Israeli water solutions can help world, author says at Cal Poly

Free copies of Seth M. Siegel’s book were handed out at his speech Wednesday at Cal Poly.
Free copies of Seth M. Siegel’s book were handed out at his speech Wednesday at Cal Poly.

Israel’s water efficiency and productivity have enabled a country made up of mostly desert to maintain a reliable, plentiful supply of fresh water — and even export some of its supply, according to author and activist Seth M. Siegel, who addressed about 400 people at Cal Poly’s Spanos Theatre on Wednesday night.

Siegel said Israel has always faced severe and urgent water challenges, and had to overcome them to support a rapid influx of Jewish immigrants during the Zionist movement.

“You don’t have to start from scratch,” Siegel told those seeking ways to deal with California’s drought. “Israel is the model. In a place where desert makes up 60 percent of the country, Israel has a robust water system and a secure water future ahead. Water innovations will save lives and make a better future for our children.”

Siegel, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, has published essays in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times and blogs for The Huffington Post. Free copies of his book, “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World,” were handed out to all members of the audience.

The presentation was sponsored by Mustangs United for Israel, a pro-Israel group of clubs at Cal Poly.

As the world’s population is expected to climb to 9.5 billion by 2050 from its current 7.5 billion, Siegel said the world will have to manage water much more efficiently to accommodate growth and provide food.

Siegel cited a National Intelligence Council report that predicts over the next decade, countries important to the U.S. and global security will be at risk of failing because of water shortages.

Among other things, the shortages will hinder energy production, evidenced by recent large blackouts in Brazil, where hydroelectric plants generate about two-thirds of the country’s electricity.

As much as 20 percent of the current world population, or 1.5 billion people, could be the first victims of a world water crisis, according to the council’s report.

The solution, according to Siegel, is to follow Israel’s example of a multifaceted approach to conserve and produce clean water. Some of its water practices include:

▪  Treated sewage water.

▪  Supplementary desalinated water.

▪  Drip irrigation (a modern form was invented by Israeli water engineer Simcha Blass).

▪  Water-efficient seeds and plantings.

▪  Technologies and infrastructure that greatly limit leakages, which contribute to huge wastes in many global cities.

▪  A widespread consciousness among residents to conserve water.

▪  Water ownership controlled by the government, unlike the U.S. where water is a personal property right.

Faced with a British decree in the late 1930s that severely limited Jewish immigration to Palestine on the basis that water resources would be depleted if more than 2 million people lived in the area, Zionist leaders set forth a plan to establish an efficient, resourceful water system. In 1939, the population was about 834,000.

Since the country was established in 1948, its population has grown tenfold, and the system provided a surplus of water. Now, more than 12 million people make up the West Bank and Gaza — and the region exports water to its neighbors, provides water technologies to more than 150 countries (including some that don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel) and supports a thriving middle class.

In addition, those with water technology business ideas are vetted by the government and offered two years of financing before being paired with private investors and working with public utilities to develop their product.

The American mindset sometimes is a magic cure with one solution. But in Israel, it’s putting together the puzzle of many solutions to make things work.

Seth M. Siegel, author of “Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World.”

It’s not uncommon for cities worldwide to lose 50 to 60 percent of their water to leaks from faulty infrastructure, Siegel said — noting that although New York City has reduced its water losses, it still gives up billions of gallons per day to defective plumbing. That includes a massive hard-to-repair leak that sheds 35 million gallons of water a day, Siegel’s research showed. By comparison, he said, Israel’s leak-detection technology has kept its percentage to about 11 percent.

To write his book, Siegel conducted interviews with more than 200 people, including Israelis, Palestinians and Americans.

He said that as the world population grows and people are displaced because of water shortages, they’ll move where water supply is available.

But that in turn will challenge those nations, as evidenced by the recent Syrian refugee wave in Western European countries.

In America, Siegel said, water-shortage problems will be solved by many solutions — not one. The new massive desalination plant in Carlsbad is a great addition in California, but it shouldn’t have taken more than a decade of permitting and litigation hurdles to begin operation, he said. Furthermore, he added, desalination should be a complementary water source.

“The American mindset sometimes is a magic cure with one solution,” Siegel said. “But in Israel, it’s putting together the puzzle of many solutions to make things work. The water crisis will require many different solutions.”