California’s severe drought has led the area’s water industry to look for solutions. The media is again and again presenting Israel as an exceptional case study of a country that has successfully overcome a dry climate and scarce water resources to achieve water security. Israel NewTech, looking forward to the upcoming international WATEC event, is promoting Israel’s water technologies around the world. Here is a recent article from the San Diego Union-Tribune which quotes Oded Distel of Israeli NewTech and Yossi Yaacoby of Mekorot:
Three decades ago, Israel’s water situation looked a lot like California’s. Water reserves were dangerously low. Rainfall was practically nonexistent. Fields and the farmers who managed them were both increasingly thirsty for fresh water, and Israeli water authorities knew that if they didn’t come up with a creative solution, the region’s ongoing drought could prove catastrophic for the nation.
Visit Israel today, and you’d never know this country was once bone dry. Water reservoirs are full. Broad swaths of desert are green and lush with wheat, cotton and date fields. Amid acres of rolling sand, far from any freshwater source and under a beating, unforgiving sun, artificial lakes brim with fish. High-tech produce, including perfect cherry tomatoes, desert roses and plum-shaped, sugar-sweet bell peppers, burst from the earth and are swiftly collected for export.
Israel has conquered its water problem. In one of the driest corners of the world, where rainfall sometimes amounts to less than 2 inches per year, there are sloshing swimming pools, manicured lawns and even an annual water fight (think water guns, flowing fountains and more) in the heart of downtown Tel Aviv.
“Whenever you speak about water, it’s very much connected to political, social and demographical issues, and therefore it’s an extremely sensitive topic,” says Oded Distel, director of Israel NewTech, a national program led by the nation’s Ministry of Economy to jointly promote the water and sustainable energy sectors. “But the world and of course California need to realize they have to deal with water differently, and Israel marks that new direction — because Israel is probably the only place globally that managed, as a dry country, to truly solve our water issues.”
A PLAN THAT HOLDS WATER
Israel truly kicked its water problem in the 1980s, but water conservation and innovation efforts have been at the backbone of the State of Israel since before its establishment in 1948. Rain falls only in the winter here, and in some parts of the country, there are years where it doesn’t fall at all.
Israel’s national water authority, Mekorot, was created in 1937, well before the state itself was established. In its first 40 years, the company oversaw the completion of major nation-length pipelines that pumped water from the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee down to the country’s more-thirsty corners. While Israeli drivers only got their first true expressway 10 years ago, Israeli water has had north-south thoroughfares for decades.
But while proper water transport is crucial, sophisticated pipelines are of no use if there aren’t enough resources to fill them. Israel’s secret, says Yossi Yaacoby, the chairman of Israel’s Water Technology and Environmental Control Exhibition and Conference (WATEC), is that it never looked for one-stop solutions to its water crisis, choosing instead to embrace a multifaceted approach in which government, agriculture and industry work hand in hand.
“Israel’s water program was built like a wall, stone after stone,” Yaacoby says. “We’re not talking about just 10 or 20 years.”
Transferring water from the wet north to the dry south was just the beginning, Yaacoby says. The next step for Israeli water maintenance was drilling the nation’s coastal aquifer down to a depth of 1,500 meters — numbers that are more often seen in digging for oil, not water. Then came technologies to reclaim brackish water and sewage water for agriculture, followed by radical concepts to desalinate seawater for drinking. Drip irrigation and reverse osmosis, which Israel pioneered and which have revolutionized agriculture here, as well as a slew of startup technologies that conserve and treat water to further its reach, have also made a major impact.