Reclaiming Agriculture – Winners at Wetskills

Israeli –Dutch Cooperation at the Technion

Student Workshop Presents Water Problem Solutions at Water Seminar with Dutch and Israeli water experts

The winning solution – “reclaiming agriculture” – aims to encourage Arab farmers in the Western Galilee to return to working their land using reclaimed wastewater for irrigation

Graduate students taking part in a joint Israeli-Dutch workshop at the Stephen and Nancy Grand Water Research Institute (GWRI), Technion – Israel Institute of Technology at the beginning of the week presented solutions to water issues to Mr. Wienjes (President of the Dutch Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (VNO-NCW)) as part of the visit of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte in Israel. In the evening, the students had the privilege to have a meet & greet and photo with the Prime Minister. The winning solution in the competition – Wetskills Israel: 2013 – is called “Reclaiming Agriculture”. Its aim is to encourage Arab farmers in the Western Galilee to return to cultivate their land using tertiary-reclaimed wastewater (RWW) for irrigation. Other plans presented by the Israeli and Dutch students were: a compact system for producing drinking water from humidity in the air intended for use in desert regions; forestation in desert regions that combines in its water supply modern technology with ancient technology from the Nabatean period (some 2,000 years old); and a holistic monitoring and prevention system for reducing parasites in potable water.

In the framework of the competition, which was organized by the Technion’s GWRI and the Dutch organization Wetskills, the students were asked to present solutions to challenges and water problems in Israel using creative thinking and innovation, on the one hand, and which can be implemented, on the other hand.

The students presented the solutions at the beginning of the week in a forum for joint Israeli-Dutch cooperation that included water experts from both countries and took place in the framework of the visit to Israel by the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, and senior ministers in his government.

Last week, a number of Israeli water companies and organizations (Mekorot Israel National Water Company, Shefar’am Area Water & Wastewater Corporation, the Jewish National Fund – Netherlands Branch and the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-KKL) presented water problems for the students to solve. The students had only five days to put together and present solutions through consultation with water experts and with the aid of the GWRI information center. The judges – from both Israel and the Netherlands – were Shimon Tal (ex-water commissioner of Israel), Tami Shor (assistant director general in charge of water regulation at the Israel Water Authority), Prof. Avi Shaviv (head of the GWRI), Dr. Hadas Maman from Tel Aviv University and Menno Holterman (CEO Nijhuis Technology) and Jaap Feil (CEO H2O-job) from the Netherlands. Each group had only two minutes to present its solution. The presentations were clear, succinct and precise. In two minutes, the students succeeded in presenting intensive work done over one week. Afterwards, the projects were presented in greater detail on posters to the professionals.

The project chosen by the team of judges was “Reclaiming Agriculture”, which presents a solution to the challenge given the students by the Shefar’am Area Water & Wastewater Corporation. The Corporation deals with the water and sewage system of the Shefar’am municipality and surrounding towns and villages. It serves some 160,000 residents. In light of a shortage in freshwater and its high cost to farmers, most of the residents of the villages, who traditionally were engaged in vegetable farming, have stopped cultivating their agricultural land. This reduction in agriculture has hurt their income and impinged on the region’s socio-economic fabric.

The corporation asked the students to find ways get the farmers back to farming their land and to suggest alternative possibilities for agricultural crops that can be irrigated using recycled water (RWW). The students proposed an integrated solution that includes setting up a model site with constructed wetland, as well as establishing a committee of experts.

“Our proposal includes building a constructed wetland into which the tertiary-RWW from the Carmiel wastewater treatment plant will be introduced” explained Noa Aharoni, a master’s graduate from Tel Aviv University who took part in the workshop. “In the wetland, which will provide additional filtering of the water (an alternative to filters), water plants will be planted and goldfish will be raised as testimony to the quality of the water. The project’s aim is to make the wastewater treatment process accessible to local farmers and to demonstrate to them through the addition of the constructed wetland and a pond with gold fish that we are talking about clean water, good for agriculture. In order to overcome cultural obstacles to the use of such water, we suggested raising fish and water snails, which live in fresh water, in the ponds. Thus around the constructed wetland and the ornamental pond will create demonstration site to serve as an educational system for the farmers and the younger generation that will assist them to overcome psychological barriers to the use of reclaimed water for agriculture.”

“In addition, we suggested setting up a joint committee of experts made up of representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture, the local authorities, the Water Corporation and the local farmers”, added Dennis Steinberg, a master’s student at the Technion. “The committee will assist the local farmers to jointly organize and will aid in promoting the benefits of using recycled water. The members of the Shefar’am Corporation were enthusiastic about the solution we presented and promised that they will implement it in the near future. “I think that our project offers an immediate solution that can aid in social change in the area. The challenge which we dealt with was very different from our daily scientific/engineering work. Suddenly, I also had to relate to sociological and social considerations” said Dennis.

“There is a traditional aversion of some in the Arab sector to the use of treated wastewater effluent based on a belief or fear that this water is not clean enough,” added Prof. Eran Friedler of the Technion’s Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who served as an advisor to the students. “Israeli agriculture in agricultural settlements is very organized while here we are talking about small, family based agriculture, without an umbrella organization, traditionally growing mostly vegetables. The farmers abandoned some of the fields because the price of freshwater went up significantly. The solution the students proposed enables the farmers to continue to work the land using recycled water which cost is much lower than freshwater.”

Those in the Shefar’am Corporation were satisfied with the results. “Winning first place by the students was a great honor for us,” said Engineer Ahlam Ganam, director of the Corporation’s licensing department. “They worked creatively on a solution and we are already looking for a team of experts to implement and carry out the plan.”

“The workshop’s purpose was to train future leaders in the field of water. This is a program to encourage international cooperation on the subject of water, during which students from different countries get together and deal with joint tasks with respect to water,” related Johan Oost, coordinator of the Wetskills program, who led the program in Israel together with Prof. Avi Shaviv, head of the Technion’s GWRI. “The workshop has been going on for some four years and already has been held in China, Indonesia, South Africa, Morocco, Romania, Egypt, the Netherlands, Oman and Mozambique. I am very pleased that we succeeded in also holding it in Israel. The aim is to challenge young water experts with problems from the field and to encourage them to think creatively. The students worked hard on the tasks they received and I am very proud of them. We have to attract the best people to work in the field of water.”

“I was very impressed with the students’ work,” said Bernard Wientjes, head of the Industrialists and Employers Union in the Netherlands, who awarded the prize to the winning group. “It was difficult for the judges to decide because all the works presented simple and creative solutions that can be implemented and, especially, demonstrated the ability for independent thinking and high-level creativity.”

“We see it as tremendously important to have held this competition at the Technion,” concluded Prof. Avi Shaviv.

“Presentation of the joint challenges to young water experts from Israel and the Netherlands constitutes a basis for cooperation between the countries and a joining of forces. We enjoyed very much seeing the cooperation, creativity and exchange of ideas among the students. We also appreciate the encouragement of young water scientist to feel proud of the important work they do in solving water problems relevant to different regions and cultures in the world.

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