Tackling Israel’s water challenges

In response to the article “Fiveyear drought brings Israeli water bodies to historically low levels,” (The Jerusalem Post, August 26, 2018), readers should know that if it were not due to the major investment begun 20 years ago by Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund-USA donors, Israel and the entire region would not have been able to weather this terrible period of long-term drought. For it was two decades ago, when Israel faced an even more dire water catastrophe that then-JNF president Ronald S. Lauder led a major initiative to help bolster Israel’s water economy to develop alternative water sources, advance Israeli agriculture, and improve water quality.

Thanks to a combination of smarter water use and reuse, education and national conservation, the Kinneret’s levels climbed back up. Now, after the record drought, we must go back to work again. JNF has determined there is a new need to build more reservoirs to store additional treated water. Drought has had a significant effect on farmers throughout Israel who struggle with agricultural production as their national water quotas are cut. Israel now needs 90 new water reservoirs to ensure that farmers have the water supply they need to grow crops, and to reach the nation’s goal of recycling 95% of its water. Israel currently recycles 87% of its water, the highest in the world, but it is not enough.

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JNF-USA is leading this effort with a $200 million campaign.

Since we began our work years ago, JNF has increased Israel’s water economy by over 15% through the treatment, recycling and collection of waste and runoff water, responsible aquifer drilling, river rehabilitation, in addition to supporting innovative research and development, trans-boundary water challenges and education.

JNF-USA and global JNF branches have built 250 reservoirs across Israel to store recycled and runoff water for both local and regional communities. Those reservoirs are the final stage in a complex process that involves purifying sewage, treating and storing the recycled water, to later be piped out for use in irrigation. JNF continues to maintain the reservoirs Israel needs to sustain its water-rich economy. More than 50% of Israel’s agricultural water comes from recycled water stored in our reservoirs.

JNF’s water solutions aim to maintain Israel’s water independence for generations to come. We also grapple with the challenge of balancing the phenomenal growth Israel has experienced in the last decade with the maintenance of an ecologically sound environment.

WITH 90% of Israel’s population concentrated in less than 40% of the country, the northern and southern regions are largely uninhabited, JNFUSA has played a major role in helping to construct new communities in these areas. That means providing the infrastructure and water availability to feed developing communities.

JNF is also working to help correct damage done to rivers across Israel including Beersheba River Park and Lake, Hadera River, Harod River, Yeroham Park, and more. In the past decade, we led in the rehabilitation of the Beersheba Lake as well, a 23-acre man-made lake filled with recycled water.

Jewish National Fund’s contribution toward helping alleviate Israel’s water crisis is not limited to building reservoirs. Cutting-edge research is critical for efficient water usage. The Shamir drilling project has made a significant contribution to the water economy of the Galilee and Golan Heights, producing approximately 17.5 million cubic meters per year for agricultural use. JNF is working with the community of Halutza in the Negev on a similar venture. Water successes also include the Hula Basin, which is a vital component of Israel’s natural water economy; the Besor River Basin Rehabilitation; and MYWAS, the Multi-Year Water Allocation System, which is a national water management model designed to achieve the most efficient water resource management possible.

We also manage numerous R&D projects pertaining to water for agriculture. In the arid climate of the Arava, the price and availability of water is a major concern, especially considering the Arava produces a large percentage of Israel’s fresh produce – of which dates are the greatest profitable export.

The lysimeter is a research measurement tool that will help in the regulation, rationalization and utilization of water in the Arava for date plants to optimize the cost and output of this crop. In schools, JNF supports the rainwater harvesting system that is now installed in more than 62 schools and serves as a practical way to save water as well as a hands-on, interactive means of educating students about conservation.

Israel’s future relies on the availability of water and the means to deliver it to an ever-growing population. JNF-USA donors are committed to ensuring, in a land that will always have recurring drought, that the well never runs dry.

The writer is chairman of the JNF Water Task Force.

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