Using wetlands to clean the environment

By: Samantha Hulkower

It used to be that wetlands were viewed as a nuisance and something that needed to be fixed. Around the world they were drained to get rid of disease-carrying mosquitoes that bred there, as well as free up arable land for farming. It was only in the recent past that governments started to realize that wetlands play an important role in the ecosystem - one that benefits people and nature. 

Israel has two notable reconstructed wetlands. We've talked before about kibbutzim doing cool environmental things.  Fortunately, Israel has no shortage of environmentally innovative Jews. Kibbutz Lotan in the south created new wetlands as a way to treat waste water. Since Israel has a growing population and a limited water supply, the country is constantly looking for new ways to make the most of the water on tap (so to speak). As much as 80% of waste water from domestic sources (that is the stuff that goes down the drains in your home) is recycled, and most of it goes to irrigate the food grown here: about 50% of water for agriculture comes from treated waste water. Before you get grossed out, much of the water in Las Vegas fountains comes from recycled waste water (and it probably isn't as clean as what comes out of the sprinklers here) - think about that next time you're enjoying the refreshing spritz coming off the Bellagio fountain. Anyway, Kibbutz Lotan constructed wetlands as a way to let Mother Nature clean the water for us. Wetlands are natural filters of unhealthy substances from water. The still nature of the bodies allows large particles to filter out, while the clean water is able to make it's way onward, which the various organisms that live in the ecosystem break down pathogens and other creatures we'd rather not have in our water. The kibbutz is treating its own waste water in this way, which it will use to hydrate its agricultural projects, while simultaneously creating a new habitat for migratory birds, and a new source of income for the kibbutz. Where migratory birds go, so too do bird watchers!

Meanwhile, in the center of the country, the Hira garbage disposal site is using the same technology to treat a different kind of waste water: that which is produced from decomposing garbage. No longer a garbage dump, but still a waste transfer station, where garbage is sorted for more sustainable disposal and recycling, the former dump is being refurbished to become part of the nearby Ayalon Park. While numerous trash sites have, with time and effort, been repurposed into green areas around the globe, this site presents certain challenges. The garbage dumped there contains heavy metals, grease, and other substances that are hazardous to both people and the environment. As the garbage breaks down, it produces a liquid, called leachate, that is full of this nasty stuff. This is where wetlands can save the day! Newly built wetlands treat this leachate, helping to keep the park pleasant for visitors, which also producing water to irrigate its green spaces. As for visitors, ecotourism is a growing, and the site is a natural stop for anyone interested in sustainable urban development. 

Only in Israel can we turn a garbage dump into a tourist destination!

Samantha Hulkower is an Olah Chadasha, living in Jerusalem. She enjoys trying to speak Hebrew, finding the humor in every situation (especially dating), and is looking forward to the day she can successfully argue b'Ivrit. You can also view her blog Curls of Wisdom on life in Israel.  

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