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Parallel Worlds: Water Management in Israel and California

by National geographic Friday, Mar. 01, 2013 at 10:07 PM

Posted from Jerusalem by Kate Voss, UCCHM Water Policy Fellow. This is the second in a series of posts on our Water Diplomacy trip to Israel, Jordan and Palestine

As we left the Ben Gurion-Tel Aviv airport, my colleagues and I excitedly scanned the new landscape that surrounded us. Our first impression was how incredibly familiar it felt to California. A field of orange trees, perfect rows of irrigated crops, a salty breeze from the Mediterranean Sea. Maybe we were just hyper-aware of our surroundings, looking to find parallels between our home and this new region, but the reality is that Israel and California share a striking similarity in their physical environments and, subsequently, their challenges to manage water resources.

This core connection between California and the Middle East, particularly Israel, was one motivation for our trip. The other was the release of our recent paper on groundwater depletion in the Tigris-Euphrates-Western Iran region. It is a well-known fact that this entire region faces extreme challenges to manage their scarce water resources. Drought, increasing agricultural water demand, population pressures, and competing stakeholders add to an already stressed water system. Despite these challenges, this region is at the forefront of water management. The regional efforts to collaboratively manage surface water resources from the Jordan River and groundwater aquifers, for example by Friends of the Earth Middle East, as well as Israel’s strategies to maximize and efficiently use every last drop of water, are revolutionary.

In Israel, wastewater from urban areas is used to irrigate nearly 100% of crops in a desert while desalination accounts for 60% of water supply in densely populated regions. Pricing for water accurately reflects the costs to transport and produce the water, but these prices are affordable for all. Crops that can be grown with “poor quality” water, such as brackish or reclaimed wastewater, are cultivated while water-intensive agriculture and flood irrigation is rejected. Greenhouses and drip irrigation systems dominate the irrigation landscape. Clearly, the world, and including California, could learn a thing or two from Israel.

Over the course of our two weeks in the Middle East, we will meet with the key water authorities, water utility companies, civil society members, and university researchers in Israel, Palestinian territories, and Jordan. During our “science diplomacy” trip, we hope to not only share our research, but to learn from a region that is a prototype for effective water management.

Technion University was our first stop on this water journey, where we met with researchers at the Grand Water Research Institute (GWRI). During our conversation at Technion, we learned about the Israeli tools to allocate, reuse, and distribute water and how academic research improves these tools. Israel’s water monitoring and allocation system is phenomenal – every drop of water, from freshwater resources to desalinated water, is accounted for, priced accordingly, and delivered to the end-user. Although agriculture has the largest demand for freshwater resources, the government water policy restricts the freshwater allocation to approximately 0.450 km3 and not a drop more. The residual agricultural water demand is fulfilled by Israel’s extensive recycled wastewater and brackish water distribution system. The other major end-user, domestic water demand, is met by desalination, surface water from the Sea of Galilee, freshwater rivers and aquifer supplies.

For we Californians, it was surprising and inspiring to hear about the innovative strategies in place to meet agricultural water demands and, even more so, that the farmers were completely in support of these policies. In the States, we have very little monitoring of agricultural water use, particularly of groundwater abstraction. If groundwater were as closely allocated and monitored in the U. S. as the resources are in Israel, the monitoring may be regarded as a breach of personal freedoms, since groundwater rights are tied to property rights in much of the country. Yet here in Israel, the farmers have fully supported this progressive strategy to both strictly monitor and allocate water resources and to introduce new supplies through desalination and recycled water. Much of their support appears to be the result of an ongoing communication and social outreach initiative to inform farmers about the limits to water resources and the opportunities to meet water demands through more sustainable practices. How could we drive a shift in the United States to emulate this support for innovative water management policies?

As our discussions at Technion illustrated, the support for such innovative management policies begins with knowledge transfer to stakeholders. For example, the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture hosts annual meetings that farmers, academics, and decision makers attend with the goal of sharing their respective water experiences and to work toward more efficient water practices. A core aspect of that effective communication is creating practical, actionable results rooted in technical research. During our discussion at Technion, we repeatedly heard an emphasis on interdisciplinary research, bringing together economists, engineers, hydrologists, and politicians to guide those actionable results for water management. Technion is one of many universities that are part of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) Water Centers for Excellence project, sponsored by USAID. This platform provides the foundation for collaboration between researchers throughout the MENA region including in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan.

The concept of a “water research network” is lacking in the United States, as is the connection between researchers and decision-makers at the local, state, and national levels. In Israel, this model of collaboration has resulted in meticulous monitoring of water resources to inform water management policies and the subsequent support from all stakeholders. If we could shift our water management paradigm in the United States to effectively link researchers, policy-makers, and local stakeholders with open lines of communication, the outcome could be groundbreaking.

Our meeting at the GWRI at the Technion left us with many ideas for potential collaboration between our research center at UC Irvine and the Technion. On a technical level, we discussed a wide variety of potential research topics, ranging from the development of a 3D groundwater model; the evaluation of the linkages between water and soil management at a global scale; the use of enviromatics to better manage and monitor regional water systems; and optimization of land-surface and water management models to better reflect the reality of water demand and supply. On a broader level, our meeting provided a glimpse at new strategies and tools that we, in California, can use to more effectively manage water resources, link stakeholders, communicate knowledge, and develop policies to sustainably manage our resources.

This Israel-California knowledge transfer model is an exciting venture, and we hope that over the duration of our trip we will find more ideas, collaboration opportunities, and links with civil society, academic, and governmental agencies. From domestic water use strategies to effective agricultural irrigation and high-tech water system modeling to the development of innovative distribution systems, the possibilities for international learning are endless. In the next few posts, you’ll hear about our conversations with key civil society leaders, such as Friends of the Earth Middle East, and regional water managers in Israel, Palestine, and Jordan as well as our insights to the region’s water initiatives, such as the proposed Red Sea-Dead Sea conduit. With this new cross-regional network as a foundation, our water future is looking brighter.

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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 70 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
water of life Waternan Saturday, Mar. 02, 2013 at 6:27 PM
Water water every where but not a drop to drink Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 2:22 AM
what a disgusting -syndicated- white washing piece crazy_inventor Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 2:50 AM
real world effects Waterman Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 5:37 PM
it had to go and do it, huh? Waterman Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 6:07 PM
"our water future is looking brighter." crazy_inventor Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 8:34 PM
Jeez, get a life waterworld Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 9:30 PM
Water use in "palestine" This is Palestine Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 9:40 PM
This is "palestine" This is "Palestine" Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 9:44 PM
satellite view shows crazy_inventor Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 11:51 PM
This is gaza 5 star hotels with swimming pools Sunday, Mar. 03, 2013 at 11:59 PM
Water use in gaza since you asked Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 12:08 AM
Almat'haf Hotel & Cultural House in gaza is more traditional Visit gaza Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 12:24 AM
Visit Gaza good idea Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 6:06 AM
this is why I pointed out the satellite view crazy_inventor Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 7:05 AM
What does any of this have to do with water use? Again Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 9:37 AM
not renewable and substainable crazy_inventor Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 11:22 AM
again, the 'climate change' jabber. Waterman Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 11:37 AM
thieves and liars (and oil shills) have nothing to teach us crazy_inventor Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 12:49 PM
then there are 'climate change' shills ... Waterman Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 5:33 PM
the tinfoil is strong with this one crazy_inventor Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 6:22 PM
so predictable Mighty Zorg Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 7:14 PM
still waiting for those nano aluminum particle samples crazy_inventor Monday, Mar. 04, 2013 at 11:36 PM
being silly doesn't mean much sample this...! Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 4:19 AM
curious _localized_ drought crazy_inventor Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 5:16 AM
what a prety map looks awful scary! Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 5:50 AM
what a prety sample crazy_inventor Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 6:37 AM
lecture to the children? what a pompous ass Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 10:25 AM
israel is a very poor example crazy_inventor Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 11:51 AM
hex wants you to believe research it! Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 3:30 PM
research shows : crazy_inventor Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 5:54 PM
Well, actually... Lord Locksley Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013 at 9:30 PM
the 'ol global cooling lie - again crazy_inventor Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 12:39 AM
heh Lord Locksley Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 4:30 AM
might I suggest some crazy_inventor Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 5:15 AM
Why don't you.... Lord Locksley Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 6:17 AM
aned as anyone can see for themself water of life Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 6:18 AM
Why don't you.... crazy_inventor Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 6:20 AM
tipping point reached - GAME OVER crazy_inventor Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 6:33 AM
Well, actually... Lord Locksley Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 6:55 AM
UK MET Office keeps downplaying significance of events in the Arctic crazy_inventor Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013 at 4:10 PM
it is perfect majority of other deniers Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 at 6:58 AM
so much for digging into independent reasearch crazy_inventor Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 at 7:19 AM
Not really..... Lord Locksley Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 at 7:47 AM
propaganda crazy_inventor Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 at 7:59 AM
Yea,well... Lord Locksley Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 at 8:14 AM
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Well,yea.... Lord Locksley Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 at 8:50 AM
panties crazy_inventor Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 at 9:08 AM
Don't forget.... Lord Locksley Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013 at 9:23 AM
'fossil' fools Ochen Horror-show. Friday, Mar. 08, 2013 at 11:33 AM
Well, actually... Lord Locksley Friday, Mar. 08, 2013 at 11:53 AM
My favorite is useful crazy_inventor Friday, Mar. 08, 2013 at 2:04 PM
yup 'save the world from the oil companies' Friday, Mar. 08, 2013 at 4:05 PM
well well well crazy_inventor Friday, Mar. 08, 2013 at 4:12 PM
"on the air" offer of proof? Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 5:34 AM
I attack the local media crazy_inventor Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 6:18 AM
as suspected... not to *me* Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 12:08 PM
"I thought the other readers would like to see" crazy_inventor Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 12:15 PM
you sure are thought so Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 12:18 PM
of course you do realize crazy_inventor Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 12:41 PM
back to water instead of Bullflop water of life Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 12:48 PM
back to the praddle crazy_inventor Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 1:47 PM
uhhh, hex my yard Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 3:37 PM
well its not about you crazy_inventor Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 4:22 PM
what a tool.... ha ha Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 4:54 PM
multible published stories crazy_inventor Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 5:30 PM
"Gordon Lightfoot" I wish Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 5:43 PM
"that everyone ignores " I wish Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 5:44 PM
to refute crazy_inventor Saturday, Mar. 09, 2013 at 6:06 PM

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