Texas A&M Global Programs 2018 Israel Field Study Student Blog

May17 Temple MountThe Texas A&M University School of Law Global Programs May 2018 Field Study course "Israel: Water, Energy and Dispute Resolution" explored the history, culture and legal issues related to water, energy and associated dispute resolution challenges. Students also ​experienced the basics of international and comparative law and cross-cultural communication. ​

The​ course offered a first-hand deep dive into the regulatory, political, and environmental issues at play in the region. The students gained insight into the nuances of dispute resolution in a different and challenging part of the world that could not be replicated in the classroom.

► Learn more about the Israel field study.

Check out the student blog posts about their experiences in the Middle East:


The Disneyland of Poop

Posted by Heather Nichols, J.D. '​19

I traveled with nine other students, Professor Gabriel Eckstein and Professor Nancy Welsh to Israel to study water, energy, and dispute resolution, but ended up learning about so much more—including a spirit of innovation and community. Israel became known to me as the country that could. (The food was not too shabby either.)

Israel Shafdan toiletThe Aggie Law group at the large toilet in front of Shafdan. ​Rumor is, each time ​a toilet is flushed at the facility, a voice comes over the loudspeaker and says “Thank you for your contribution to Israeli agriculture.”
L-R: Professor Eckstein, Daniel Howell, Melanie Smith, Elizabeth Ramey, Professor Welsh, Ife Olubanjo, Alexis Long, Alexis Yelvington, Traci Phillips, Brandon Shuelke, and blogger Heather Nichols

One of the most unusual adventures we took during our time in Israel was to the Shafdan Wastewater Treatment Facility. During my presentation to the class—prior to our travels—I described Shafdan as the “Disneyland of Poop.” I had read on the facility’s website how travel groups come to tour the facility and parents bring their children to look at the exhibits and learn about wastewater—certainly not anything we would be used to in the United States. However, as we drove up and saw the large parking lots marked with extra long parking spaces for tour buses and were greeted by a larger-than-life toilet, we began to see for ourselves how different touring a wastewater treatment facility in Israel was.

Israel Shafdan tour Prof. Gabriel Eckstein (middle) and Prof. Nancy Welsh (right) view a model of the entire Shafdan Wastewater Treatment plant. As the presentation progressed, the area the video presentation was referring to lit up so the viewers could orient themselves before going onto the plant grounds.

As soon as we began the tour, the lights dimmed, and a 360 degree-view video presentation began to play orienting us to the facility and the areas Shafdan services. As we looked through the glass floor underneath our feet, we could see replicas of the massive pipes used to transport waste from all over the metropolitan areas of Israel to be processed at Shafdan. After looking at the exhibits and replicas, we made our way outside for an aromatic tour of the actual plant. We were able to get up close to each portion of the plant that was responsible for each step in the treatment process.

Israel Shafdan tourA warning near the biological reactor to not swim in the water—just in case you were thinking about it.

Shafdan is a remarkable feat brought about by the old adage that necessity is the mother of all inventions -- and Israel is indeed the land of innovation and inventions borne out of necessity. As the Jewish people were fleeing their homes in countries where they were no longer welcome—at best—or killed—at worst, many returned to the land that would become Israel. In order to justify a Jewish state, the leaders had to prove they had enough water to sustain their people. Part of that plan included agricultural settlements in the Negev ​Desert.

With water being such a scarcity in Israel, using sweet—or drinkable—water to irrigate was not a sustainable long-term solution; neither was dumping raw sewage into the Mediterranean. Shafdan solved both those problems.

Israel Shafdan tourShaya, our Israel host, and the Shafdan tour guide ​examine a simplified mock-up of the plant.
Learn more about the wastewater treatment process
In the clarifier--the circular container in the middle of the picture—gravity works to pull particles to the bottom of the clarifier. The bar above the clarifier rotates so that scrapers can slowly remove debris that has attached to the walls and allow that debris to also settle at the bottom. The bar rotates very slowly so it does not stir up the particles.
The sediment is called sludge. The sludge is removed from the bottom of the clarifier and pumped to sludge processing-the left of the screen. Some “activated” sludge containing microbes is pumped back to the beginning of the secondary process so that the microbes can continue to feed on organic material. The remaining sludge is further de-watered. The water from the sludge is placed back into the system for further clarification. The dry solids are either used as fertilizer or placed in an area for disposal.
The water--once it has completed all processing--is then pumped several miles to the sand aquifer in purple water lines-as depicted on the right of the picture. The water percolates above ground and spreads out across the top of the aquifer. The water slowly filters down through the sand until it reaches the non-permeable floor of the aquifer. Once the water has gone through this tertiary treatment it is safe for drinking, though it does not go into the potable water system. Eighty five percent is instead pumped through the purple lines to the agricultural users--and approximately fifteen percent to waterways for replenishment.

First, Shafdan treats 120,000,000 cubic meters (approx. 4,237,760,006 cubic feet) of waste annually and releases the water into the sandy areas with aquifers below, allowing the sand to further cleanse the water.

Second, this clean water is then placed into a parallel water system (or the purple pipes) and reused in agriculture. Eighty-five percent of the cleaned water is used in agriculture and the remaining fifteen percent is used to help rehabilitate waterways in Israel. Israel is the only country that has less desertification than it did 50 years ago.

Out of waste and sand, Israel has managed to find a way to supply less expensive water to the desert to provide a way of life for its citizens by coming together as a community and innovating.

This spirit of innovation is spoke about often in Israel and is evidenced by the many think tanks in this region. In Israel, it is not considered a defeat if you fail, it is a defeat if you do not try.

Shafdan 1956Historical photo of men laying ​a large sludge discharge pipe in the Mediterranean in 1956. These historical photos line the walkway leading up to Shafdan’s main entrance.

And if that were not enough, Shafdan also uses 100 percent of the sludge removed during the wastewater treatment at the facility as fertilizer. Previously the sludge was pumped out into the Mediterranean Sea. However, public sentiments changed regarding this type of disposal and Shafdan responded in its innovative way. A market was found, the process was updated so the sludge could be used as fertilizer, and Shafdan was able to recycle even the waste from the treatment of waste.

The trip was not only about the study of water in the region, but how this country is able to solve disputes under intense conditions. This is an example of a successful dispute resolution everyone in Israel can be proud of.

One of the legal differences that allows Israel to have such comprehensive water plans regarding the use of their water—sweet, ground, desalinated, wastewater, and reused—is that the Israeli government owns every drop of water—even rainwater, on behalf of the public. While this sounds foreign to a U.S. citizen and an independent Texan, I certainly see that nothing less than a wholly comprehensive program would work in this area. The willingness of the public to allow the government to "own" such a precious natural resource shows the Israeli commitment to community. With all sacrificing the right to own water, they are all guaranteed water to live—and thrive.

Israel Shafdan floorThe glass floor looking down onto the large pipe below containing the viewing portals, a replica of the massive pipes used to transport waste into Shafdan to be processed.
Israel Shafdan tubeEach of the viewing portals highlighted important facts about Shafdan. This pipe is the same size as the pipes bringing waste into the plant.
Israel Shafdan tourStudents Brandon Shuelke, Elizabeth Ramey, Traci Phillips, Melanie Smith, Alexis Yelvington, ​and Alexis Long, with our host Shaya, at the biological reactor.
Israel Shafdan tour signA diagram of the biological reactor which is a cement basin where fans aerate the bacteria hard at work digesting the wastewater.
Israel Shafdan 1964-5Historical photos of laying the pipe that used to discharge the ​remaining wastewater sludge into the Mediterranean before Shafdan implemented the sand aquifer treatment and reuse of the water for agriculture irrigation.
Israel Shafdan 1983-2015Aerial views of the Shafdan facility from 1983 to 2015. The 2015 image shows the addition of 8 large thermophilic anaerobic digesters that stabilize sludge, allowing it to be applied on farmland as a soil conditioner and fertilizer.