By Jessica Hanewinckel
Israel is continuously on the cusp of a water disaster, says Zevi Kahanov, national director of Jewish National Fund’s Parsons Water Fund. Israel has about 491 billion gallons of water available, and, coincidentally, 491 billion gallons of water being used within her borders annually, he says.
“Israel is now in its seventh consecutive drought year,” says Kahanov, who visited San Diego on behalf of JNF in April to fundraise and to speak about Israel’s water issues. “Any small climatic change, any increase in population, any mismanagement of water…can bring you to a catastrophic level.”
To close the gap on Israel’s water deficit, which, according to JNF, is at an all-time high of about 530 billion gallons, JNF has worked over the past few decades through its Parsons Water Fund. As a revolving fund, it lends capital for water projects and uses repayments to invest in future projects. It addresses issues of water shortage, water quality and trans-boundary challenges with focuses on recycling, alternative water sources, education, stream and aquifer restoration and research. Let’s examine each of the fund’s projects individually.
Recycled Water Reservoirs
The first of the fund’s initiatives is the construction of recycled water reservoirs. Says Kahanov, Israel is number one in the world for recycled water usage, treating and using 75 percent of all effluents.
“We started 20 years ago developing recycled water reservoirs,” he says. (They’re up to more than 220 reservoirs now.) “They are several million dollars each, but we’re giving them as a gift to farming communities.”
This allows the farmers, through their water associations, to own the water they use and get it at one-fourth to one-third of the cost they would normally pay to Mekerot, Israel’s National Water Company. By using the recycled water in their reservoirs, they free up fresh water and prevent wastewater contamination of aquifers, streams and soil.
The Shamir Drillings
The fund’s current flagship project, the Shamir Drillings involves drilling for and accessing new groundwater resources, which will also be used for agricultural purposes, further freeing up fresh water and replenishing water levels in rivers and lakes.
“We’re drilling for water using exactly the same equipment for oil because we are drilling a mile deep. No other country does that,” he says.
The Shamir Drillings is currently working to pump water of low brackishness in the region near Kiryat Shemona and Kibutz Shamir. If pumped to potential capacity, Kahanov says, it could fill 25 large reservoirs per year.
Constructed Wetlands at the Ramon Air Force Base
The third of the fund’s initiatives is the constructed wetlands at the Ramon Air Force Base. For decades at the rural Negev base, the Israeli military had dumped its raw sewage into the middle of the desert, which polluted aquifers. JNF worked with the base to treat the wastewater, which has controlled pollution, provided 80 million gallons of recycled water a year for nearby farm irrigation, and created a 7.5 acre park for the base’s resident families. The constructed wetlands replicate the physical, chemical and biological processes that occur in the ecosystems of natural wetlands, where water, plants, microorganisms, sun, soil and air interact, to remove contaminants from wastewater.
Rainwater Harvesting Educational Programs
Fourth of the initiatives is a rainwater harvesting educational program, in which JNF installs systems to capture and utilize rainwater and educates students about the importance of water conservation. They already have 22 schools on board with the project, Kahanov says, and within a year 80 more will emulate the project in another form. In exchange for a savings of $25,000 on fresh water, the schools allow JNF to teach the students about water conservation and environmental issues once a week. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, because it also reduces freshwater consumption by up to 95 percent in the schools, freeing up that water for other uses.
Arara Water Treatment Center Upgrade
Finally, JNF is working to upgrade the Arara Water Treatment Center, which treats the water used in a Bedouin municipality in the Negev. As part of the deal, the Bedouins will sell their water to farmers to be used for irrigation, and the army will pay the Bedouins of the Arara municipality for use of the recycling plant.
“They have a financial benefit in an area where there is zero,” Kahanov explains. “The water also goes to a JNF recycled water reservoir, which is used to irrigate farming fields and provide water for Israel’s largest artificial lake as part of the development of the Beer Sheva River Park [another JNF Project].”
In short, JNF is working to link all aspects of a society where water is already used conservatively, but where the demand and necessity of the development and utilization of new sources is high.
“We are in a position where we can take the pieces and connect them,” says Kahanov of JNF’s efforts through the Parsons Water Fund. “Each piece by itself can’t solve the problem.”
For more information, visit www.jnf.org/water or call San Diego Region Campain Executive Ezra Erle locally at (858) 824-9178, ext. 988.