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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

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From trees to water

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Rarely do Tu b’Shvat and Shabbat Shirah occur on the same Shabbat. But this year was an exception, and the exception led me to an exploration of the subject of trees, which led to the subject of water.

Josh Cooper, CEO of the Jewish National Fund of Canada (JNF), contacted me after reading one of my columns about water. “I bet when you think about JNF all you think about is trees, but do you know what we are doing with water?” he asked.

I had to admit, after spending so much time on the topic of water over the last few columns, I thought I had seen it all, but alas, there was more to be learned.

Many of us remember the blue boxes in Hebrew schools in which coins were collected to support the work of JNF in Israel. We may also remember various school-based campaigns to plant trees in Israel.

JNF remains active in local Jewish schools and the community today. But the message and their projects have evolved to meet the needs of Israel and to help the country deal with water in a more sustainable way.

I recently met Avri Kadmon, manager of the information unit for the Land Development Authority at JNF Israel – Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael. (KKL)

Kadmon was on a speaking tour across Canada, helping JNF-KKL get its message out about existing and expanding projects – including research and development – aimed at promoting environmental protection and helping to deal with the water problem in Israel.

He spoke to Grade 8 students at Toronto’s Robbins Hebrew Academy in Toronto. They were working on a water project highlighting similarities and differences between Canada and Israel.

After going over statistics on Israeli water supply and consumption, Avri touched on the role that JNF-KKL played in pre-1948 Israel, helping establish the country by draining the swamps and reclaiming land for agricultural purposes.

Kadmon reviewed JNF-KKL’s large-scale Israeli water conservation projects prior to the recent arrival of large-scale desalination plants in Israel, including building dams and reservoirs to capture rainwater run-off. 

JNF-KKL realizes that a way to address Israel’s water shortage is to use high-quality recycled wastewater for agriculture instead of scarce and expensive freshwater. Two hundred and fifty JNF-KKL reservoirs can now hold rain run-off and high-quality recycled wastewater. This helped increase Israel’s water supply by 12 per cent, providing half of the water used by the agricultural sector, and freeing up drinking water for domestic purposes, according to the JNF website.

Israel was forced to innovate in wastewater recycling because it has a limited supply of fresh water. Today, Israel recycles 75 per cent of its sewage water. Treating wastewater prevents pollution of aquifers, streams and soil. Israel is aiming at 95 per cent recycling by 2020, and JNF-KKL is helping local and regional councils upgrade their existing wastewater treatment systems. Canada, with an abundance of fresh water, is in the low single digits for wastewater recycling.

Remember those drained swamps? JNF is now working on cutting-edge, environmentally friendly recycling technologies such as constructed wetlands. I guess the swamps have a purpose as well.

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