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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.
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June 17, 2015

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.” 

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