from the June 2007 issue

Way to Keep Precious Water Resources Clean Developed by Researchers at Ben-Gurion U.

A new and valuable tool for fighting soil and ground water pollution has been developed by Dr. Ofer Dahan, a researcher at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research (ZIWR) at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The information was made public as part of the 30th Anniversary celebrations of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research as part of the University's 37th Annual Board of Governors meeting. At the same event, the new building for the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research was dedicated.

The Water & Contaminants Monitoring System (W&CMS) provides, for the first time, a simple, fast and cost-effective monitoring system that providing real time data on water and contaminate transport in the areas above the level of ground water, known as the vadose zone. The vadose zone includes the upper soil and rock layers which lies between the land surface and the aquifer water table beneath. Both water and contaminants must pass through the vadose zone prior to entering the water aquifer.

According to Dahan, most sources of man-made pollution originate on land surface right above the vadose zone, including industry, intensive agriculture, landfills and waste lagoons. Unfortunately, vadose zones are not hydraulically isolated - and as a result water and contaminants may rapidly migrate through downward towards the water table and pollute the groundwater. There is evidence that even the thickest vadose zones have limited ability to buffer against the contaminants.

Monitoring programs for ground water protection from pollution hazards were traditionally based on information pulled from groundwater. This monitoring method is well-established around the world, and there are even laws in several countries requiring this type of groundwater monitoring for potential polluters. But the method is flawed. The penetration into the groundwater for monitoring may turn out to cause irreversible damage and cleaning of the contaminated ground water in complicated and extremely expensive. Moreover, this could not provide any protection to groundwater since identification of contamination in groundwater is by definition too late as groundwater is already contaminated. Note, the so far no groundwater remediation anywhere around the glob has been successful, and no aquifer has ever been fully remediate, in spite of the multi-billion dollar investment in remediation actions. Therefore, monitoring of contaminate transport in the vadose zone, long before it reached the groundwater is the key to groundwater protection, and removing contaminants from vadose zones is a logical approach to preserving the quality, and therefore, the quantity of groundwater resources. Yet, accurate and affordable monitoring technology hasn't been available -- until now.

The newly developed BGU system is designed to provide continuous measurements of soil water content and water potential in the vadose zones."The W&CMS has been successfully installed in several places Israel, as well as in other countries where it has demonstrated that it can enhance the overall protection of human the environment and particularly groundwater," explains Dahan, "by providing earlier and better control of downward water flow and contaminant migration towards the groundwater."

Fighting groundwater pollution is critically important to many activities, including those associated with agriculture, forestry, hydrology, pollution abatement and engineering.

In recent years, there has been increased environmental awareness and as a result, a greater demand for this kind of pollution monitoring. Solid waste dumps, petroleum stations, waste water treatment plants, chemical industries and many more other activities that might pollute soil and groundwater all need close and careful inspection. The availability of W&CMS system will give governments as well as environmental protection organization more power to demand that potential polluters stay within guidelines and better protect the quality of water and as a result, the quality of life.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report June 2007

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