How Israel manages its water better than California does


California and Israel share a climate of perpetual drought. As far as water is concerned, however, that’s where the similarities end.

Israel has a water surplus, while California struggles to manage. Among other reasons, the Jewish state owes its water wealth to technology such as drip irrigation and water reclamation, which have yet to win wide popularity here. 

But different rules on water use pose one often overlooked answer to why California remains parched while Israel thrives.

Water law is a famously complex field, but one regulatory difference is clear-cut: In California, if a landowner digs a well, he can freely use the water that comes up. In Israel, the government controls that water.

“This itself is so powerful,” said Tamar Shor, senior deputy to the director of the Israel Water Authority. 

In late June, Shor sat at a round table at the Ritz Carlton in Marina del Ray, at a conference on Israel-California water collaboration. Across from her was Felicia Marcus, who, as chair of California’s State Water Resources Control Board, is the top water official in the state.

Around them, conference guests participated in structured discussions with designated experts, riffing on cue cards that had been distributed in advance. 

At Shor’s table, the card prompted conference goers to discuss “How to design long-term water policies.” Hers was among the most popular discussions.

As Shor and Marcus talked back and forth, a group of farmers, water entrepreneurs and municipal functionaries leaned in.

Marcus expressed her “Israel envy” over the way water rights are apportioned in the Los Angeles County-sized nation.

In comparison to Israel’s system, she said, California’s water rights look something like the Wild West.

“Right now, it’s whoever has the deepest pump wins,” she said.

Shor explained that in Israel, a license is required to dig a well. In California, local health and safety departments can ask for permits, but the state does not.

What’s more, even if a farmer digs a well herself in Israel, she’s required to pay the government for the water she draws from it in the form of a tax, Shor said.

By contrast, in California “if you dig a well on your property, you have a right to use it by virtue of owning the property,” said Eric Garner, a water lawyer and adjunct law professor at USC.

Wells draw from underground water tables with finite resources. 

Imagine a single cup of water with a number of straws in it: In California, anybody with the funds to buy a straw can drink freely, while in Israel, the government owns the straws.

Of about 6,000 groundwater basins in California, some 20 percent of them are considered medium to high priority, meaning there is more water going out than coming in, Garner said. 

Southern California faces further groundwater challenges; Local officials say the aerospace industry left many aquifers tainted with toxic industrial byproducts, such as perchlorate.

But Garner said even in contaminated or prioritized basins, the only law regulating the use of private wells is a provision in the state constitution saying that all water use “shall be limited to such water as shall be reasonably required.”

Functionally, that means the law is “pump until a judge tells you not to,” he said.

 The difference in who owns wells changes the incentive scheme:  Whereas once a farmer in California digs a well, it make sense to pull out as much water as they can; in Israel they’ll draw out only as much water as they care to buy.

“I’m a strong believer that wherever the economic incentives and the regulation don’t go in the same direction, it won’t work in the end,” Shor said.

The rule on who owns wells dates back to Israel’s 1959 Water Law that established government control over water use across the state, Shor said.

That’s hardly the only difference between California’s water regulation scheme and Israel’s.

In 2006, Israel established its Water Authority to replace a previous control board that many felt was mired in politics. Since then, the agency has maintained sole power over distribution and use.

By contrast, in California multiple agencies are responsible for making sure faucets don’t run dry. In Southern California, estimates put the number of governing bodies somewhere around 100.

Often to our detriment, Garner said, “California does probably have the most complex water rights system in the world.”

Drought rules pushed Californians to cut water use by nearly 25 pct


Residents and businesses in drought-stricken California cut back water use by nearly 25 percent from June 2015 through the end of February 2016 – enough to supply nearly 6 million people for a year, officials said Monday.

The state's first ever mandatory cutbacks in water use were imposed by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown as the state entered its fourth year of devastating drought last spring, leading to a savings of 1.19 million acre-feet of water, about the amount used annually by the cities of Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego combined.

“Californians rose to the occasion, reducing irrigation, fixing leaks, taking shorter showers, and saving our precious water resources in all sorts of ways,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, which developed the regulations and is responsible for enforcing them.

Under the rules, California residents and businesses were required to cut back their usage by up to 36 percent over 2013, in a range determined by a combination of geography and past conservation efforts. All told, they conserved by 24 percent, close to the 25 percent goal set by Brown in an emergency order issued by Brown last April.

Regulators are weighing whether to lift or adjust the cutbacks following a wet winter that has left the northern part of the state with a plentiful water supply.

Regulators are set to reconsider the orders at a series of meetings later this month, as consumers and water utilities chafe under the continued burden.

One water district, responding to consumers who are irate that they must continue to conserve even as their local reservoir is reaching flood-control levels, has on its own told residents that they will no longer require cutbacks.

“It's very hard to maintain your credibility when residents can see the lake spilling for flood control purposes,” yet stringent cutbacks are still being enforced, said Keith Durkin, assistant general manager of the San Juan Water District, which serves the community of Granite Bay and other suburbs east of Sacramento with water from Folsom Lake.

NASA: Mideast drought the worst in 900 years


 A recent 14-year dry spell in the Middle East was the worst drought in the past 900 years, according to a new NASA study.

The American space agency’s researchers examined records of rings of trees in several Mediterranean countries to determine patterns of dry and wet years across a span of nine centuries. In the study published this week, they concluded that the years from 1998 to 2012 were drier than any other period, and that the drought was likely caused by humans, the Associated Press reported.

The study’s lead author Ben Cook said the range of extreme weather events in the eastern Mediterranean has varied widely in the past nine centuries, but the past two decades stand out.

Israel also experienced a severe drought, but its effects were significantly dampened by its array of six desalination plants.

When the sixth plant in Ashdod goes into full production, Israel’s desalination plants will reach 600 million cubic meters of water — which is nearly 70 percent of Israel’s domestic water consumption. According to a government decision, by 2020 the desalination plants should reach a capacity of 750 million cubic meters.

Cook, the Nasa scientist, said the Middle East drought “falls outside the range of natural variability.”

Cook is a climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York City.

The researchers used records of tree rings in Northern Africa, Greece, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Turkey, and combined the data with records from Spain, southern France and Italy to examine patterns of drought across time in the region.

They studied rings of trees, both living and dead, that were sampled all over the region. Rings in the trunks of trees represent years. Thin rings indicate dry years; thick rings show years when water was abundant.

Cook said the research supported other studies indicating human causes of extreme climate events.

The water shortage was one of several contributing factors that worsened the situation in Syria in the lead-up to the outbreak of that country’s devastating civil war in 2011.

South Africa water confab canceled over participation of Israeli envoy


A Johannesburg conference dealing with the water crisis in South Africa was canceled due to criticism concerning the inclusion of Israel’s ambassador to South Africa.

The envoy, Arthur Lenk, was to be part of a panel at the conference scheduled for the end of February on “equitable and sustainable water management for poverty alleviation,” the Cape Times reported Tuesday. The conference was organized by the Mail and Guardian newspaper

“We are willing to share expertise to help South Africa with its drought problems,” said Michael Freeman, an Israeli Embassy spokesman. “We were looking forward to helping South Africa and any other country in the world that faces similar problems.”

BDS South Africa in a statement welcomed the cancellation, as well as the pledge by some of the sponsors and organizers that any future event would not include the Israeli ambassador.

The boycott movement also said it was pleased that “the rug has been pulled from the Israeli ambassador who will not be able to exploit our very serious water crises for his own cheap publicity and whitewashing of his regime. Israeli water technology is not unique or special; such technology is widely available through other more friendly countries.”

Lorenzo Fioramonti, a political economist at the University of Pretoria and director of the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation who was due to speak at the conference, withdrew last week before the cancellation due to “an international academic boycott against Israel’s public officials.”

“There is enough evidence to show how Israel’s policies have taken water away from Palestinian communities,” he said. “Hiding this through a pseudo-technical debate about water technology would be unacceptable.”

How Israel’s desert became a fecund source of water


“Making the desert bloom” is one of the stirring and enduring tropes of Zionist history. So it makes sense for a drought-afflicted country like ours to turn to Israel for an example of how to solve the water crisis. That’s exactly what Seth M. Siegel has done in “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World” (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press), a fact-filled and wholly fascinating account of the Jewish homeland’s ways with water.

Siegel, an attorney, environmental activist and author, starts with the fundamental proposition that the water crisis is a global crisis. He argues that the shortage of clean water will affect not only food and energy production but also whole economies, and California and the American West are only the first places at risk. “Water shortages may not occur everywhere,” he writes, “but hardly anyone will remain unaffected for long.”

Significantly, as Siegel points out, California and Israel have much in common, if only because much of the land in both places consists of deserts or semi-arid terrain and because the population in both places has grown enormously. When it comes to water, however, the similarities end. “Israel not only doesn’t have a water shortage, it has a water surplus,” he writes. “It even exports water to some of its neighbors.”

Israeli water policy, as it happens, is deeply rooted in Jewish religious tradition. “The religious culture that carried the Jewish people for two thousand years from exile to national rebirth is filled with reverence for water in the form of rain and dew,” he explains. But it was the early Zionist settlers, mostly secular and highly practical, who set themselves to solving the problem of water shortage. Indeed, one of the characters in Theodor Herzl’s “Altneuland” is made to predict “that the water engineers of his imaginary Jewish homeland will be its heroes.”

Seth M. Siegel

Water soon passed from the pages of fiction to facts on the land. For example, the familiar folk song “Mayim, Mayim” — “Water, Water” — borrows its lyrics from a passage in the Book of Isaiah, but the words were set to music only in 1937, when years of unsuccessful drilling at a kibbutz finally brought forth water. And Israeli water law is based on the communalist values of the early generations of chalutzim: “Unlike in the U.S., where water is a personal property right, in Israel all water ownership and usage is controlled by the government acting in the interest of the people as a whole,” Siegel writes. “Israel’s water system may be the most successful example of socialism in practice anywhere in the world today.”

“If you put a bucket on the roof of your house at the start of the rainy season, you own the house and you own the bucket,” explains former Israel water commissioner Shimon Tal, “but the rain in that bucket is the property — at least in theory — of the government.” 

The man who made it happen is Simcha Blass, a now-mostly forgotten figure who made aliyah from Poland in the early 1930s and recognized that water was an essential ingredient in preparing the land to receive the millions of endangered Jews who were still trapped in Europe. Working with Levi Eshkol, the future prime minister of Israel, Blass “would develop grander water plans and execute projects which, cumulatively, would open ever greater parts of the country to productive use of the land and the production of more food for a soon-to-be-growing nation.”

His boldest plan was as an ambitious system of water storage and transportation that was inspired by the damming and diversion of the Colorado River. The earliest phase of the project was built with war-surplus pipes that had been used to fight fires in London during the Blitz. When completed in 1964, the so-called National Water Carrier provided Israel with the infrastructure for collecting, allocating and using water as a vital national resource.

But the real key to solving the water problem was to make the most of the limited supply of water that was available. Starting in the 1930s, Blass sought to replace wasteful flood and sprinkler irrigation with drip irrigation. A co-op was established to develop new strains of plants that would thrive with less fresh water or with otherwise undrinkable salty water. New sources of water were found in the Negev, and new techniques for desalinization of seawater and brackish water were invented. Remarkably, Israeli water engineers devised ways to process sewage into water for agriculture with the result that “over 85 percent of the nation’s sewage is reused.” Ironically, treated sewage is actually a better source of usable water than rainwater: “Unlike the volume of rain, which changes from year to year, the amount of sewage being turned into reclaimed water is consistent, reliable and predictable.”

A secondary benefit of Israeli water policy is that the quality of water in Israel’s rivers has actually improved. The Yarkon River near Tel Aviv was once so foul that athletes who fell into the water during a bridge collapse at the Maccabiah games in 1997 were poisoned by the toxins. “While environmental laws and enforcement of regulations helped bring Israel’s rivers back to life, what may have helped most was that Israel developed new water sources,” Siegel explains. “This new abundance in water — and the now unceasing demand for sewage to treat and reuse — took pressure off all of Israel’s rivers.” 

Rather less cheerful is the role of water in Israel’s troubled relations with Jordan and the Palestinians of Gaza and the West Bank, all of whom “have a common destiny in jointly held aquifers and rivers.” Even here, however, Siegel sees the glass of water as half full. Israel may be “a water superpower,” but the Jewish state is willing to export water to the Jordanians and Palestinians, “and often at prices less than is charged in Israel.” And he points out that “the Palestinians also have something of interest to the Israel” — that is, fresh supplies of sewage from Arab towns and cities that the Israelis can process into a new supply of usable water.

The whole point of “Let There Be Water,” as it turns out, is to show how the hard-won successes of Israeli water technology and policy can be used by countries and regions outside of Israel, starting with the Palestinians and neighboring Arab countries and extending around the globe: “The world now knows that Israel has answers to their water problems,” observes Ilan Cohen, a former government official. Thus does Siegel show us that Israel — once again but in an entirely new way — can be a light unto the nations.


Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing attorney, is the book editor of the Jewish Journal.

Celebrating Sukkot in a time of drought


While preparing for Sukkot in drought-ridden California, I hoped that the holiday’s joy had not dried up alongside much of the state’s water supply. For a holiday also called “the season of our joy,” one that celebrates the harvest and is filled with greenery and fruit, I worried about how the lack of rain would affect our celebration here and in other areas of the parched West.

[How Israel’s water solutions can save California]

In my Los Angeles neighborhood, trees were dying all around, including a birch in my front yard that reminded me of one from my childhood home. And in a season when the shaky sukkah is meant to represent the fragility of life, fire was giving us the shakes as well. At Rosh Hashanah, we heard that the entire town of Middletown, in Northern California, had burned down. A first cousin of my wife lives there; luckily he and his wife were not home at the time and their home was one of the few not destroyed.

Southern California is in the fourth year of drought. From 2011 to 2015, the recorded total for rainfall in downtown L.A. was a record low 29.14 inches. Forests and hillsides across the state are brown, parched and ready to go up in flames, as they did in the Valley Fire in Lake County. The Valley Fire has blackened over 75,000 acres, making it the fourth most destructive wildfire in California history.

To adapt to the water shortage, some of my neighbors were removing their green lawns and replacing them with rocks, bark and artificial grass. Would my sukkah need to adapt as well? According to the Rabbinical Assembly and other sources, the skach, or roof covering of the sukkah, must be of material that grew from the ground. But with everyone in Los Angeles required to cut back on their watering, would there still be enough palm fronds around — most Angelenos use the fronds for skach, since windy days often find my neighborhood streets littered with them  — to cover my sukkah roof? Would my celebration of Sukkot somehow endanger the trees, even the palms?

Wondering how my city’s trees were faring, I spoke with Andy Lipkis, the president of an organization called TreePeople, which he founded in 1973. Lipkis — who began planting trees when he was 15 years old — and his nonprofit have been leaders in the citizen-forestry movement, helping to plant about 2 million trees, and are working to “transform L.A.’s landscapes into living, healthy watersheds.”

Lipkis told me that in terms of sukkah roofing, I need not worry.

“The palm trees are not dying from the drought. There is no shortage of palm fronds or other potential greenery,” he said, much to my relief. But just as quickly he added that due to the drought, we were at a “point of risk.”

Lipkis had seen the trees dying around L.A., including the ones in the park surrounding his organization’s headquarters.

“We’ve lost dozens of big old trees,” including oaks, he said. The situation is exacerbated because ground squirrels and other rodents, looking for water, eat the tree roots, which results in the trees turning brown and eventually toppling, he said.

He reminded me that especially in this time of drought in semi-arid Los Angeles, “we are in the sukkah to connect with the sources of our lives, our food and our water.”

Lipkis also wanted me to think about why Sukkot, his favorite holiday, was created.

“The rabbis, way back, knew that people forget about the vital importance of trees in sustaining our lives, including producing our food,” he said.

Trees “act like tanks capturing the rain in their sponge-like area of their roots. Instead of the water running off, they put it back in the aquifer,” said Lipkis who has used his expertise in water management and technology to influence policymakers in city government.

Realizing that water-wise, “the infrastructure we built can no longer be relied on to meet all our needs,” and acting very much like a tree, Lipkis has come up with his own plan to capture rainwater — a plan to which city agencies have been paying attention.

Using a system built from a connected series of plastic, hollow highway barriers — in their usual use, are filled with water to give them weight — Lipkis has devised and placed on the side of his house a “temporary, experimental, 1,000-gallon” cistern to catch rainwater running off the roof via a downspout.

“You do a little re-engineering,” said Lipkis, who recalled that in the Bible, the kings who built cisterns in the arid land of Israel were celebrated.

During a recent storm here on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, Lipkis, awakened by the rain, rose at 3:45 a.m. to find the system already had 200 gallons, he said. By 7 a.m., when Lipkis went off to observe the holiday, the cistern was full, he said.

As a result, the lemon, lime, olive and fig trees that have been struggling in his front yard are now being sustained with the water he has collected.

Lipkis — who usually builds a sukkah out of giant timber bamboo and a few palm fronds thrown on the top — said he won’t be constructing a sukkah this year. Instead he’ll be using his energy to help 10 other households to install a similar cistern system in their yards.

Later that day, inspired by our conversation and with cisterns on my mind, I went into my backyard. I found a wheelbarrow filled with four inches of water from that same Rosh Hashanah storm. I poured it onto a struggling lemon tree that would soon fill my view from the opening of my sukkah.

(Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him atedmojace@gmail.com.)

Desalination: Science, engineering and alchemy


'Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution for a Water-Starved World (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press; September 15, 2015) reveals the secret to Israel’s bold approach to water security and how the rest of the world can adopt these measures now, to get ahead of the looming global water crisis

The irrigation of the desert with purified seawater will appear a dream to many, but less than any other country should Israel be afraid of dreams capable of transforming the natural order . . . . All that has been accomplished in this country is the result of dreams that have come true by virtue of vision, science, and pioneering capacity.
— David Ben- Gurion (1956)

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy occurred two weeks before the Weizmann Institute’s 1963 fund- raising gala in Manhattan. Kennedy had been announced as the keynote speaker and with his sudden, violent death, the event’s organizers cancelled it. Two months later, the dinner was held. To the organization’s good fortune, Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy’s successor, agreed to take the slain president’s speaking slot at the rescheduled event.

The Weizmann Institute was, and is, a leading Israeli scientific research center founded in 1934 by Chaim Weizmann, a world- renowned scientist who later became Israel’s first president. The institute was renamed in Weizmann’s honor in 1949, a year after the country was founded, when he was elected the ceremonial head of state. From its earliest days, the institute had taken on an array of scientific challenges. One of these was how to efficiently remove salt from seawater.  The desalination research was scientific, but it also had important ideological and political implications for the young country.  Success in desalination would produce important benefits for Israel in helping to fulfill the Zionist goal of building a secure, self- sufficient economy and society that would be a magnet for Jews worldwide. Lacking adequate natural water from rain and rivers, the nation’s growing water deficit would be an impediment to both its economic vitality and, as important, its ability to absorb new waves of Jews resettling in Israel. Large- scale desalination of seawater from the Mediterranean was seen as an ideal, if entirely theoretical, solution.

David Ben- Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister and the moving force in building the institutions that would lead to the creation of a state, never had water far from his mind. Shimon Peres, Ben-Gurion’s close aide and himself later Israel’s prime minister and president, says Ben-Gurion talked about water all the time. Ben-Gurion, Peres says, was captivated by the idea of turning salty seawater into freshwater for homes and farms.  Lyndon Johnson shared Ben-Gurion’s deep interest in “desalting” water. Coming from a hardscrabble Texas life, Johnson’s views about water were similar to the desert- centered Ben-Gurion. A few days before his election in 1960 as Kennedy’s vice president, Johnson took time out from campaigning to help prepare a lengthy article for The New York Times’ Sunday magazine. The article advocated a national focus on developing cost- effective desalination techniques as a tool for eradicating poverty and promoting world peace. Candidates in the heat of a campaign put out many proposals, but Johnson could have placed an article in the magazine on any of several more higher profile topics. But he chose to write about what he called “desalted water,” a seemingly odd topic for water- rich New Yorkers at any time, and especially so in the closing days of a tight presidential race.  Desalination has the feel of science, engineering, and alchemy combined. The medieval alchemist tried to take lead, a product of scant value and transform it into one of great worth, gold. So, too, the desalination process tries to take seawater (or inland, brackish water), strip it of its worthless elements, and change it into a lifesaving product of enormous value.

The ancient Romans tried to purify seawater for their army, but their efforts never went far.  During World War II, American scientists also began thinking about ways to either take the salt out of the water or the water out of the salt, which sounds like the same thing, but which require completely different approaches and scientific techniques. The problem with either approach, they realized, was that it might make sense in limited military applications where expense is of little concern, but the enormous amount of energy needed to produce pure water from seawater would have made it impossibly expensive for civilian use, at least with then current technology.  Expensive or not, Johnson was sure desalination was in America’s and the world’s future. He had been instrumental as the senate majority leader in obtaining funding for federal research on the issue, most of which was allocated to the U.S. Office of Saline Water, which had been established in 1952.  Senators knew that Johnson could be counted on to support bills which included water components. And all the more so, when desalination research was included. 

“Johnson the Jew”

When Johnson stepped to the podium at the Waldorf- Astoria Hotel ballroom to greet the seventeen hundred dinner guests and Weizmann Institute donors in February 1964, few likely expected Johnson to set in motion a project that on the one hand would spark an immediate firestorm in the Arab world, but on the other would promise a significant boost to Israel’s own desalination efforts. Johnson said, “We, like Israel, need to find cheap ways of converting saltwater to freshwater, so let us work together. This nation has begun discussions with representatives of Israel on cooperative research in using nuclear energy to turn saltwater into freshwater. This poses a challenge to our scientific and technical skills. . . . But the opportunities are so vast and the stakes so high that it is worth all of our efforts and worth all of our energy, for water means life, and water means opportunity, and water means prosperity for those who never knew the meaning of those words. Water can banish hunger and can reclaim the desert and change the course of history.”  From Damascus to Beirut to Cairo, Johnson’s speech was met with fury. One Lebanese newspaper columnist addressed the Texas- born, Disciples of Christ church- president as “Johnson the Jew” and said that the speech went “beyond recognition of the birth of Israel to recognition of Israel’s future.” The Syrian government newspaper called the speech “the ultimate in American support for Israel.”  Israel’s adversaries understood what a secure water future would mean to their sworn enemy.

Although Johnson saw desalination as an essential tool in transforming the Middle East, he may have decided to reach out to Israel due to his respect for Israeli science and the country’s rapid and remarkable achievements. With uncanny intuition, Johnson saw in Israel a worthy, if junior, partner who might provide an alternative route to his longstanding dream of desalted water.


From Let There Be Water by Seth M. Siegel. Copyright © 2015 by the author and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC.

8 Easy ways to conserve water right now


As you probably know, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a mandatory water-use reduction of 25 percent across California back in April because of our state’s historic drought. It has been up to the individual cities and communities to implement the reduction efforts, so you may have received a letter from your local water utility company about how much you are required to conserve. Where I live, we have been told to reduce water usage by 20 percent from 2013 levels. 

Saving 20 percent can seem daunting, but when I think of it in increments, it seems more doable. Every little bit of conservation adds up and makes a difference. Here are some tricks I’ve implemented in my own household that are simple and do not require a lot of effort. I’m eager to get my next water bill to see how much I’ve saved. 

Check for leaks

There could be a leak in your home, and you might not even know it. To check, note the numbers on your water meter, and then don’t use any water for two hours. If the numbers have gone up, you have a leak and it’s time to hire a plumber.

Shower power

A whopping 75 percent of indoor home water usage happens in our bathrooms, and a lot of that is from the shower. According to the American Water Works Association, a typical shower lasts eight minutes. With a standard showerhead that uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute, each shower can add up to 20 gallons of water. So if you reduce your daily shower time to five minutes, you will save 225 gallons every month. If everyone in the family does this, imagine how much water you’ll save. 

Stop flushing so often

At the risk of being too graphic, you don’t really need to flush your toilet every time you use it. Some older toilets use up to seven gallons of water per flush. Even the newer ones, which are required to consume no more than 1.6 gallons per flush, make up a substantial part of our water usage. By flushing just one time less each day, we can reduce our monthly water usage by a minimum of 584 gallons a year.

Make your older toilets flush less water

A simple way to reduce water use is to minimize the amount of water that goes into your toilet tank. To do so, fill a plastic half-gallon bottle (such as an orange juice or bleach bottle) halfway with rocks to weigh it down, then fill it with water and tightly close its lid. Place the container inside your toilet tank, and you will save a half gallon each time you flush. Note: sometimes people put a brick in the tank for this same purpose, but bricks can erode and add sediments to your toilet.

Turn off the tap 

This one seems really obvious, but leaving the water on while brushing your teeth is a bad habit many of us can’t seem to break. However, when you remember three to five gallons of water come out of the average faucet every minute, you’ll realize this is another simple opportunity to save water.

Use the dishwasher 

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, using an automatic dishwasher is more efficient than hand washing. New Energy Star dishwashers use three to five gallons of water per wash, compared to up to 27 gallons used by traditional hand washing, counting for those who let the water run the entire time. Even older dishwashers that use up to 15 gallons per wash beat traditional hand washing. Just be sure to run your dishwasher only when it is fully loaded. And scrape your dishes first, instead of rinsing them before putting them in the machine. 

Only wash full loads of laundry

The Alliance for Water Efficiency estimates the average American family washes almost 400 loads of laundry each year. Make the most of each load by making sure the machine is filled, even if the washer has adjustable load settings. And avoid the permanent press cycle, which adds up to five gallons for the extra rinse. If you’re planning to replace an older washing machine, which typically uses 40 to 45 gallons per wash, consider either a front- or top-loading high-efficiency model, which generally uses only 14 to 25 gallons. 

Keep a bucket handy for reuse

Don’t let water go down the drain when it can be used for other purposes, such as watering plants or cleaning. If you have to let the water in your sink or tub run for a few seconds to heat up, collect the cold water in a bucket to use later. You’ll be amazed at how much water you collect — all of which would otherwise just disappear down your drain.

Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You can see more of his do-it-yourself projects at

High-tech new water — next steps for sustainable water solutions in California


On July 13, a working team was formed among 12 California water officials and practitioners (led by former state Treasurer Kathleen Brown and state bond counsel Robert Feyer) and more than 50 Israel experts who had designed Israel’s water solutions industry. There was a quiet hope during the daylong session followed by two days of site visits that the force of observation could change circumstances in California and for the rest of the world. It’s beyond time for us to all be simply hot and bothered by the water crisis. It’s not going away. California is just like a growing part of the world where water demand exceeds supply for more 40 percent of the world’s population — a trend that will continue to encompass 60 percent of global population by the end of this decade.

A presentation by professor Jay Famiglietti (UC Irvine and JPL) set the tone: Nearly one- third of the world’s 37 largest aquifers are being drained faster than they are being replenished. More than 40 percent of the rise in sea level is associated with groundwater depletion and wastewater dumping into the sea. His NASA data showed that in California, there is only about one year of water supply left in reservoirs and that total water storage has been in decline since at least 2002 and probably since the early 20th century.

Like so many things in this land, this particular existential threat was first recognized here in Israel. About a decade ago, a national emergency was declared and steps were taken. Israel realized that drying out the country would finish us off a lot faster than the Iranians or anyone else for that matter. A lot was learned. Mistakes were made, yet a $4 billion, high-tech water industry was born focused on the most basic need to conserve water in Israel and on this planet.

California and Israel share a globally warming Mediterranean climate, 75 to 80 percent of water used on agriculture, and the lowest rainfall since 1895; in Israel, the lowest since 1865, when measurement began. There, the similarities stop. Israel’s per-capita residential water use is one-third of California’s and represents only a quarter of total annual water consumption; 85 percent of wastewater in Israel is recycled toward agricultural use (often more than once) compared with a roughly estimated 5 percent of recycling (no one knows for sure because it goes largely unmeasured). All Israel water solution technologies seek to mimic the natural water cycle by engineering recycling of the aquifers and minimizing groundwater pumping. Over the past decade, Israel’s large investment in an adaptive and resilient water system through water conservation, desalination, recycling and smart, integrated management systems have led Israel to produce about 20 percent more water than it consumes, exporting the rest to Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Last year, Californians passed a $7.4 billion bond issue, $3.4 billion of which will be spent in the coming year. It must do so wisely, because it is unlikely there will be a second chance, as Gov. Jerry Brown has warned. Meanwhile, fields continue to be flooded, nonrevenue water (aka leaks) wastes about 10 percent of California’s supply annually (such as UCLA’s 28 million-gallon leak last July), and there’s growing — but hardly universal — water consciousness about the centrality of conservation.

California will discover, as did Israel, that there is no magic bullet, but also that no technology that can help should be discarded or delayed. Desalination, water recycling, smart water systems that use big data science to predict and detect waste, new crops and irrigation that reduces water use are all part of the portfolio of solutions that must be used.

We are now forming project teams to deploy, scale up and localize to California conditions on these following areas that will avoid costs of wasting water by financing new technologies that will produce new water solutions. These include:

1. Desalination: Since desalination commenced and expanded, the average energy cost for desalination has been cut by 50 percent in recent years. New technologies that reduce chemical use and address environmental concerns have developed. None of these sustainable desalination breakthroughs would have occurred (and Israel would long since have run out of water) without major investment in targeted desalination, which increases incentives for new technologies;

2. California must get smart — quickly — about how it improves, produces and delivers water. Nonrevenue water saps at least 10 percent of the water supply and most likely more (because it goes largely unmonitored as indicated by a recent UCLA study). Cloud-based systems for integrated water-system management use advanced algorithms that harness utility raw data (such as flow, pressure and water quality) and enable water managers to better handle water resources. Israeli, Spanish, Brazilian and Australian users of these IT solutions report 66 percent reduction in time cycle to detect and repair leaks. Other sensors and technologies monitor closely water conservation and penalize indiscriminate water use. New material technologies and robotics can fix leaks without major reconstruction and at much lower costs through technologies such as Curapipe, widely used in Israel.

3. Drip irrigation in California has already been used on about 40 percent of the crops in California, and that has contributed about $1 billion annually. Now that technology needs to be quickly expanded to commodity agriculture (such as alfalfa, corn, grains, etc.), which will dramatically reduce groundwater depletion in the Imperial and Central valleys.

4. Embedded wetlands can provide treated effluent for agricultural use with very low capital expenditures (and swimming pools!) and are sustainable for small farms along with smallholder drip irrigation kits, which should be deployed immediately.

5. Enabling filtration of California dairy herd waste to avoid groundwater contamination.

6. Shifting to low-water, high-value crops and farming.

That’s a beginning to scale up these technologies that started in Israel to meet California-size problems in sustainable water management.


Glenn Yago is Senior Director at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies’ Milken Innovation Center and Visiting Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Drought leads to mass cutting of trees in Los Angeles


Los Angeles city officials say they don't have enough water to irrigate all the trees in the city, so they are cutting down those that are dead or dying from drought.

According to the city, roughly 14,000 trees have died in the last year alone from drought.

The North Hollywood Park had some of its trees removed just before the 4th of July holiday weekend. Some, like Kirsten Fisher, an assistant professor of biology at California State University in Los Angeles, question the move.

“So if we take out trees and don't replace them, it has, like I said, it has heat island effect. Right? But it also reduces habitat for wild animals, so birds that are migrating through or other animals that rely on trees for shelter and food will not have those trees anymore,” said Fisher. “So of course, they will be eliminated.”

The city says given the historic drought, it's doing a balancing act between saving the trees and enforcing people's safety at North Hollywood Park.

The U.S. Forest Service has been closely tracking tree deaths since the start of the drought, now in its fourth year.

California's drought led to the deaths of 12.5 million trees in the state's forests last year. Los Angeles officials say they plan to replant more trees when the weather improves.

Local rabbis speak up about the drought


The Catholic pope is not the only one seeing moral messages in the issue of climate change and in valuing the Earth’s natural resources. Many rabbis are teaching restraint, particularly in California, where the drought, currently in its fourth year, is causing civic leaders to require residents and farmers to severely cut back on water use.  

“We need to restrain ourselves with dealing with adama [soil],” said Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center in Philadelphia and a member of the Jewish Renewal movement, known for his work on Jewish environmental ethics. “In the story of the Garden of Eden, God says to the human race, ‘There’s an abundance here, eat it joyfully, just a little self restraint. Don’t eat from that tree.’ They don’t restrain themselves, and the abundance vanishes.”

It’s a concept also applied to the commandment of resting on Shabbat or practicing shmita, he explained, the halachic principle of letting the earth lie fallow every seven years.

For many rabbis from different congregations across Los Angeles, the California drought can be studied through a Jewish lens, and the Torah, as well as Jewish law and ethics, can offer the community guidance in how to respond.

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation described climate change — which he connected to the drought — as “an enormously religious issue,” as human action is at least partly accountable.

“We are failing perhaps the most basic human commandment we were given,” Kanefsky said, referring to that of taking care of the world. Climate change “is going to create serious hardship, whether for people who are living in areas that can no longer grow food, or living on islands overrun by seawater, or people who are subject to ferocious storms. We have the obligation to think about all of humanity as being part of our realm of responsibility, given that we are largely responsible for climate change.”

Allocation of water resources is a contentious issue in California, and the Gemara emphasizes the need for compromise by referring to situations in which people using a public area must yield to one another. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, an Orthodox professor of Jewish law at Loyola Law School, referred to a midrash that teaches that when two camels are walking toward one another on the same road and there isn’t room for both, the camel that is not laden must retreat.

“We have different interest groups making claims on water, [and] not enough is available to go around,” Adlerstein said. “One of the things I imagine we’ll be able to do is try to come up with accommodations that produce the least amount of detrimental impact on the fewest people.”

Furthermore, according to Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a professor of philosophy at American Jewish University and the chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, the Gemara presents a framework for how to prioritize in times of scarcity. He referenced a discussion of how a person’s own livelihood comes before anyone else’s, and how when one gives charity, the “poor of the city” preside over the poor who came to the city from elsewhere (Yoreh Deah 251:3).

“The tradition already had a sense that in times of scarcity, whether it be water or food or housing, there has to be a pecking order,” he said. “The general rule is that you have to take care of yourself first.”

Rabbi Adam Kligfeld of Temple Beth Am added that halachah urges people to prioritize the resources that are essential for one’s well-being. 

“Judaism would say you have to prioritize those usages of a limited resource that are required for sustaining life or health and not those for sustaining enjoyment or aesthetic pleasure,” he said. “Almonds and walnuts, which I love, I don’t need them to live. I happen to know they take an enormous amount of water to produce, per nut.”

Although droughts in the Torah appear as a form of divine punishment and God promises rain as a reward for keeping the commandments, it is difficult for some rabbis to think of the drought as a result of sin.

“We don’t fully understand God’s system of reward and punishment,” Rabbi Kalman Topp of Beth Jacob Congregation said. “Our focus needs to be on human initiative.”

Adlerstein explained that there is a type of divine providence associated with the droughts in the Torah because they occur in Israel — a land that, unlike California, has a covenant with God.

“There is the assumption in the Talmud that rain is something that God keeps tabs on and is related more to the spiritual conduct of the Jewish community,” he said. “When rain does not fall on Israel for an extended period of time, the reaction of the community is to turn to prayer and self-reflection. But I don’t think you’re going to find Jews in America saying, ‘Wow, this drought in California — it’s probably because of our sins.’ ”

However, most of the rabbis interviewed insisted that fasting and prayer in a time of drought can motivate people to take action.

“I don’t think that our fasting in and of itself is going to bring water — that’s magic, and that is a real ‘no-no’ in the Jewish tradition,” Dorff said. “If you’re going to fast, and there’s ample [halachic] precedent for that in the case of drought, then the purpose of the fast ought to be to express your fears about an ongoing drought, for water in the future and to motivate you to ensure a reliable source of water in the future.”

According to Adlerstein, conserving water solely to reap economic rewards is permissible. He explained that halachah offers incentives to help people fulfill the obligation to give tzedakah, and the Gemara describes how “the authorities could even seize their property before their very eyes, and take from them what they should have given” (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 248:1).

“I don’t see anything wrong with inducing people to act in ways that are healthy, even for the wrong reasons,” he said. “Even when it comes to things that are mitzvot, the Torah does allow for cajoling people to do the right thing by offering inducements.”

Droughts in the Torah often resulted in the displacement of people, illustrating the importance of individual responsibility to take care of the vulnerable.

“During the days of Elijah, the time of Achav, [and] in any situation of drought and in any crisis, that’s a time for every person to do what they can to improve the situation and help those in need,” Topp said. “Judaism emphasizes charity and kindness.”

For all the rabbis, caring about the drought reflects the high value that Judaism places on a human life, for which water is crucial.

“It is a Jewish value to take care of the planet and pay attention to the natural resources, particularly water,” said Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, which hosted a June 24 panel on water conservation. “There are so many references to water as life saving, from the story of Moses who is drawn from the water, from the story of Miriam, who is the source of wells that nurtured us as we wandered in the desert,” Geller said.

“The Jewish lens is to know that this is important and that behaviors need to change. To be responsible, to act personally, and to act collectively.” 

Beverly Hills partners with Israel in water conservation solutions


As California enters yet another summer of drought, Southland water authorities developing long-term conservation plans are turning to Israel to learn about new technologies. A recently announced partnership between Israel and the city of Beverly Hills follows the second meeting of an economic cooperation and innovation task force between the city of Los Angeles and its Israeli sister city, Eilat. 

Both of these cooperative arrangements are under the umbrella of a March 2014 agreement signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It calls for the two economies to “foster economic cooperation and economic development” and to “facilitate joint industrial research and development,” in a variety of economic sectors, including water conservation and management. 

“The State of Israel has always been a leader in water conservation technology, recycling and reusing wastewater, and the city of Beverly Hills hopes to learn from these technologies to assist with our region’s drought challenges,” Beverly Hills Interim City Manager Mahdi Aluzri wrote in an email to the Journal. 

The agreement, Aluzri said, would extend beyond water and include cybersecurity, public health and disaster preparedness, among other mutual interests. The language of the Beverly Hills-Israel partnership is still being written, though a final agreement is expected this summer.

In Beverly Hills, “We are hoping to bring some Israeli technology to the table, and to help them create efficiencies in their system to help conserve water,” said Dillon Hosier, political adviser to Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel. In addition to large-capital projects, creating efficiencies can also mean implementing new, relatively cheap best practices, including new leak-detection technology, Hosier said. 

Although a similar agreement established a year ago between Eilat and Los Angeles has so far focused on information exchange on water practices, L.A. City officials expect the arrangement to result in the actual implementation of new technologies. 

“The [Los Angeles-Eilat] task force is still in its early stages,” said a spokesperson for City Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who is spearheading the effort. As a state legislator, Blumenfield authored legislation on which the agreement between California and Israel is based.

At the first meeting of the Los Angeles-Eilat task force in October 2014, Los Angeles City officials heard a presentation from prominent Israeli hydrologist Eilon Adar on how Israel has overcome water scarcity using sustainable technologies.

In Israel, as in California, the agricultural sector is the largest consumer of water. To mitigate the burden of agriculture on its national water system, Israel has retired open field cultivation, widely used across California, in favor of drip irrigation systems, which use significantly less water. 

Israel is also widely considered a world leader in sewage treatment and reclamation, and seawater desalination — the focus of the second meeting of the Los Angeles-Eilat task force, which took place at the Milken Global Conference in April. 

Although more than half of all water used by Israeli households, industry and agriculture is artificially produced through desalination and wastewater recycling, the city of Los Angeles currently sources just 1 percent of its overall water supply from recycled water, according to figures from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

These discussions occur as cities across the Southland are under pressure to greatly reduce water use in the coming year, the effect of Brown’s order that the state cut overall urban use by 25 percent. To comply with this order, the State Water Resources Control Board has asked Beverly Hills to cut its water use by 36 percent. The city of Los Angeles’ goal is a 16 percent reduction. Both of these cuts are based on an assessment of average per-capita water use between July and September of last year. 

Although Brown’s order has drawn the public’s attention to the state’s immediate need for a reduction in water use — including an increased focus on the exorbitant amount of water Californians use to water lawns and fill pools — municipalities across the state are setting their sites on more permanent solutions. 

Some California cities already have begun experimenting with desalination technology, controversial among environmental experts because of its ecological footprint, high cost and energy intensiveness. Israeli firm IDE Technologies designed a desalination plant in Carlsbad, which is set to open next year. It will be the largest desalination facility in the country, and by 2020 it is expected to satisfy 7 percent of the San Diego County’s water needs. 

The city of Santa Barbara also is in talks with IDE Technologies as it plans to bring its desalination plant back online for the first time since 1992. Other plants around the state are in various stages of planning, including one in Huntington Beach that has drawn criticism from the California Coastal Commission and Orange County Coastkeeper.

Proposition 1, passed by California voters last year, was touted by supporters as an important first step by the state government in shifting the region toward sustainable water sources. It will raise more than $7 billion for a variety of projects, including water storage, ecosystem and watershed protection, and water recycling. The first allocations of funds are expected in the next several months, after which “a path for Israel will become clearer,” Hosier said. 

For now, sustainability advocates in Los Angeles are developing preliminary plans for a coordinated pilot project focused on groundwater recharge, said Blumenfield’s spokesperson. (Groundwater recharge is the artificial reintroduction of treated water into the ground.) And officials are continuing to share information. 

In Beverly Hills, the direction of the cooperation agreement is contingent on the recommendations of a 10-year water enterprise plan currently being developed. A report on the plan, presented to the Beverly Hills City Council in May, recommended that the city explore water supply alternatives such as water banking, the development of new wells, and reduced water purchases from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

“As we begin implementing these projects, through our partnership with Israel,” Aluzri wrote, “we hope to gain access to best practices and other expertise in the field.” 

Recycling toilet water and 4 other Israeli answers to California’s drought


For help facing its worst drought in centuries, California should look to a country that beat its own chronic water shortage: Israel.

Until a few years ago, Israel’s wells seemed like they were always running dry. TV commercials urged Israelis to conserve water. Newspapers tracked the rise and fall of Lake Kinneret, Israel’s biggest freshwater source. Religious Israelis gathered to pray for rainfall at the Western Wall during prolonged dry spells.

However, the once perpetual Israeli water shortage appears to be mostly over. California’s water supply, meanwhile, is at record lows, prompting restrictions on household use and leading farmers to deplete the state’s groundwater reserves. From water recycling to taking the salt out of the plentiful seawater, here are five ways that Californians can benefit from Israel’s know-how.

1. Israeli cities recycle three-quarters of their water.

Israeli farms don’t just use less water than their American counterparts, much of their water is reused. Three-quarters of the water that runs through sinks, showers, washing machines and even toilets in Israeli cities is recycled, treated and sent to crops across the country through specially marked purple tubes. According to the Pacific Institute, which conducts environmental research, California recycles only 13 percent of its municipal wastewater.

Israel also encourages recycling by giving reused water to farmers tax-free.

“If you take water from the city you don’t pay a tax, but if you have a well and you take that water you pay a lot of money for every cubic meter,” said Giora Shaham, a former long-term planner at Israel’s Water Authority. “If you’re a farmer in Rehovot and you have water that doesn’t cost money, you’ll take that water.”

2. Israel gets much of its water from the Mediterranean Sea.

Israelis now have a much bigger water source than Lake Kinneret: the Mediterranean Sea. Four plants on Israel’s coast draw water from the sea, take out the salt, purify the water and send it to the country’s pipes — a process called desalination.

The biggest of the four plants, opened in 2013, can provide nearly 7 million gallons of potable water to Israelis every hour. When a fifth opens as soon as this year near the Israeli port city of Ashdod, 75 percent of Israel’s municipal and industrial water will be desalinated, making Israelis far less reliant on the country’s fickle rainfall.

Desalination costs money, uses energy and concerns environmental activists who want to protect California’s coast and the Pacific Ocean. One cubic meter of desalinated water takes just under 4 kilowatt-hours to produce. That’s the equivalent of burning 40 100-watt light bulbs for one hour to produce the equivalent of five bathtubs full of water.

But despite the costs, San Diego County is investing in desalination. IDE Technologies, which operates three of Israel’s four plants, is building another near San Diego, slated to open as soon as November. Once operational, it will provide the San Diego Water Authority, which serves the San Diego area, with 50 million gallons of water per day.

“It’s a carbon footprint, but the technology is advanced enough that the cost of the process is lower than it used to be,” said Fredi Lokiec, IDE’s former executive vice president of special projects. “The environmental damage done because of a lack of ability to provide water to residents and agriculture because of the drought, because of overdrawing of groundwater, also has a price.”

3. Israelis irrigate through pinpricks in hoses, not by flooding.

No innovation has been more important for Israel’s desert farms than drip irrigation. Most of the world’s farmers water their crops by flooding their fields with sprinklers or hoses, often wasting water as they go. With drip irrigation, a process pioneered in Israel 50 years ago, water seeps directly into the ground through tiny pinpricks in hoses, avoiding water loss through evaporation.

Four-fifths of all water used in California goes to agriculture, and California’s farmers have been draining the state’s groundwater as rain has stopped falling. But as of 2010, less than 40 percent of California’s farms used drip irrigation, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Netafim, a leading Israeli drip-irrigation company, says the practice cuts water use by up to half. Netafim spokeswoman Helene Gordon told JTA that 90 percent of Israeli farms use drip irrigation.

“It can’t be that there’s such a huge water shortage, and they’re talking about a shortage of drinking water, and on the other hand they pour huge amounts of water into the ocean that could be used for agriculture,” said Avraham Israeli, president of the Israel Water Association, which advises Israeli water companies on technology development.

4. Israel’s government owns all of the country’s water.

Israel treats water as a scarce national resource. The government controls the country’s entire water supply, charging citizens, factories and farmers for water use. Residents pay about one cent per gallon, while farmers pay about a quarter of that.

In California, though, many farms drill from private wells on their property, drawing groundwater as rain has thinned. Some have even begun selling water to the state. State regulations to limit groundwater use, signed last year, won’t be formulated until 2020.

“Technology is not good enough,” said Eilon Adar, director of Ben-Gurion University’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research. “You have to change some of the regulation. You have to impose more limitations on water. California’s local consumers have to give up some of their rights.”

Adar and Israeli, however, both noted that adopting Israeli-style regulations in California would be near impossible, as some of California’s water rights holdings are more than a century old.

But government ownership doesn’t solve problems for all of the region’s residents. The Israeli human rights NGO Btselem says the West Bank suffers from a water shortage due to unequal allocation of the state’s water. According to Btselem, Israelis receive more than twice the amount of water per capita as Palestinians in the West Bank.

5. Water conservation is drilled into Israeli culture.

When an ad appeared on Israeli TV in 2008 showing a woman whose body crumbled to dust because of that year’s water shortage, a parody Facebook group suggested skin lotion. But the ad was just the latest iteration of an Israeli ethos to save water wherever possible.

Kids are taught to turn off faucets and limit shower time. Israelis celebrate rain — at least at first — rather than lamenting it. Lake Kinneret’s daily surface level shows up alongside weather reports in the paper.

In 2008, at the height of a decade-long drought, Avraham Israeli, the Israel Water Association president, dried out his lawn and replaced it with a porch to save water.

Israelis’ close attention to rainfall and drought comes from an education and culture that teaches them the importance of every drop in an arid region. With no end in sight for California’s drought, Adar said Californians would do well to adopt a similar attitude.

“You take an 8-year-old boy, you pump into their head that they have to save water as a scarce national resource,” he said. “In 10 years’ time, they’re 18 years old and they get it. It’s in their blood.”

Cartoon: Californians, conserve or die


Harvesting expert advice to save family’s beloved tree


If Tu B’Shevat is such a happy New Year for Trees, why am I sucking lemons?

The holiday, usually a time for planting — except this year in Israel, where many are observing the shmita year, a Torah-mandated break every seven years in the agricultural cycle — for me may be a time of cutting down.

Our lemon tree, planted more than a decade ago in the backyard, is sick. Usually full of green leaves and yellow fruit at this time of year, the 7-foot tree now suffers from curled leaves and brownish lemons.

With a prolonged drought in the West, fruit trees are having a hard time. According to the University of California’s Master Gardener program, “Drought stress will reduce fruit size and stunt growth” and cause leaves to “wilt, curl and sunburn.” But looking at my poor tree one afternoon, I suspected that the tree, watered by a nearby sprinkler, was suffering from something else.

Thinking that a New Year’s gift for the tree would be a cure, I called an expert: Devorah Brous, an arborist certified by the International Society of Arboriculture and the founding executive director of the Los Angeles-based organization Netiya, a Jewish nonprofit that promotes urban agriculture through a network of interfaith partners.

I sent Brous several photos of leaves, fruit and branches, and when I called looking for a treatment, she was ready with a diagnosis.

“Is it time to start thinking firewood?” I asked, thinking that I had waited too long to seek help.

“Could be,” she replied, half-jokingly, but also responding that the answer depended on “how dedicated and committed” I was to the tree.

How committed?

Around the Rodman home, lemons are regularly turned into lemonade, and I am not squeezing a metaphor here. Through good times and bad, the tree had faithfully supplied our family with enough lemons to have pitchers of the cool, refreshing drink with dinner, and year-round the tree provided enough lemons for dressings, marinades and guacamole.

But it wasn’t just about the lemons.

“We planted the tree just before our twins’ bar mitzvahs,” I responded. (They are now in their mid-20s.) After a winter windstorm had partially split off a major limb, I had successfully bolted it back together.

“What you have there is citrus leaf curl. Severe,” Brous said, adding that it was fixable.

She said the curl was caused by a leaf miner, a larva of an insect that lives inside the leaf and eats it — thus explaining the white trails I had seen on the leaves.

Brous said one of the 20 fruit trees in her backyard had suffered from the same disease and had responded well to what she called “integrated pest management.” However, she warned, because of the severity of infestation, I may have “no other choice but to use insecticide” to return the tree to health.

But Brous, who lived in Israel for 15 years and founded an environmental and justice nongovernmental organization there called Bustan — Hebrew for “orchard” — ticked off a bunch of things I could do first. The list included cutting the tree back 30 percent; removing all the leaves that showed any signs of the leaf miner, as well as the fruit; and on the remaining leaves, spraying a “compost tea,” a spray made from compost that had been finely sifted.

To put more nutrients into the soil, Brous recommended that I spread a combination of worm casings and “really beautiful organic compost” onto the bed, as well as ensure that the tree is watered deeply. To get rid of the insect pests, I might also need to invest in something called pheromone traps, which use chemicals as a lure to control the infestation. She also suggested trying nonstinging parasitic wasps.

“They lay their eggs inside the leaf miner larvae,” she said, as I imagined unleashing my very own plague to free my tree.

Beyond compost, pruning and sprays, but perhaps just as integrated into her recommendations, Brous believes that the shmita year presents us with an opportunity to “slow down” and spend more time outdoors with what is already growing around us.

“If you were outdoors, regularly watering your tree by hand rather than letting your sprinklers do it automatically, your tree would be talking to you,” saying, “ ‘My leaves are curling, there’s a problem, and I need help,’ ” she said.

Brous, whose Netiya organization helps synagogues and churches install gardens on their properties, said the shmita year ultimately may not be a time for acquisition.

“It’s about being more reflective,” she said. “Maybe it’s not about going out and planting new trees.

“A lot of mistakes happen because we connect Tu B’Shevat with planting, rightfully so,” Brous said, referring to trees that she has seen planted in the wrong climates and in areas too small. “This year gives us a chance not to just run out and plant, but to steward what we have already planted.”

Tu B’Shevat, which this year begins at sundown on Feb. 3, would be a time for me to become a better steward. The worm casings, organic compost, watering and wasps could eventually bring back something that, though known to be sour, really made my life quite sweet. 

Edmon J. Rodman writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.

Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti vows to cut water use by 20 percent over drought


The mayor of Los Angeles aims to reduce local water use by 20 percent over the next three years to address a record drought through a mix of voluntary measures for residents and mandatory restrictions for city departments, the city said on Tuesday.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, in an executive order, asked residents in the city of 3.9 million people to limit watering their lawn to twice a week and ordered city departments to reduce watering of municipal lawns.

Garcetti warned that if those and other measures do not meet his goal of cutting the city's water use by 20 percent by 2017, Los Angeles could impose mandatory cutbacks on residents that would include limits on car washing.

The move comes 10 months after California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency due to a multi-year drought and called for voluntary water use cutbacks of 20 percent.

“Southern California in general has done a remarkable job over these last 20 years of being able to grow substantially without using more water,” said Felicia Marcus, chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. “Now this mayor is choosing to take it to the next level, which is a great thing to see.”

Already, California officials have announced that water consumption in the state was 11.5 percent lower in August than for the same month the year before.

The drought is expected to cost the state an estimated $2.2 billion this year, along with a loss of more than 17,000 jobs, as farmers are forced to leave fallow some valuable cropland, a report by University of California in Davis scientists found in July.

The city has long offered cash incentives to residents who replace lawns with plants that use less water and other types of landscaping, and Garcetti on Tuesday increased that incentive slightly to $3.75 per square foot (about $40 per sq meter).

He also ordered the city's Department of Water and Power to cut its purchase of water imported from other regions by 50 percent by 2024.

“Our relationship with water must evolve. We cannot afford the water policies of the past,” Garcetti said in a statement.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Sandra Maler

Sukkot, rain and Andy Lipkis’ vision for L.A.’s salvation from the drought


On the afternoon of Oct. 16, the final day of Sukkot, Jews will begin the annual practice of inserting a short but key line into the Amidah prayer: Mashiv haruach u morid hageshem: “Who causes the wind to blow and the rain to fall.”

In Jewish tradition, Sukkot marks the beginning of the rainy season in Israel, and, as it happens, for California as well. This year, in the Golden State, morid hageshem takes on heightened meaning, given that the nation’s most populous state is in its third consecutive year of drought, with about 80 percent of California experiencing “exceptional drought” conditions, the most severe on a five-tier scale according to the United States Drought Monitor. 

And there is no end in sight, with the Climate Prediction Center forecasting that, at least through the end of the year, the state’s drought likely will persist and possibly even intensify.

Only 5.84 inches of rain have fallen in Los Angeles since the beginning of 2014 — about half the average amount — or, put another way, 39.2 billion fewer gallons of rainwater than falls on the city’s 469 square miles in a year of average rainfall.

But the problem is even bigger than those numbers indicate. In Los Angeles, an inordinate amount of the rain that falls on us makes no contribution to the city’s water supply — an estimated 80 percent of our rainfall flows directly into storm drains and heads out into the ocean, wasted before ever being used. One consequence is that for each gallon of water not captured, one gallon must be imported.

Los Angeles imports about 90 percent of its water from the Owens Valley in Eastern California (270 miles away), the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (380 miles away) and the Colorado River Aqueduct near Parker Dam — a 242-mile channel along the California-Arizona border (280 miles away) that was built and is operated by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). The MWD sells the water wholesale, supplying 1.7 billion gallons of water daily for use by 19 million people across Southern California. 

“The largest single use of electricity in the entire state of California is to pump water over those mountains into Los Angeles,” said Andy Lipkis, founder and president of the nonprofit TreePeople. He pointed toward the mountain ranges abutting the Grapevine, the route through which our Sierra-sourced water flows through a huge — and hugely expensive — system of aqueducts and tunnels. 

TreePeople founder and president Andy Lipkis during construction of the cistern.

Lipkis, who made his name through his devotion to planting and preserving L.A.’s trees, has now also turned his attention to water conservation. He thinks L.A.’s complex and bureaucratic water system is completely nuts — and also completely fixable.

At a recent interview at TreePeople’s hilltop headquarters on Mulholland Drive, next to Coldwater Canyon Park, Lipkis explained how a city desperately thirsty for water could benefit from TreePeople’s decades of planting some 2 million trees and reproducing their natural water-storing ability.

Lipkis believes we can use technology to replicate citywide a tree’s natural and remarkable ability to capture and store rainwater. He predicts that if Los Angeles implements such a system, it would become both less reliant on imported water and less prone to flooding.  And maybe — Lipkis emphasizes that it’s a big maybe — the region could also become a little bit more flush with cash if a larger rainwater capture system bring about a smaller water bureaucracy and lower electric costs from not having to pump so much water over those mountains.

From a seed company to $4 million

An outdoorsy guy most comfortable in sneakers and shorts, Lipkis doesn’t look like a man who would be sought after by policymakers who want to get Los Angeles out of its state of perpetual water crisis. Yet, Lipkis founded TreePeople when he was just 18 and has grown it into a nonprofit with 45 employees, thousands of volunteers and a $4 million annual budget that is allowing the organization to use its technological know-how to influence politicians and leaders within L.A.’s massive water bureaucracy.

TreePeople got its start in 1973 as the California Conservation Project, with $10,000 Lipkis raised to plant 8,000 seedlings in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles. Those seedlings now have grown into smog-tolerant trees and have helped reduce the impact of the smog emanating from the city below. Lipkis often has said his inspiration grew out of summers he spent at Camp JCA Shalom.

By now, TreePeople has planted about 2 million trees and continues to do so with the help of an army of volunteers, and, in the process, Lipkis’ vision has broadened, so that he’s now hoping to bring a new ecology to L.A. based on what he’s learned about how trees function, and not only by planting more and more trees, but by bringing tree-inspired technologies such as rainwater cisterns, underground storage tanks and highly water absorbent gardens to as many homes, neighborhoods and schools as possible.

The encouraging point about TreePeople is this: Lipkis’ ideas don’t seek to reinvent the wheel, or the tree. Among one of the many life-giving features of the tree is the ability to capture rainfall, filter water into the ground, and then refill clean water in those natural underground aquifers that we all rely upon to store and provide clean water. Not to mention trees’ ability to cool urban areas and grow food, two of TreePeople’s other core missions.

Lipkis thinks that in addition to planting more trees across the city (including in densely urban areas) he can re-create a tree’s natural rain capture process. 

Lipkis’ enthusiasm was clear as he walked through a miniature urban landscape built on the TreePeople property, which demonstrates the difference between the quality of rainwater that has traveled over city surfaces, into sewers, through drains and into the ocean, versus rainwater that is engineered to flow into the ground, where it can be purified and stored naturally. 

Today’s cities, and L.A. in particular, were built to push whatever rain falls on their streets — billions of gallons of it, along with tons of trash of various sorts picked up en route — out to the ocean. All this waste occurs even as we search desperately for a solution to our water shortage. Even when the current drought ends, Los Angeles and much of the surrounding desert region still will rely on a water transportation system that needs rethinking, and is already being rethought by water officials in Orange County and San Diego. Orange County already has an operational wastewater purification plant, while in San Diego, a desalination plant is in the works. 

In Los Angeles, the good news for Lipkis, and the rest of us, is that city leaders and key local water agencies already are recognizing his tree-centered strategy as one method to address Southern California’s water shortage. The bad news is that the government’s water bureaucracy in Los Angeles is massive and it could take years for good ideas to blossom into policy.

Working closely with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), the Department of Public Works and the Bureau of Sanitation to mass-scale rainwater-capture technology to Los Angeles, Lipkis projects that distributing and installing millions of rain cisterns that could hold thousands of gallons of water to residents across the city (just one relatively simple rain-capture technology) could be accomplished in a few years, as it was in parts of Australia, or it could take more than two decades —“It depends on the commitment of politicians,” Lipkis said.

His other hoped-for projects include installing massive underground cisterns and groundwater infiltrators under large public properties, such as parks and schools, which already has been done effectively by TreePeople at multiple sites in the San Fernando Valley.

For Lipkis, the most encouraging development is the recent acknowledgement by the city’s water bureaucracy at LADWP that improving stormwater capture infrastructure is a must. At a meeting in April, Lipkis said, James McDaniel, LADWP’s outgoing head of water — who was on vacation when the Journal sought comment — cited rain capture as the fastest way to bring new water to Angelenos.

The department’s Stormwater Capture Master Plan, begun in 2013, highlights many of TreePeople’s rain capture projects. It is set to be completed next year and outlines for lawmakers how the city can “increase the local water supply and reduce the dependence on expensive imported water.”

The TreePeople solution

Elmer Avenue, a residential block in Sun Valley, a neighborhood of L.A. 20 miles northwest of downtown, is dotted with one-story single-family homes. Parts of Sun Valley, including Elmer Avenue, used to have hazardous flooding problems, and until 2008, this street not only had no sidewalks or streetlamps, it didn’t have any storm drains.

Rainwater from neighborhoods north of Elmer Avenue would flow downhill and gather in giant puddles on the street, making driving and walking nearly impossible during and after a rainfall. For TreePeople and a group of other nonprofits and agencies led by the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council (now the Council for Watershed Health), Elmer Avenue’s predicament became a perfect site to experiment with a rainwater capture model.

Today, the street looks like one of the newest residential blocks in the city — new sidewalks, a newly paved road and, to Lipkis’ delight, a sophisticated rainwater-capture system. Front yards are filled with plants and native trees that require little water to survive but also store large amounts of moisture. When rainwater hits the street, it flows into drains that direct the water to a 5.2 million-gallon underground infiltration apparatus, which then filters the water into the ground. That’s where nature takes over and brings it to a natural underground aquifer. 

Rain that falls on houses is directed via gutters into rain barrels, onto lawns, and to porous driveways as well as to trees and swales — depressions that store water until they soak into the ground — next to the sidewalk. And if the swale fills up? The excess flows into the street, where it then flows to a nearby drain that leads to a large underground water storage device that eventually will redirect the water into a natural aquifer.

This simple but effective system echoes similar rainwater-capture projects that TreePeople has implemented at Hillery T. Broadous Elementary School in Pacoima, the Hall House in South Los Angeles and at Sun Valley Park. With these experiments, TreePeople has demonstrated on a small scale what Lipkis believes Los Angeles should, can and eventually will do on a much larger one.

Left: A playground at Broadous Elementary School in Pacoima before intervention by TreePeople.
Right: Hidden underground technology now drains the landscaped field, preventing flooding and preserving water for use.

Mark Pestrella, chief deputy director for L.A.’s Department of Public Works, has worked closely with TreePeople on reducing flooding in Sun Valley and increasing its rainwater capture. “It’s scalable across all of the county of Los Angeles,” Pestrella said, alluding to the fact that while transforming Los Angeles and L.A. County’s water bureaucracy would be a major hurdle, he is grateful his department “thankfully listened” to TreePeople when it proposed a solution to Sun Valley’s flood issues.

Unlike “environmental groups [that] raise money for policy for various things” and aren’t held accountable when they don’t make a positive change, as Lipkis put it, TreePeople already has garnered the attention of a who’s-who of the local water bureaucracy and water agencies and officials, who have cited the group’s projects in Sun Valley and in other parts of the city as evidence that rainwater capture is one part of the water solution. 

In late October, TreePeople will lead a trip to Australia that will include officials from LADWP, the Department of Public Works, the Bureau of Sanitation, the L.A. City Council, the state’s water board and staffers from the offices of Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. Lipkis’ goal is to show local and state water policymakers how Australia has dealt with a perpetual water crisis by harvesting rainwater.

Lipkis’ water dream is not an environmentalist’s pipe dream, either. LADWP noted in its 2010 Urban Water Management Plan that “TreePeople has demonstrated that rainwater is a viable local water resource,” and that the water agency and the nonprofit have agreed to work closely to identify opportunities for “widespread groundwater recharge.”

Andy Shrader, director of environmental affairs for L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who sits on MWD’s board, said Koretz, too, “has been pushing MWD to increase their local water projects to include stormwater.”

“[With] the TreePeople model where you put a cistern in somebody’s front yard and try to capture as much as you can,” Shrader said, “you can really [use that water to] take care of especially your outdoor watering needs pretty handily.”

Also on board are Bureau of Sanitation Director Enrique Zaldivar — who said there is “no question” L.A. needs a more ambitious rainwater-capture plan —and Garcetti, who wrote in his 2014-15 budget summary that he wants to cut L.A.’s reliance on imported water in half by 2025. It’s evident that an updated water policy is on the agenda of L.A.’s political class, the ones who might make it happen.

A piece of a larger puzzle

To be sure, the Elmer Avenue project was expensive. It cost $2.7 million to remodel just one residential block. To re-create this throughout Los Angeles, a city with 6,500 miles of paved roads, would not be practical, says Stephanie Pincetl, director of UCLA’s California Center for Sustainable Communities, who nevertheless believes rainwater capture should and will play a key role in any sustainable water solution.

“The problem with Elmer Avenue is that it really, really was too expensive to do widely,” Pincetl said. She instead proposes that new and existing buildings in Los Angeles be retrofitted as “low-impact” sites so as to include technologies to filter rain into the ground instead of into the flood control system that pumps water into the sea. 

“Find opportunities on all properties to infiltrate rainwater,” Pincetl said. “That is the future if, in fact, we are serious about water conservation and using the precious resources that we have.”

Los Angeles, Pincetl added, was built “when we thought we could import as much water as we needed.” And at a time at the beginning of the 20th century, when transporting water was cheap and the sources were plentiful, why not? “There was no idea of conservation,” she said.

Conservation, rainwater capture, wastewater (i.e. sewage) recycling — all of it will play some role in L.A.’s water fix, and all of it already has been used to some extent as far away as Australia and as near as Orange County.

One small and logistically simple part of the water solution would be the use of rainwater cisterns, which can be hooked up and retrofitted to a home’s gutter. Coastal cities in Australia that have climates similar to Los Angeles’ are now models for this simple means of water conservation. There, residents consume only about 60 gallons of municipal water per day, compared to the approximately 150 gallons per day used by the average home Los Angeles. 

In South East Queensland, for example, homes without rain cisterns used 135 gallons of municipal water per day compared to 101 gallons in homes with cisterns, a 12,000-gallon difference over the course of the year, for just one home.

Just to the south of Los Angeles, Orange County has developed its own water solution, a $481 million wastewater purification — “toilet to tap” — plant that uses microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light to purify 70 million gallons of recycled water every day, providing enough water for about 100,000 people’s daily use. 

Michael Marcus, Orange County Water District’s general manager, said his county is able to meet 72 percent of its water needs from its groundwater basin, one-third of which is filled up by purified wastewater. 

As a result, Marcus said, Orange County purchases most of the rest of its water from the municipal water district, a stark contrast to Los Angeles’ 90 percent reliance on imported water. “If we didn’t have that,” Marcus added. “We’d be in very, very desperate shape.” In terms of cost, Orange County spends about $500 per acre-foot of water, or about 326,000 gallons, when factoring the nearly $100 million in grants it received to construct the purification plant. But even removing those grants, the county is spending about $850 per acre-foot, Marcus said, still less than the $900 to $1,000 charged by MWD in Los Angeles for its imported water. 

“The [cost] lines have crossed,” Marcus said, referring to the fact that as the water supply shrinks and its price rises, previously expensive-looking solutions like water recycling and rainwater capture suddenly make more financial sense. 

Los Angeles already has embarked on a wastewater purification experiment —the West Basin Municipal Water District in L.A. provides purified wastewater to 17 coastal cities in the county.

David Nahai, who formerly served from 2007 to 2009 as CEO of LADWP and is now a consultant on water technology and renewable energy, makes the point that imported water “ain’t cheap and it ain’t unlimited.” As a result, the Orange County solution and the TreePeople solution today should appear more affordable in light of the inevitable future costs of maintaining a system that so heavily relies on imported water.

Of course, relying on rain provides its own uncertainty, namely, how much rain actually falls. “It’s part of the solution. It’s not the solution,” said Mark Gold, acting director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. “It’s got to be in conjunction with recycled water.”

“It isn’t going to be cheap,” he said, “but you’ve got to look at it in the context of the cost of importing water.

“It’s going to cost billions of dollars one way or the other, so the question before us is how much of that is going to be based on improving water infrastructure from imported water supply, and how much is going to be from modernizing infrastructure from our local water supply?”

A plan that saves water and saves money would also help fund badly needed maintenance of the city’s water transportation infrastructure — LADWP is tasked with replacing main water lines only once every 300 years. Although reducing the wait time to once every 100 years would cost about $4 billion, one cost of not having the money to make needed repairs was made apparent in July when a 90-year-old water main near UCLA burst and flooded Sunset Boulevard and the campus with upward of 20 million gallons of water.

100 agencies to do nature’s work

UCLA’s California Center for Sustainable Communities is in the process of analyzing Los Angeles County’s system of water importation, production, distribution and governance. It already has counted more than 100 government and private entities currently involved in slicing up the water pie.

Any new or modernized water structure, no matter how efficient or intelligent, undoubtedly will involve bureaucracy, some reliance on far-off sources and will also still need to involve a flood control system that pumps some rainwater into the ocean. 

But, as Lipkis suggests, the bureaucracy may not have to be so large. 

In Los Angeles, the current inefficient water delivery system means the water that flows out of your tap may have arrived from multiple sources, because so many government agencies are involved in moving it through deserts and over mountains to get to your home, while also making sure that it is safe to use.

When rain falls, for example, around the town of Green River, Wyo., 830 miles from Los Angeles, it seeps into a watershed basin, flows into the Green River, which feeds the Colorado River, which flows southwest through Utah and Arizona before reaching the intake point of the Colorado River Aqueduct north of Parker Dam that is operated by the MWD.

It is at that point that MWD must pump the water 280 miles from the aqueduct to Los Angeles, a major technological challenge. A 2011 Los Angeles Times story described the enormous amount of electricity required at just one of the five pumping plants along the route: On a single November day in 2011, the Julian Hinds Pumping Plant, east of Indio, had to propel more than 6 million tons of water over a 441-foot-high mountain. It took six 12,500-horsepower electric motors to get the water to a Riverside County reservoir.

And that’s just the water that feeds Los Angeles from the east. Another source is rain that falls in the northern Sierra Nevada, which finds its way to the 1.1 trillion-gallon-capacity Lake Oroville Reservoir, then must travel 450 miles to get to Los Angeles. 

Flowing downhill and emptying eventually into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (one of three of L.A.’s import sources), the California Aqueduct then ferries the water south in huge snaking pipes across the flat Central Valley and over the Grapevine, side by side with the notoriously steep run of the I-5 freeway. 

Pumping water from the Chrisman Pumping Plant over those mountains requires 44,000-horsepower pumps.

At the Edmonston Pumping Plant 14 miles away at the base of the Tehachapi Mountains (84 miles north of downtown L.A.), an official with the California Department of Water Resources told a Capital Public Radio reporter in an October 2013 interview that it takes 14 pumps to push water the 2,000 feet over the mountain. 

More power still is needed to transport the water to reach homes and businesses in Los Angeles, and MWD is not in the business of retail sales — that’s where LADWP comes in. As the largest municipal utility in the nation, LADWP purchased more than 126 billion gallons of drinkable water in fiscal year 2013, and 145 billion gallons this fiscal year, for $280 million and about $300 million, respectively, from MWD’s pumped-in water. Last fiscal year, LADWP sold 179 billion gallons of water for more than $1 billion to homes, apartments, businesses and factories throughout Los Angeles, almost all of which eventually became sewage treated for solid waste and piped into the Los Angeles River, Los Angeles Harbor, Santa Monica Bay and the Pacific Ocean. 

In its 2010 Urban Water Management Plan — which is updated every five years as required by state law — LADWP acknowledged the city’s deficient rainwater-capture infrastructure, noting current facilities “are inadequate for capturing runoff during very wet years.” The agency laid out an ambitious $251 million rainwater-capture program in collaboration with the Department of Public Works that it aims to complete by 2018. Although the report and its suggestions do not carry the force of law, it serves as a “master plan” and guidebook for agencies involved in water use and water supply.

The plan calls for doubling Los Angeles’ current rain-capture capabilities to about 40 percent of rainfall, up from the current 20 percent.

Furthering the costs, and the waste, is the problem of flooding by undirected rainfall. L.A. County’s Flood Control District has the herculean task of minimizing flooding by using a massive system of 14 dams and reservoirs, 487 miles of canals and 2,900 miles of underground drains to make sure that the majority of the rain that doesn’t feed into the ground makes it to the ocean.

It is difficult to get an exact figure on how much this gargantuan system costs on an annual basis, but the Department of Public Works’ budget for fiscal year 2014-15 is more than $2 billion, with its “water resources” service area making up 44 percent of that, or about $661 million.

On the enforcement side, California’s and L.A.’s water shortage have led to irksome water-use restrictions, fines of up to $500 for wasting water, #droughtshaming Twitter hashtags used by citizen water tattlers and “water cops,” LADWP inspectors who hand out warning letters and who have the authority to levy fines.

When nature isn’t allowed to do its work, as Lipkis said, government fills in.

Cast against this seemingly endless list of departments and agencies that bring water to our taps and keep it out of our streets, schools and yards is the tree, simple in its appearance but complex and vital in its function.

Lipkis likes to cite two events when discussing rain — he mentioned them both during the interview and in a follow-up email. In 2013, although only 3.6 inches of rain fell on Los Angeles, that rain would have generated 29 billion gallons of fresh, drinkable water — enough to give 6,500 gallons to all of this city’s 4 million residents “had it been captured in cisterns, swales and aquifer recharge facilities,” Lipkis said. “It wasn’t, but could have been.”

When just 4 inches of rain fell on Los Angeles in late February, TreePeople’s underground cistern collected 81,000 gallons of water. And that water was on hand one particularly hot summer day, when an L.A. fire engine came to Coldwater Canyon Park, red lights flashing, tasked with finding water that could be used by fire helicopters in the event that the local (imported) water supply was disrupted.

Pulling up to the cul-de-sac where TreePeople has a massive underground water cistern, the fire engine stopped, and a firefighter asked Lipkis for his help. The firefighter said words that, unless changes come about, all too many residents and government officials across the city also could be saying soon:  

“We heard you had water.”

————————————–

For the Record:

Oct. 20: This article has been changed to reflect that David Nahai served as CEO of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power from 2007 to 2009; an earlier version said he “briefly served as CEO of LADWP.”

Amid drought, Jewish groups push conservation agenda


Devorah Brous’ San Fernando Valley home is shaded by green trees, studded with 19 fruit trees and patrolled by a pair of affable chickens that strut around the backyard. But at the moment, she is eager to show a visitor her dying lawn.

Comparing the withering grass to a thriving orange tree a few feet away, Brous, the founding executive director of the Jewish environmental organization Netiya, says, “It’s survival of the fittest.”

For Netiya — Hebrew for “planting” — and other Jewish environmental groups, California’s debilitating drought has tied together a number of issues that have been gaining prominence in the Jewish activist community: sustainability, social justice, and ethically and environmentally responsible food production. Their efforts range in size and scope.

In San Diego, the local branch of Hazon is having children paint rain barrels that will capture rainwater for irrigation as part of the environmental group’s Sukkot festivities.

Meanwhile, in Pescadero, south of San Francisco, the environmental education group Wilderness Torah is hosting a panel discussion on water usage as part of its annual Sukkot on the Farm festival. After the panel, there will be a ceremony based on an ancient Temple rite in which the high priest would draw water from the spring and offer it at the altar in hopes of bringing seasonal rains.

Participants circling around a fountain “will bless the waters of the world and call in the rain,” said Suzannah Sosman, festivals manager for Wilderness Torah.

Last year’s Sukkot festival came amid a downpour; organizers are hoping for a similar result this year.

But the main thrust of the work of Jewish groups working on drought relief is water conservation, capture and reuse.

“I don’t think people are necessarily aware of how to save water other than turning off their faucets when they’re brushing their teeth,” Sosman said.

Netiya, which organizes religious communities to create sustainable gardens on underused institutional lands, has installed gardens at 11 congregations around Los Angeles, including at Ikar, where Brous’ sister, Sharon, is the founding rabbi. All the gardens include drip irrigation, a technique invented in Israel to conserve water during the irrigation process.

This summer, Netiya conducted a series of five workshops focused on water conservation and gardening. At a recent workshop, volunteers helped install a water-capture system that will disperse rainwater on the grounds of a Los Angeles church.

At another Netiya event, attendees helped put in place a greywater irrigation system at the home of Devorah Brous that recycles used water from her washing machine and funnels it to her herb garden.

“Every time I turn on the faucet, I’m thinking about all the water that’s not going back into my landscape,” Ashley Sullivan, who is Jewish and who attended the greywater installation, told JTA. “We use so much perfectly good water once, just rinsing our hands.”

For other organizations, water conservation is not simply a response to the drought but a perennial concern.

Urban Adamah, an urban farm and educational center in Berkeley, not only uses drip irrigation but also began roughly a year ago to grow some of its plants using aquaponics, a system that utilizes 80 percent less water than conventional agriculture.

“Even though we’re in a drought now, we’re sort of in a perpetual state of drought in California,” said Adam Berman, the executive director of Urban Adamah. “Our mission is to teach sustainable agricultural practice, of which water conservation is a key part, even in good years.”

Brous, in turn, hopes to spark a broader conversation in the Jewish world about the relationship between food and the environment. In the process, she plans to reach out to Stewart and Lynda Resnick, billionaire residents of Beverly Hills, in a bid to bring them into a conversation about food and resources.

The Resnicks are among the largest landowners in California’s Central Valley, as well as among the largest growers of water-intensive crops such as almonds, pistachios and pomegranates. (A JTA request for comment placed with the Resnick-owned Roll Global Corp. was not returned.)

“Are these boutique perennial crops things that we should be growing in California, or should we grow something else?” Brous asks rhetorically. “There are questions we should be asking.”

Judaism originally grew out of the life of a desert people, and though much of Jewish life has long since moved into towns and cities, its foundational texts still speak of ethical principles for caring for land and water. Brous begins her workshops with relevant readings from the Torah, as well as the Koran and the Christian Bible, and she hopes that they can serve as the basis for a renewed Jewish conversation about water, food and environment.

“It’s still in the text,” she said. “It’s extraordinary spiritual soil to grow from.”

 

Sen. Boxer forcefully defends Israel, refutes divide amongst Democratic voters


In a Friday press conference at Los Angeles City Hall, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Ca.), when asked about a

Netanyahu visits Silicon Valley, signs Israel-California pro-business pact


Saying the future “belongs to those who innovate,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Gov. Jerry Brown in Silicon Valley this week to sign an agreement intended to boost high-tech cooperation between Israel and California.

Both leaders said the greatest goal of the memorandum of understanding is to solve problems in the realms of water conservation, alternative energy and cybersecurity threats.

Signed March 5 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, the pact gives Israeli companies access to California’s Innovation Hub program, which is composed of 16 research clusters around the state.

Each iHub focuses on one or more different areas, such as high-tech, agribusiness, manufacturing, transportation or clean tech. The involved entities — such as technology incubators, universities and federal laboratories — provide a platform for startups, economic development organizations, business groups and venture capitalists.

Israel is first nation to sign this kind of agreement with California, and to be invited to work with the iHub network.

Israel already has strong economic ties with California. Tens of thousands of Israelis live in the region and work in the high-tech sector, while trade between the two tops $4 billion according to the governor’s office.

“What a wonderful furthering of the deep connections Israel has with America, and California in particular,” Brown said to 150 Israeli and American high-tech representatives, politicians and other dignitaries gathered for the signing.

Acknowledging what he called California’s “mega-drought,” Brown said the state has “a long way to go in water conservation, recycling and desalinization. Israel has demonstrated how efficient a country can be.”

Noted Netanyahu: “Israel does not have a water problem. How is that possible? Our rainfall has declined 50 percent from the days of our founding. Our population has grown 10 times, our GDP 70 times. Israel has no water problem because we are the No. 1 recycler of wastewater in the world — close to 90 percent — because we have drip irrigation, because we prevent leakage in our pipes and desalinate. California does not need to have a water problem. By working together we can overcome this.”

As for energy, Brown pointed out that California is the only state with a goal of achieving a third of its energy needs via renewable sources by 2020. He said the challenge would be storage of alternative energy for “when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. [Israel and California] have an interest in becoming energy independent, less dependent on fossil fuels. The way to go is renewable energy and storage.”

To cheers from the audience, Netanyahu also expressed his support for a proposed nonstop flight between San Francisco and Ben Gurion Airport. Currently none exists.

“I’ll put my people on this,” Netanyahu said. “If we can get this, there will be an explosion of inventiveness between the innovation nation and the innovation state. Let’s connect the two together. We’re going to do that with this agreement today.”

The signing took place shortly after news broke that Israel had seized a Gaza-bound shop said to be carrying dozens of Iranian missiles. After signing the pact, Netanyahu took to the podium once more to comment.

“What this reveals is the true face of Iran,” the prime minister said. “Iran is smiling, talking soft in the international forums, but it continues unabatedly its aggressive behavior in the Middle East and beyond. It’s sending the deadliest weapons to the most cruel terrorist groups and despots. This regime must not have nuclear weapons capability.”

He thanked Brown for California’s policy of divesting from Iran in its largest public pension funds and for investing in Israel.

Glenn Yago, an economist with the Milken Institute in Southern California, attended the signing and afterward called the pact “the beginning of a true global partnership.” He noted the two leaders’ goal to address the challenges of water, food, agriculture, health and security.

“This partnership with Israel has the potential to be exponentially impactful in terms of what it can produce,” Yago said. “It allows a scaling up. You can’t be a startup forever.”

During his short Bay Area visit, Netanyahu also met with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, including WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant who sold his company to Facebook for $19 billion last month, and executives from Apple, Flextronics, LinkedIn and eBay. In addition to his morning stop at the museum, he also visited Apple headquarters in Cupertino and Stanford University.

The prime minister’s three-day California swing included two stops in Southern California.

On March 4, he attended a screening of “Israel: The Royal Tour” at Paramount Studios on March 4. The one-hour episode stars Netanyahu as he gives CBS News travel editor Peter Greenberg a prime minister’s view of Israel from the Red Sea to Masada to Tel Aviv’s hopping nightlife.

This report is reprinted with permission by the j. weekly. It originally appeared at the  http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/71018/netanyahu-visits-silicon-valley-signs-israel-california-pro-business-pact/

California governor seeks drought help from Israel’s Netanyahu


California Governor Jerry Brown told visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday that he hoped Israeli water technology could help his state deal with a devastating drought.

Netanyahu, on a visit to Silicon Valley, and Brown signed a memorandum of understanding for research and development cooperation in various technological fields, including water conservation.

“Israel has demonstrated how efficient a country can be, and there is a great opportunity for collaboration,” Brown said.

Netanyahu said Israel's expertise in wastewater recycling, desalination and drip irrigation had solved its water problems.

On Saturday, Brown signed into law a $687 million drought-relief package to deal with a water shortage he has called the worst in the state's modern history.

In Silicon Valley, Netanyahu, who has dubbed Israel the “innovation nation,” met at Apple headquarters with Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and also planned to see Jan Koum, co-founder of messaging app firm WhatsApp.

Netanyahu, who arrived in California on Tuesday after talks in Washington the previous day with President Barack Obama, said he hoped to drum up more Silicon Valley investment in Israel.

Israeli high-tech companies raised $2.3 billion in 2013 from local and foreign investors, the highest amount in a decade and up 22 percent from 2012, according to The Israel Venture Capital (IVC) Research Center.

Letters to the editor: Disabilities in the Jewish community, rain and saving Judaism


One Man’s Disability, A Community’s Responsibility

Thanks, Rob Eshman, for making this issue more salient (“Jews Without Harvard,” Feb. 14). My three children tested as “gifted” or “highly-gifted” and I’m glad I pulled them out of the specialized highly-gifted schools, and out of a culture that worshiped such a narrow part of the skills necessary to build a full life and a healthy culture. Some of the most loving and socially fluid people I have met had some form of a learning disability. Often, they can teach us what we have lost in our intellectual frenzy.

Orli Peter via jewishjournal.com

Thanks for your article on the Jewish community needing to develop more post-secondary options for its disabled adults. I am the mother of an 18-year-old young woman with high functioning autism, and her options post high school were quite limited, especially as she is intelligent for college, but in no way able to navigate a campus on her own.  Just as most parents — Jews included — would be looking for financial aid for their Harvard-bound children, we also need affordable or subsidized options for our special-needs children. Even if they are able to obtain employment and be moderately self-sufficient, it will most likely not be at the level of a typical child. We need to save every dime we can for a future without us there to help them.

My daughter is currently enrolled at Valley College and is also enrolled in the NEXUS program through the non-profit Tierra del Sol.  The goal of NEXUS is education and employment, and they coach her through all the mazes involved in college and post-high school life. Tierra del Sol has served the disabled adult community for over 40 years and for us, is totally covered by Regional Center. Why hasn’t the Jewish community in Los Angeles, with its vast reach and resources, been able to replicate such a program?  

I am so pleased to see you address these issues in the Jewish Journal. Please continue to do so.

Gail Field, Encino

Thank you for writing about the under-served needs of the disabled in the Jewish community.  It is woefully missing and the few efforts being made don’t scratch the surface.

But I want to add that there are other gaps in our community. What about Jewish high school dropouts? What about those in the Jewish community who decide to learn a trade or those who have no skills and no opportunities? What about Jews who come out of jail or prison and need an opportunity to lead a better life?  

There are many groups focused on young Jewish professionals … whether Federation sponsored or synagogue sponsored. What about those who aren’t professionals? Even the articles in the Jewish Journal focus on the stars of our youth … but what about the average Jake?

We have much to do and need many more people focusing on a broader view of those who will make the Jewish community of the future.  

Fae Hoffman-Buckner, Studio City 


Praying for a Rainy Day

Thank you, David Suissa, for quoting Victor Davis Hanson’s article and citing Israel’s can-do attitude (“California Needs Israel,” Feb. 14). As a longtime Los Angeleno and current Yerushalmi (Jerusalemite), I can attest to our daily concern for more rain. Each morning in our minyan in Jerusalem, we recite prayers against the stoppage of rain, invoking the Almighty to bring rain to Israel. However, we first do our best, and then, and only then, leave the rest to our Creator.

Gershon Weissman via jewishjournal.com


Taking a Page from the Book of Mormon

The Dennis Prager story “Yair’s Norwegian Girlfriend” (Feb. 7) reminds me of how Jews feel about our religion. 

But Dennis does not provide a solution to the problem of the lack of attachment to Judaism. I think that the solution will come only from faith. What we need is an educational program that begins right after a bar/bat mitzvah. We need to instill a binding faith in our young people that provides them with enough faith that they would be willing, with their parent’s approval, to go on tours to find converts to Judaism. The Mormons do it. Are we Jews willing to send our children out into the world bringing the message that Judaism is the best religion in the world?

Masse Bloomfield via e-mail


Clarification

In the issue of the Jewish Journal dated February 14-20, 2014, we published an article about the grand jury indictment of Aviv Mizrahi and Aryeh Greenes on charges of alleged fraud. In one of the paragraphs of our article, we also noted a 1990 Los Angeles Times article about a dispute between Star Club and Canon USA, and we referenced Alon, the brother of Aviv Mizrahi. We are now noting that the 1990 dispute was a civil matter and did not involve any criminal prosecution and is also unrelated to the recent indictment covered in our article.”

California needs water – and Israel


While the leaders of California universities have been busy discussing whether or not to endorse an academic boycott of Israel — and generally weighing in against it — they are overlooking a much more productive way to single out the Jewish state: 

Invite Israel to help solve California’s water crisis.

Israel is uniquely positioned to help our state deal with what historian Victor Davis Hanson calls “the worst extended drought in [California’s] brief recorded history.”

This drought is a two-headed monster, caused by nature and man. On the nature front, Hanson writes, “There is little snow in the state’s towering Sierra Nevada mountains, the source of much of the surface water that supplies the state’s populated center and south. The vast Central Valley aquifer is being tapped as never before, as farms and municipalities deepen wells and boost pump size. Too many straws are competing to suck up the last drops at the bottom of the glass.”

But it’s human complacency that Hanson blames the most for today’s water crisis:

“In the early 1980s, when the state was not much more than half its current population, an affluent coastal corridor convinced itself that nirvana was possible, given the coastal world-class universities, the new dot.com riches of the Silicon Valley, the year-round temperate weather, and the booming entertainment, tourism and wine industries.

“Apparently, Pacific corridor residents from San Diego to Berkeley had acquired the affluence not to worry so much about the old Neanderthal concerns like keeping up freeways and airports — and their parents’ brilliantly designed system of canals, reservoirs and dams that had turned their state from a natural desert into a man-made paradise. 

“Californians have not built a major reservoir since New Melones more than 30 years ago. As the state added almost 20 million people, it assumed that it was exempt from creating any more ‘unnatural’ Sierra lakes and canals to store precious water during the rarer wet and snow-filled years.”

This is where Israel comes in. Complacency is not an Israeli trait, certainly not when survival is at stake. And in the desert lands of the Middle East, just as in any desert region, water is a survival issue.

But unlike California, Israel has spent the past few decades immersed in one of its greatest accomplishments: solving its water crisis.

“This country was on the brink of water catastrophe, reduced to running relentless ad campaigns urging Israelis to conserve water even as it raised prices and cut supplies to agriculture,” David Horovitz wrote last year in The Times of Israel. “Now, remarkably, the crisis is over.”

How did they do it?

It wasn’t just the desalination and recycling technologies, although those were critical. It was also the attitude.

“We decided we would,” Horovitz quotes the head of Israel’s Water Authority, Alexander Kushnir. “And once you’ve made that decision, you build the tools to reduce your dependence. We’re on the edge of the desert in an area where water has always been short. The quantity of natural water per capita in Israel is the lowest for the whole region.

“But we decided early on that we were developing a modern state. So we were required to supply water for agriculture, and water for industry, and then water for hi-tech, and water to sustain an appropriate quality of life.”

He might as well have been talking about serving California.


California Gov. Jerry Brown holds a chart depicting the annual state-wide precipitation levels in the state during a news conference in San Francisco on Jan. 17. Photo by Robert Galbraith/Reuters

The real question today is, can the Israeli know-how and can-do attitude help our Golden State deal with its own water crisis?

It’s clear that California’s political leaders, notwithstanding all their boilerplate rhetoric, have fallen short. We need to light a fuse under them to shake them out of their apathy. One institution that could do that is our university system, whose brilliant minds are there to contribute to society’s betterment. This model of academic, governmental and private industry cooperation is already happening, successfully, in Israel.

Instead of discussing academic boycotts of Israel, California universities ought to discuss creating a California-Israel Water Alliance that would use Israel’s unique expertise and put some concrete proposals in front of our lethargic legislators.

They can start by looking at San Diego, where a subsidiary of Israel’s IDE Technologies Ltd. is building the largest desalination plant construction project in the western United States.

Construction on the $922 million project, which is being built in partnership with the San Diego County Water Authority, is expected to begin this year and should provide high-quality drinking water to the San Diego area by 2016.

The global campaign to boycott and isolate Israel, however hypocritical and unfair, has been terrible for Israel’s image. Ultimately, of course, the very best way for Israel to improve its image would be to accomplish another miracle: make peace with the Arab world. But until that magical moment comes, we can’t underestimate the value of leveraging Israeli know-how.

And California is not the only place with a water problem. Approximately 40 percent of the planet’s entire population has little or no access to clean water, and experts predict that by 2025, two-thirds of humanity will live in “water-stressed” areas.

In other words, little Israel can become the world’s water savior. Try boycotting that.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Israel Struggles to Find Enough Water


Many Jews know that on Tu B’Shevat — the Jewish new year for trees, which falls this year on Jan. 28 — you can plant a tree.

In the future, however, you may be able to buy a water certificate.

Decades after the Jewish National Fund (JNF) began its famous effort to reclaim the Land of Israel by planting trees, the group’s rallying cry has now become one of building water reservoirs.

"We have a drought, we have a problem with water, and we’re using more than we have," said Esther Weinstein, the JNF representative in the Negev, Israel’s arid southern region. "So we need to become more efficient and find other sources and better storage methods."

Such a shift might have been in the offing anyway, but recent drought years have left Israel with no choice. Though this winter has had its share of rain, hail, sleet and snow, there still isn’t enough water in Israel’s underground aquifers.

Three consecutive winters of drought have taken their toll on Israel’s fresh water reserves.

Although it’s been raining steadily since early December, filling the country’s three main sources of fresh water — the Sea of Galilee and the coastal and mountain aquifers — those familiar with Israel’s water resources say it won’t be enough.

"We’re in a psychological situation such that everybody is still living under the impact and threat of a drought," said Uri Shamir, a civil engineering professor and head of the Water Research Institute at the Technion.

Israel’s largest natural reservoir, the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Kinneret, needs another 600 cubic meters of water to be refilled.

It has collected at least 20 cubic meters of water this winter, but the lake’s level is far below the red line that marks an emergency situation.

Allowing for a growing population and rising standard of living, Israel needs 300 million to 375 million cubic meters of water each year.

If that capacity isn’t reached by 2004, there is a more than 10 percent chance that water usage will have to be cut.

Clearly, the country is using more water than it receives, and its reserves are in danger of being depleted, water experts agree.

In other words, Israel’s water problem is about water management, not water levels.

Part of the problem is that there aren’t enough regional water systems in Israel.

There is the National Water Carrier, which pipes water from one area to another. There are also local sources in the Arava, the Jordan Valley and the northern valleys.

Recycled sewage water from the Shafdan, the water-recycling plant in the country’s center, is already being piped to the Negev. And in the Golan Heights, where snowfall can be another source of water, a series of reservoirs store water from the melted snow and then pump it back into the Golan for agricultural use.

But there isn’t always enough rain each winter season.

"We would need five to six winters like this one to begin to make a recovery," said Jack Gilron, a researcher in the desalination and water treatment research laboratory at Ben Gurion University’s Institute for Applied Research,

"In the last decade, the trend is that you have to assume the average rainfall will be less as climates are getting drier."

Successive Israeli governments have contemplated potential solutions for the water shortage, from building seawater desalination plants to recycling treated sewage to purifying polluted wells or importing water from nearby Turkey.

The problem often is discussed in terms of cost. For example, the price of desalinated water is estimated at 60 to 70 cents per cubic meter.

But there’s also a quality issue, Gilron pointed out.

Experts agree that there’s plenty of recyclable water out there, ranging from seawater to brackish groundwater and municipal waste water. Coastal towns have unlimited access to the seawater, while the inner cities can work with brackish water.

The issue is how to properly desalinate, purify and store the water to make it usable for agriculture and drinking.

If the government doesn’t build desalination plants, the economy will suffer, Gilron said. The costs of not desalting are much higher than the cost of desalination.

Another option, importing 30 million to 35 million cubic meters of Turkish water, is also expensive. The cost of the imported water, including transporting it into the national pipeline, could bring the total price to 65 cents per cubic meter.

"It’s a matter of competition with respect to technology and cost," Shamir said, adding that the government may want the connection to Turkey for political reasons.

"Importing water puts the competitive edge on desalination, but it’ll only work if it’s done faster and quicker."

In the meantime, one solution is to capture and store rain and floodwater and store recycled water.

Some 60 percent of the nation’s water is used for agriculture, which doesn’t require fresh water; the farms can make do with recycled water.

That’s where the reservoirs enter the picture.

The JNF has built 120 reservoirs since 1990, including fish ponds that then recycle their water for farming purposes. The JNF is committed to building another 100 reservoirs over the next decade.

Reservoir water is used only for agriculture, but it frees up 6 percent of the fresh water in the aquifers for drinking purposes. It also lowers the cost of water by 18 percent for the kibbutzim and moshavim (more privatized cooperatives) that use it.

In the Besor River Reservoir complex — a series of three reservoirs near Beersheba designed to capture the flash floods that flow through the usually dry riverbed — several acres are covered with these three man-made dents in the ground.

The largest Besor reservoir is an expansive pond lined with heavy black plastic that can hold 4 million cubic meters of water. The plastic prevents water from seeping into the underground aquifer. The basin is also filled with 50,000 fish that clean up any algae that accumulates.

The other two reservoirs are smaller: one capable of storing 2.2 million cubic meters and 800 cubic meters of water. All told, they can hold a total of 7 million cubic meters of water.

The smallest of the three reservoirs is a grassy hollow in the ground that collects the water from the nearby riverbed but allows it to penetrate the earth as well.

When the reservoirs are full, two systems of nearby pumps — painted red to signify recycled water — pump the water up and out to the nearby fields. There they irrigate some 1,250 acres of surrounding fields filled with citrus orchards.

There are debates whether Israeli farms need to continue using irrigation, particularly since most farmers can’t afford to desalinate water or channel and store rainwater.

For now, though, the JNF is supporting agricultural efforts.

The JNF is "all about sustainable development," said Weinstein, pointing out tamarind trees planted along the reservoirs and desert trees planted in soil embankments built to collect rainwater.

"It’s a matter of economics and what you get and what you lose," said Shamir, referring to the water system options. "No matter what, it’s a very good idea to try and catch as much as water as possible."