The new reservoir established with the support of the JNF USA Parsons Water Fund will supply treated sewage water for irrigation use by local farmers and end pollution of Nahal Shikma

When the late Natan Parsons visited the Sderot region some five years ago, he immediately understood the vital need for a local reservoir for reclaimed sewage water. This reservoir is designed to supplement local farmers’ water allocation and prevent effluent from flowing into Nahal Shikma Nature Reserve and polluting the river, the ground water and the sea.

The vision of the late Natan Parsons, formerly Vice President of JNF USA, became an exciting reality this week, with the inauguration of Sderot Reservoir. Among those present at the ceremony were Israel’s Deputy Minister of Defense Matan Vilnai, KKL-JNF Director-General Yael Shaltieli, JNF USA CEO Russell Robinson, members of the JNF USA President’s Council Mission, heads of the Sderot and Shaar HaNegev Regional Councils, members of the Parsons family and representatives of the donors.
JNF USA CEO Russell Robinson said at the ceremony: “Your reservoir, Natan, is an expression not only of your vision for a greener Israel, but also of the destiny shared by Sderot residents and members of the local kibbutzim. But without the many donors who contributed to it, this vision would not have been realized.”

Sderot Reservoir has a capacity of around one million cubic meters, and it deals with effluent from the town of Sderot, Kibbutz Erez, Kibbutz Or HaNer and nearby factories. The treated water will be used to irrigate 5,000 dunam (approx 1,250 acres) of orchards and citrus groves. The sewage treatment plant adjacent to the reservoir is at present being upgraded so as to enable it to purify the effluent to the highest level, allowing it to be used to irrigate public parks and all types of crops.

“Sderot Reservoir is part of Natan’s vision of helping farmers, improving water quality, enhancing the environment and encouraging tourism in the Negev,” said his widow Amy Parsons. “I have no doubt that he would be very excited and proud to see how the various organizations have cooperated to complete the reservoir. Natan is always in our hearts, and he is here with us today.”

The master of ceremonies was Zeev Kedem, Director of KKL-JNF’s Fundraising Department, who told those present: “We have experienced seven successive years of drought here in Israel, but fortunately a number of people have had the vision to get up and do something to improve the situation. The reservoirs that KKL-JNF is building throughout the country are changing farmers’ lives. Desalinated water is not suitable for agricultural use, as it is expensive and lacks minerals, but the purification of reclaimed water, like that which will be stored in the Sderot Reservoir, can save the country’s agriculture.”

Amnon Zarka, a farmer from Kibbutz Erez, recalled how, when he plowed the local fields in his youth, he would occasionally stumble upon ancient water cisterns. “Today, as in Biblical times, life in the desert is dependent upon the water sources available,” he said, speaking on behalf of the farmers. “This new reservoir will enable us to irrigate thousands of dunam of citrus and other crops. The local farmers would like to thank everyone who has supported this excellent and important water project.”

Sderot Mayor David Buskila concurred: “The reservoir will enable us to save almost one million cubic meters of water. In the future it will be hooked up to Sderot, and we shall use this water to irrigate our parks and gardens, so that residents can enjoy living in a beautiful and well cared for town. We who live in the arid Negev have been aware for years of the grave water problem that afflicts the whole country. But there are a few people, and Natan Parsons of blessed memory was among them, who did more than just talk about the situation – they looked for solutions. The reservoir that has been established here gives us life. We are proud to have such Friends in the US.”

Head of Shaar HaNegev Regional Council Alon Shuster emphasized the reservoir’s important contribution to the environment: “Instead of polluting the environment and the little water we have, from now on we shall be able to recycle the water and irrigate our fields”. He added that, apart from its significant contribution to the environment and agriculture, the reservoir will also strengthen the endurance of the local people. “The knowledge that we are not facing this struggle alone, but that Jews in the US and the rest of the world are standing shoulder to shoulder beside us heartens us greatly”.

Sderot Reservoir is situated some two kilometers distant from the border with the Gaza Strip. For years residents of Sderot and its environs have lived in the shadow of Qassam rocket attacks. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai mentioned the security aspects of strengthening communities in the area. “It’s not just the army that fights the war for our right to live in this country,” he said. “Supporting the local people strengthens the community and ensures that we shall remain here.”

The JNF Parsons Water Fund invests in the development of new sources of water, in order to improve Israel’s water economy. According to Sharon Davidovich, KKL-JNF emissary to the US who is also Director of the Fund, the plan is to support the following: the establishment of forty new reservoirs within the next five years; the use of cutting-edge technology to upgrade sewage treatment plants; and drilling for water. The Fund is also involved in river conservation and rehabilitation work, including the Beersheba River Reclamation Project. Its educational activities include the operation of a water-saving study program in seventy schools throughout Israel. The fund’s projected investment for the coming decade is 100 million dollars. “Israel’s water economy is in a protracted state of crisis, and we have taken a heavy task upon ourselves,” said Davidovich.

Mark Perlman was a close friend of Natan Parsons, and when he learned of the water-related projects his friend wanted to promote, Perlman immediately enlisted to help with this vital enterprise. “The water crisis is a serious problem that Israel is facing now, and which the whole world will have to confront soon,” he said. “Sderot Reservoir is an excellent example of what a difference people can make when they work together. It’s exciting to see how an idea that was proposed a number of years ago has been transformed into an active project that will change the lives of the local people.”

Kenneth Segel said that a Walk for Water had been held in New York’s Capital District in order to raise funds for Sderot Reservoir. The event, which was held in memory of Susan Shpeen, the wife of Rabbi Scott and a well-known figure in the community, was attended by two hundred people and raised tens of thousands of dollars.

The President’s Council Mission, which comes to Israel every year, includes major donors from the USA. The delegates travel round the country and take a close look at the projects they have supported. This year the mission comprises 32 members from all over the USA who have come to Israel for a week-long visit focusing mainly on the Negev. The Sderot Reservoir inauguration ceremony formed part of their itinerary.

Rick Krosnick, Chief Development Officer in JNF USA and Director of the President’s Mission, explained that when Friends of KKL-JNF see for themselves what has been done with the money they have donated they understand that their contribution really does make a difference. “You can see the smiles on the delegates’ faces when the local people tell them how vital the various projects are,” he said.

JNF USA CEO Russell Robinson summed up the Sderot Reservoir inauguration ceremony by saying, “The work that we do here is designed to build and develop. Every drop of water that we manage to recycle means life. Israel recycles more water than any other country in the world – 80% of its water is recycled. Each drop of water is too precious to be used only once. Sderot Reservoir will have a very significant contribution to make.”

A duo of young local female singers added a pleasant musical dimension to the ceremony as they performed, among other songs, Olam Shalem (“A Whole World”). When they reached the chorus and sang the words “everything here is in our hands” their listeners displayed profound emotion. This, indeed, is the message to be learned from the establishment of the reservoir: when people get together, take responsibility and work towards a common goal they can make a real difference to every aspect of life.