initiatives
 
KKL-JNF, as Israel’s major environmental organization, provides the platform for cooperation between experts from Israel and from around the world, for the benefit of all parties involved. Read more about KKL-JNF's international water initiatives.