Environmental Law Program Leads Interdisciplinary Team to Israel to Study Water Reuse

As the New Year dawned, law students, business and economics graduate students and post doctorate scientists departed for a week-long trip through Israel to study water reuse. Funded in part by a grant from the University of Maryland Baltimore’s Center for Global Education Initiatives, the students and scientists toured Israel to study water reuse and, ultimately, draft a report for Clive Lipchin and the Arava Institute focused on the Institute’s efforts to incorporate sustainable water reuse technologies in the Palestinian territory.

The team at the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, overlooking the Old City: Left to Right: Sarah Allard (CONSERVE scholar), James Page (MBA student, Smith Business School), Prachi Kulkarni (CONSERVE scholar), Emmanuel Motsiopoulos (MBA student, Smith Business School), Taylor Lilley, Devon Harman, Renee Lani and Sarah Wicks (law students), Bill Piermattei and Sean Ellis (CONSERVE scholar).

The group led by Environmental Law Program Managing Director Bill Piermattei and Julie Weisman, an environmental attorney and founding member of the non-profit Water Resources Action Project explored Jerusalem, visited the Palestinian town of Al-Auja, toured the shrinking Dead Sea, stayed at Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev Desert where the Arava Institute is located, with a final stop at Ben Gurion University. Along the way the group engaged in many insightful conversations about water problems in the region and how those problems are often made more difficult due to the underlying Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The trip began with getting over jet lag and touring a market in Jerusalem – despite water issues, the area produces a huge amount of produce, dried fruits, nuts and grains. The group then toured the Old City in Jerusalem, experiencing the long history of the city and its religious importance to Jews (The Wailing Wall), Muslims (Dome of the Rock) and Christians (The Church of the Holy Sepulchre) and the Jewish, Muslim and Christian quarters that people call home amid the swirl of tourists visiting their neighborhoods.

Our client, Clive Lipchin of the Arava Institute, then took the group to Al-Auja, a Palestinian town near Jericho, where the Arava Institute has installed grey-water filtration systems for citrus, date and olive tree irrigation as well as solar panels to power a water pump used for plant irrigation. The team met Palestinian farmers and sampled their produce.

Next, the group toured the Dead Sea, its receding waters and the devastation left behind in the form of sink holes. The largest reason for the receding Dead Sea is the huge amount of water drawn from rivers which feed it. The group witnessed the very real effects of increased water demand leading to a shrinking Dead Sea, abandoned seaside resorts (one destroyed by a massive sinkhole, the other abandoned because it now stands a quarter mile from the sea).

The group then proceeded to the Arava Institute. Our local guide and client, Clive Lipchin, is the Director of the Center for Transboundary Water Management and has worked to install sustainable, low-tech water reuse facilities in Al-Auja. We toured the Institute’s low-tech projects to serve rural, off-grid communities, spoke with students and faculty, had Shabbat dinner with the members of Kibbutz Ketura and ended our visit with a hike into the Negev desert along a dry riverbed (it was the “rainy season,” but not where we were).

On our way to the airport, we stopped at Ben Gurion University to see additional, sustainable technologies under development and speak with faculty about our project: how can sustainable water reuse technologies be employed in under-developed rural communities in an economically sustainable manner? A difficult question to answer under the best of circumstances, but the students will have to wrestle with the additional complexities of a murky legal system, competing authorities and a decades-long intractable conflict to answer it.

While this report will help guide Prof. Lipchin and the Arava Institute’s work moving forward, it is also a part of the Environmental Law Program’s work with the College Park School of Public Health’s CONSERVE grant. The scientists and economist graduate student on the trip are all CONSERVE scholars and Prof. Lipchin is an international partner on the CONSERVE project. The CONSERVE scholars are both consulting with the law and business students on the report and gathering data and information to inform the work on water reuse through the CONSERVE project.

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