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; and there have been several consecutive years of drought.
Dr. Assaf Sukenik, head of the Yigal Alon Kinneret research laboratory, spoke during the H2010 Water Experts Symposium of the decline in the quantity and quality of water in the Kinneret: “There have been periodic changes in the Kinneret’s ecological system since 1932, starting with the building of the fish dam that year, then the drying-up of the Hula Lake at the start of the ‘50s, the inauguration of the National Water Carrier in 1964, the intensive fishing of the lake that has been going on since the ‘60s, and the diversion of the River Jordan’s sewage water, which meant less entry of pollutants and organic substances from agricultural sources into the lake as a result of the renewed flooding of the peat areas in the Hula Lake wetland. Since 1994, the Kinneret’s water level has been dropping while, at the same time, the population has grown, as have the pollutants that drain into the Kinneret from farmed areas, from fish ponds and from crop spraying. The fish population has been constantly depleting since 1993. All these changes have been caused by human intervention.”
KKL-JNF has initiated several far-reaching projects, to save water:
- Recycled Water Reservoirs are a wise combination solution - preventing pollution, saving water and providing farmers with an inexpensive source of irrigation. The advantage of recycled water is that it is available all year round, in regular quantities that may be reliable in planning. Furthermore, the quality of the recycled water for agriculture, at least in terms of its salinity, is higher today than that of water pumped from the Sea of Galilee. 50% of the water used in Israel for agricultural irrigation is recycled water - the highest percentage in the world.
- Floodwater Reservoirs: KKL-JNF harnesses floodwater to support Israeli farmers when it sometimes pours and floods in the desert.
- River and Spring Rehabilitation: Rivers that were formerly polluted are now the focus of healthy ecosystems around the river, its surroundings and its flora and fauna. KKL-JNF restores springs and the agricultural terraces around them.
- Stream Channel Restoration and Regulation: KKL-JNF maintains healthy rivers through repairing erosion damage, preventing pollution and regulating floodwater flow.
- Constructed Wetlands are nature's "sewage treatment plants" and KKL-JNF imitates nature by developing artificial wetlands that purify water, attract wildlife and in their wake bring tourists and nature-lovers.
Cities have extensive areas that are impervious to water. Urban runoff collected by city drainage systems eventually pollutes groundwater and sea water. KKL-JNF is implementing an innovative project in which urban runoff is treated by biofilters, an invention aimed at purifying rainwater so that it can be used to refresh depleted aquifers. The biofilter uses several purifying layers of vegetation and bacteria to purify rainwater, which contains high levels of metals and other toxic materials. The water is then fed through a series of wells descending to a depth of 87 meters, and then filters into the coastal aquifer.
The biofilter is the invention of Yaron Zinger, an Israeli doctorate student and research assistant at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Zinger is convinced that within a few years, the biofilter can replenish Israel’s coastal aquifer, most of which has become so polluted in recent years that the water is unfit for consumption. Zinger comments: “In Tel Aviv, two-thirds of the wells have been closed due to contamination with nitrate, but our system can overcome this pollution.”
The first biofilter in Israel, at Kfar Saba. Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
The biofilter is already in widespread use in Australia, where plans were made to install 10,000 systems within five years. Whereas the Australian model is designed solely to purify rainwater, the Israeli model has been adapted to take account of the long dry season in Israel. From March through November, the facility is connected to the main network of wells in the west of the city, drawing water from the aquifer for purification and restoration.
The first facility was set up in Kfar Saba in cooperation with JNF Australia. The Kfar Saba harvests storm water and treats polluted groundwater. The treated water is 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. In addition, the system is an integral part of the urban design and contributes to the amenity of the local park. The project is being conducted jointly by KKL-JNF, JNF Australia and Monash University in Australia.
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 plants growing in the wetland develop dense roots that support a thriving population of micro-organisms that help to break down the organic pollutants as the water flows through the roots. The broken-down products are absorbed by the plants, and this mutually beneficial relationship between the plants and the micro-organisms sustains growth, allowing both to flourish. In addition to these biological reactions, physical purification processes are also at work - when water flow is slowed, suspended solids sink to the bottom of the wetland. Chemistry also plays a role - reactions between different pollutant particles cause the precipitation of insoluble materials.
Although the history of the Hula Lake can be considered as the creation of a wetland in its popular terminology, "wetlands" are a new term in Israeli ecology:
1. The flagship project promoted by KKL-JNF Australia creates 80 dunam of shallow pools and typical native Israeli vegetation in the Eastern Yarkon area. The method employed in this project is based upon the idea of utilization of purified water from the sewage purification plant of Kfar Saba and Hod HaSharon. The facility is a habitat for bacteria that decompose pesticide remains, hormones and other chemicals that remain in the water following treatment and comprise the final step in the water purification process. The facility can receive 20,000 cubic meters of water daily, which is subjected to the treatment process in order to bring the dry riverbed of the Yarkon back to life from the area of Hod HaSharon westward, so that clean water will flow throughout the year. The Yarkon can then serve as a central channel of water for the Yarkon Park.
The purified water flows into the central part of the river and ensures a regular supply of quality water for the river. 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. The project is being conducted jointly by KKL-JNF, JNF Australia and the Yarkon River Authority.
The vegetation along the channel and on its banks, which includes reeds, wild raspberries, and eucalyptus and acacia trees – already exists today. Utilization of the water of the Yarkon for home use has dried up the water in the channel and the massive development in the area has forced the eastern Yarkon to fight for its survival. The winter rains have left only a narrow, winding green strip of water.
Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive
2. The Dimona constructed wetlands project for research on an agro-forestry project (small scale commercial forestry plantations) in the northern Negev. 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 forests. The project combines ecology (recycling wastewater) with research to eventually yield an economically feasible forestry venture.