Meeting on Water Sensitive Cities - Sustainable Management of Storm Water Runoff

Water Sensitive Cities in Israel carried out by the Technion in Haifa, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Ben Gurion University in the Negev, with the support of KKL-JNF and JNF Australia.

“A Storm in the City” was the title of a workshop held at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, which was attended by some of Israel’s leading landscape architects and water engineers, as well as representatives from various municipalities around the country. They discussed how a city may benefit from a rainstorm rather than regard it as a nuisance, and what needs to be done to make this happen. The workshop was held as part of ongoing research on Water Sensitive Cities in Israel carried out by the Technion in Haifa, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Ben Gurion University in the Negev, with the support of KKL-JNF and JNF Australia.

The participants were welcomed by Prof.Tali Alon-Mozes of the Technion Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, who organized the event. She said the reason that specialists from so many fields were invited is because solutions will only evolve when there is cooperation and a meeting of minds between people in the different professions. Amongst the participants were researchers, town planners, and municipal and water authority officials.

Prof. Iris Arvut, Dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the Technion said that the workshop is yet another link in an ongoing study on how to deal with storm water flooding which began in the 1990’s.

“However, even then it was difficult to convince others of the importance of the undertaking. The perception at that time was still that, in Israel’s desert climate, storm water runoff is not something that need attract much concern.”

Prof. Shamai Asif, Head of the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the Technion, said that it is imperative that the country takes the necessary steps to deal with the current changes in rainfall patterns.

“For now the future looks bleak because of a complete lack of effective national planning. Over the next 20-30 years, the urban expanse of the country will double. This means that the problems associated with water sensitive cities are going to become extremely acute unless steps are taken well in advance to counter the dangers. The solution to harvest runoff water would be a step in the right direction. It would diminish flood damage to city installations and contamination of potable water sources, such as aquifers, rivers and streams and, at the same time, the collected rain would provide an additional source of fresh clean water”.

Ran Katzir, of the KKL-JNF Maintenance Division, said that he was thrilled to be at the event with so many professionals and specialists.

“KKL-JNF is an environmental organization that concentrates heavily on afforestation and water conservation. It was JNF Australia that first introduced Israel to the issue of water sensitive cities and water sensitive open areas, following early research that was done at Monash University in Melbourne. We were introduced to Yaron, a young Monash University doctoral student who was investigating the phenomenon, and happened to be Israeli. That is Dr Yaron Zinger who will be speaking next. Since his return to Israel in 2010 we have been working together on Water Sensitive City research, and this is the first workshop geared towards application in the field.”

Dr. Yaron Zinger, Head of the Center for Water Sensitive Cities in Israel, explained the scope of the escalating “storm water runoff problem” in greater detail and elaborated on the Water Sensitive Cities vision:

“By 2050, 80% of the world population will be urbanized. This will create an abnormal stress on the city infrastructure, water supply and public open spaces. As a result, four main challenges have been identified in modern cities: 1. Climate change (heat waves, drought, floods etc.); 2. Water supply; 3. Degradation of urban ecology such as local streams and open spaces; 4. Urban heat (e.g. heat islands affect). A water sensitive city is designed to meet those challenges through sustainable urban water balance. Today, after more than seven years of testing and monitoring three biofilter pilot projects to see if they meet Israel needs and conditions, a technological proof of concept has been accomplished, and is ready for implantation, in which is the reason why we invited you today. Water Sensitive City technologies in general and biofilters in particular can do for water what photovoltaic panels do for solar energy.

“KKL-JNF, together with JNF Australia, launched the Center for Water Sensitive Cities, of which this workshop is part, which collaborates with three of the top academic institutions in Israel - the Technicon, Hebrew University, and Ben-Gurion University - together with Monash University in Australia, which is considered the world leader in this inter-disciplinary field. The main aim is to deliver reliable knowledge, data, and technologies with proof of concept for national implementation. During our research we identified a range of barriers towards implantation; one of them is that water supply and care of sewage is under the responsibility of water corporations by law, while drainage remained within the local council’s jurisdiction. Thus, implementing a biofilter requires the support of two bureaucratic bodies because the technology harnesses drainage and turns it into a water resource.”

Prof. Naomi Carmon of the Technion is an urban planner and sociologist. She believes that it is imperative that legislation in Israel be changed to enforce sustainable water management.
“In fact this whole concept is contrary to existing Israeli law, which in 1957 ruled that storm water is destructive, and must be disposed of by efficient drainage. However, today we know that storm water is an important resource, and the term ‘drainage’ must be replaced by ‘storm management’. For this we need wide scale interdisciplinary planning.”

Nadav Shapira is a graduate student at the Technion who monitored various storm water projects in Israel and Holland as part of his master’s program in town planning. Shapira presented his research, giving an outline of each of the projects, and explained what he found to be their benefits and deficiencies.

Then 3 landscape architects from cities around the country described some of their recent projects that that involved storm water runoff management.

Rachelle Weiner, who designed the landscaping and development at the Gazelle Valley Park in Jerusalem, said that the revamped site now provides a system for catching and purifying rainwater, and storing it in a pool, which is a focal point for recreation at the park.

“I must point out that the beautiful natural valley was saved from destruction by Jerusalem residents. When the news surfaced that the area was to be handed over to developers for commercial construction, the residents initiated a massive and sustained campaign to save the valley. It took over three years until the municipality capitulated, and the result is the beautiful park we have today, which also gave a new lease on life to the local herd of gazelles.”

Tel Aviv architect Naomi Angel was far less content than her Jerusalem counterpart. Angel complained of severe difficulties in pushing through plans that involve conservation and sustainability. She cited projects she designed in Kfar Shmaryahu and Glilot that were not completed to her satisfaction.

“We can only point out the problems and suggest possible tools for solving them. However even after presenting glaring warnings it is difficult to get the authorities to authorize those elements they consider unnecessary. We badly need new legislation to entice investors to carry out the necessary steps. Today there is a great discrepancy over how ideas are planned and how they are implemented.”

Dov Bogaiski, an engineer at the Meniv Rishon water company of Rishon Lezion, proudly showed the Superland Water Park and adjacent pools in Rishon Leziyon.
“The location was planned and built according to the specifications suggested by the Center for Water Sensitive Cities. All the pools are fed by runoff water from the city and provide a source of recreation and beauty for visitors and residents of the area. At the same time, besides contributing to nature and the environment, the water also drains into the aquifer adding to available fresh water reserves. It’s a win-win situation all the way.”

The morning session was followed by round table discussions, where mixed groups, including architects, town planners and officials from the various municipal water authorities, brainstormed solutions on how to work together. Many of the participants came away with the attitude that an awareness campaign should be initiated, highlighting the dangers and benefits of runoff storm water, depending on how it is treated. They agreed that new regulations should be put in place with appropriate and strict legislation.

The workshop ended with a lecture by Canadian Landscape Architect Liat Margolis, who described to a full hall of Technion architecture students and faculty the successful efforts of the Montréal municipality in dealing with storm water runoff. Margolis, who was born in Israel but moved at a young age with her family to Canada, told them that because of those steps, Montreal’s drinking water is of excellent quality.