August 20, 2019

Water autonomy: From Israel to California

On the eve of Israel’s 68th anniversary, it is important to remember water’s vital role in the success and continued independence of the Jewish state. The drought in the Middle East is the worst in 900 years, and it played a key role in the collapse of Israel’s neighbor Syria while threatening to overwhelm entire regions of the world. Yet Israel has solved its water problem through persistence, education and innovation, freeing it from the climate constraints plaguing the Middle East.

[RELATED: How Israel’s water solutions can save California]

As we celebrate our water independence, the drought California faces is the worst on record. Hundreds of thousands of farm acres have been left uncultivated, driving up food prices and inhibiting growth. The economic impact has skyrocketed into the billions of dollars. Gov. Jerry Brown has enacted the first mandatory water use reductions in state history and sought assistance from the federal government. How should California respond to this major crisis? The state’s leaders are increasingly turning their gaze toward a tiny desert nation some 7,000 miles to the east. 

In water resource management, Israel’s experience is unparalleled. One of the driest nations on earth, the Jewish state declared independence 68 years ago with dilapidated infrastructure, nascent institutions and almost no water to sustain a population swelling with new immigrants. Today, Israel not only produces enough water for itself, it is a hydro-exporter to its neighbors. 

California is now leveraging a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed two years ago between Brown and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to tap into Israel’s vast experience in turning its limited resources into a water surplus. 

California’s leaders are now visiting Israel on a regular basis to learn more about the country’s water innovation. 

What has been the result? Israeli water innovations are taking root in the Golden State from the Bay Area to Beverly Hills. Municipal utilities looking to cut usage have turned to Israeli companies like TaKaDu, which uses algorithms and big data to detect and prevent leaks in the water grid, dramatically reducing waste. Farmers in the Central Valley are deploying Israeli drip-irrigation systems to increase crop yields using far less water. While 75 percent of Israeli farmers rely on drip irrigation, California, while second to Israel, is only at 38 percent. 

California policymakers are looking to replicate Israel’s success in reclaiming 90 percent of its wastewater — the highest ratio in the world by far. They’re also examining Israel’s uniquely successful public awareness and education programs on water conservation. 

Israeli know-how has been a driving force behind California’s major new investments in desalination. IDE Technologies, the Israeli company that currently operates the most energy-efficient desalination plant on earth, to date has designed two plants in California, including the Carlsbad Desalination Project, the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. The facility provides water for 300,000 people in San Diego County. 

The unique benefits of this partnership are mutual. Access to California’s vast market enables Israeli companies to partner, refine their technologies and scale up their businesses in new ways. And while California reaps the benefits of Israel’s know-how on water, Israel is leveraging the MOU to harness California’s expertise in areas from biotech to renewable energy. 

In today’s world, there is no greater resource than human capital. By working together to fight drought, Israel and California are demonstrating how thoughtful partnerships can facilitate the flow of knowledge between countries, cultures and continents to solve big problems. 

The new era of collaboration spurred by the Israel-California MOU is just beginning. By pairing our knowledge, talents and limitless imaginations, Israel and California will become even more innovative and significant to the world. 

Who would have believed 68 years ago that in a matter of decades, the nascent State of Israel would soon be helping America’s Golden State achieve its water independence?

David Siegel is Consul General of Israel to the Southwestern United States.