JNF's first-ever water mission looks at Israel's successes
The Tour on the Trail of Israel's Water Solutions trip to Israel attracted over 40 participants, Jews and non-Jews alike, with various backgrounds including civil engineers, academics, long time JNF supporters, as well as four representatives sent by the Thai government, and an official from the United Nations.
The first-ever Jewish National Fund (JNF) Israel water mission, titled IsraelH2O: A Tour on the Trail of Israel's Water Solutions, attracted participants for many different reasons, but ultimately, all came with the same goal-to learn more about how Israel, a once water starved country, has become a place where water issues have become stable and its water crisis mitigated. The mission was a natural continuation and a fitting conclusion to JNF's yearlong successful Water Summits held in dozens of cities around the United States. "The goal of this mission is to show how Israel is a true model to the world of how it is possible to overcome severe water shortages through proper management and constant innovation," explained Talia Tzour Avner, Chief KKL Israel Emissary based in New York.
The 40 participants consisted of Jews and non-Jews alike, civil engineers, academics, long time JNF supporters, as well as four representatives sent by the Thai government, and an official from the United Nations. "I am learning so much about the work that JNF does for water issues in Israel, and I've been able to see the levels of cooperation that exist between corporate entities, farmers, and legislators working together for a common goal," said Anne Juepner, the UN Director of Global Policy Center who is based in Nairobi, Kenya. "I was most impressed and surprised by how fully aware Israelis are of water issues, not only within Israel, but also around the world."
Starting the mission in Northern Israel, which included a visit to waste treatment plants and water reclamation facilities, the group traveled south to JNF's Basor Reservoirs. On the morning of the mission's visit, countless birds were seen nesting in the nearby bushes and flying over the fields in flocks. The JNF group gathered at an overlook point that provided views of the reservoirs as well as fruit trees, farmlands, and the winding Basor River.
The reservoirs created by JNF-over 250 throughout Israel-hold either treated water or rain water collected from annual regional flooding, depending on each reservoir. "The water is mainly used for irrigation purposes in these dry parts of the county-because of the reservoirs, Israeli farmers are able to irrigate 10,800 acres (44,000 dunams) of additional land," Ofer Brokshtain, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (KKL) engineering and development officer, told the group. "Before these reservoirs were built, there was nothing here-this region is a desert! All the vegetation and all of the fields and orchards that we see today are thanks to the network of JNF-KKL reservoirs."
The JNF Israel H2O Mission was chaired by Bob Lembke, President of the United Water and Sanitation District, from Greenwood Village, Colorado. Lembke, who brought a number of colleagues with him on this mission, mentioned Seth M. Siegel's best-selling book, Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution for a Water Starved World, and hearing Siegel speak a JNF Water Summit. "JNF is key on water," said Lembke. "Israel's water system is well designed and efficient, while at the same time, Israel is constantly working on new innovations. On this trip, we are seeing how the water distribution system is well managed, and how the water crisis has been addressed through desalination, water conservation, and water recycling."
Overall, per-capita, Israelis use about 27 percent less water than Americans. While a good portion of JNF's IsraelH2O Mission focused on visiting corporations, facilities, or government officials, they also visited an elementary school in Ofakim, a small development town near Be'er Sheva in the Negev, where they witnessed first-hand JNF's rain harvesting water system and learned about the water education program JNF runs in collaboration with partner organization Green Horizon. Standing in a noisy courtyard with curious schoolchildren coming to see the visitors, mission participants met with JNF Green Horizons Liaison Ido Eisikovitz to learn more about how water-saving techniques are taught in Israel from childhood. "If we want to educate people for the future, we have to start at the beginning, which is what JNF is doing in this and about 50 other elementary schools," explained Eisikovitz.
"It is important for us to learn from what Israel has done and continues to do in dealing with water scarcity," said Chompoonoch Dolsuklert, one of three delegates sent by the Thai government on this important mission. "We often have droughts in Thailand, and we need to work to be innovative in addressing the situation."
The focus on Israel's successes in water recycling came up repeatedly throughout the mission. "Israel is number one in the world for using recycling water for irrigation purposes, with about 85 percent of waste water being re-used. The next country after Israel is Spain, who recycles about 20% of their water," said Juepner. "We are seeing how the global water crisis continues to affect countries around the world, and the key is approaching the issue from different directions, not just relying on one solution. A lot of what JNF has been able to do in Israel has worked towards water sustainability, and I'm hoping to see more JNF missions like this in the future, with representatives from different countries touring, learning, and joining in the conversation."
"I really think that this can be a cornerstone of peace in the region-being able to generate useable water in general abundance," added Lembke. "Chairing this mission, I'm pleased that so many others get to see how JNF, the government of Israel, and other stakeholders have worked together to develop technology to desalinate or treat water at a high level, and also ways to supply and store it. All of these elements are vital for anyone looking to work addressing the critical issues of water shortage, which affect us all regardless of borders or nationality."