The head Israeli scientist of the Manitoba-Israel-Mexico water sustainability research project, the Agricultural Wetland-Watershed Research Network, met with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts in Mexico City recently.
“The meeting has taken the group one step closer to establishing a definitive online resource and global information-sharing database for researchers, policy makers and the general public on the impact of wetlands situated in watersheds of downstream freshwater sources,” Prof. Moshe Gophen said.
Gophen, from the Galilee Technology Center in Israel, along with two other Israeli scientists, three Canadian scientists and one Mexican scientist are involved in the project. It received a $100,000 (Cdn) grant from the province of Manitoba out of among six proposals pitched at the first-ever Water Experts Symposium in Manitoba in August 2008.
Wetlands are areas of high water saturation that attract a variety of vegetation and microorganisms and absorb toxic carbon, phosphorus, and other contaminants and nutrients from the atmosphere. This mitigates the effects of global warming. If the wetland is located in a watershed or drainage basin of a freshwater lake, it affects the lake’s water quality.
This “filtering” function of wetlands can be enhanced and can serve as a key to purifying large freshwater sources, which is important if the freshwater source is used for agriculture or human consumption.
Manitoba wishes to preserve the quality of the water in Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba by protecting the large Delta and Netley/Libau wetlands on the lake’s southern shores. Israel is concerned with the quality of water in the Sea of Galilee and the Hula Valley wetlands.
Prof. Avi Gafni, the project’s co-ordinator, from Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) in Israel, said that Israel has spent the last decade rehabilitating the Hula Valley and trying to reverse the damage inflicted by the drying up of wetland in the 1950s to create agricultural land. They could not have anticipated the damage that this would have on the Sea of Galilee, he said. Without the Hula Valley, Israel’s lone wetland, the Sea of Galilee suffered from severe algae bloom.
Nowadays, preservation of the Hula Valley is the KKL-JNF’s top priority. There is a small lake there now, called Lake Agmon (“Small Lake”), which has not only attracted flora and fauna but has also significantly improved the quality of water in Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is one of Israel’s three major water sources, accounting for some 35 per cent of freshwater domestic consumption.
The “test case” that is the Sea of Galilee and the Hula Valley has answered many other mysteries about wetlands as well, including their value in providing resiliency to watersheds in times of drought, Gafni said.
“The processes of wetlands are universal, and we in Israel have been researching them intensely since the 1950s,” he said.
Gafni, along with his Canadian counterpart, JNF Canada, hosts the upcoming second Water Experts Symposium, in Israel in January 2010.
“We only have one wetland and one freshwater lake, but the biological and nutrient balance of Lake Kinneret [Sea of Galilee] is the same as that desired by Lake Winnipeg – it’s just that there, the scale is huge,” he said.
“If Manitoba wants to take care of Lake Winnipeg, they have to address each and every wetland in each and every watershed that drains into the lake. That’s about a million square kilometres. All of Israel can fit into Lake Winnipeg, but the processes are the same.”
More than 20 water experts, half from Manitoba and half from Israel, will gather at the second symposium to discuss the unanswered wetland/watershed questions that remain, including the impact of over-pumping, of water level, and of fishing on freshwater sources, as well as factors affecting the water source’s resilience capacity.
This time, one project will be selected, by the Manitoba government for funding from among some 20 pitches. “We hope [the symposium] will produce real results, not just on the questions of wetlands, but of other water-related issues. The challenge is not just to talk about it academically but to bring it to concrete results,” Gafni said.
“We also hope to expand the symposium to include the participation of high-level water research representatives from other countries.”
Australia intends to send an observer to the second conference and is expected to participate fully in the third annual meeting of its kind, in 2011.
In addition to funding the second co-operative research project, the government of Manitoba will spend $250,000 over the next 10 years on scholarships for Manitoba students to study water resources at institution of higher learning in Israel.
The collaboration between Manitoba and Israel is the second such joint Canadian-Israeli water research, with the government of Alberta involved in previous joint Canadian-Israeli water research. Gafni says that co-operation may be extended to Ontario.
“The partnership with Canada has been so productive and so fruitful for us so far. We are on a very positive path,” Gafni said.
“It has been wonderful to work with the Canadian scientists. We hope that this is just the beginning of a very strong co-operative relationship.”