Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Greens Leader is right about potential Australia-Israel cooperation on water

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"Israelis are at the forefront of innovative technologies around that (water saving). Why wouldn't we be learning from some of the new technologies that the Israelis have developed? ... If only Australia took a leaf out of their book."

Recently promoted Greens leader Richard Di Natale stressed in an interview with the Australian Jewish News that opportunities for co-operation between Australia and Israel on environmental technology exist and should be pursued.

That interview became controversial after Senator Di Natale recanted a statement he made in it agreeing that PA President Abbas should "recognise Israel's existence as a Jewish State". Di Natale is now saying that while he supports a two-state outcome, "I have never believed that the establishment of a ‘Jewish state' (as opposed to an ‘Israeli state') is conducive to this outcome and I absolutely do not support that goal."

But regardless of this controversy, he was absolutely right about the potential for Australia to learn from Israeli water technology - and indeed, media around the world, and especially in the US, have been highlighting Israeli advancements in this area in recent weeks.

Israel has long been a world leader in water saving, water recycling and desalination technology. These advancements, developed out of necessity and now sought by various industries and nations, helped transform large areas of Israel over decades into arable land capable of sustaining large communities.

Facing the same problems years ago that many countries and states including drought-stricken California are currently struggling with, such technological developments not only averted a potential large-scale economic and humanitarian crisis within Israel, but also offered a path forward for other nations struggling with over-use and sustainability of fresh water supplies. Allysia Finley writing in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the potential to use Israel's technology and ideas to address the crisis in California:

"For decades, the country suffered chronic water shortages brought on by intermittent droughts amid rapid population growth-a problem only partly ameliorated by aggressive water pricing and conservation."

"By the end of this year, Israel will have completed three massive desalination plants in Ashdod, Hadera and Sorek that combined are capable of producing 100 billion gallons of potable water each year from the sea. More such projects are in the works."

"In a mere five years, desalination has turned a scarce resource into a commodity that may soon be exportable."

In a recent article in the NY Times Isabel Kershner noted the historic water crisis facing Israel and the practical steps taken by the authorities to counter shortfalls through both technology and the regulation of demand:

"Measures to increase the supply and reduce the demand were accelerated, overseen by the Water Authority, a powerful interministerial agency established in 2007."

"The Israeli government began by making huge cuts in the annual water quotas for farmers, ending decades of extravagant overuse of heavily subsidized water for agriculture."

"Water Authority representatives went house to house offering to fit free devices on shower heads and taps that inject air into the water stream, saving about a third of the water used while still giving the impression of a strong flow."

Writing in the Washington Times, Daniel Pipes noted:

"Israel provides the sole exception to this regional tale of woe [in respect to increasingly unsustainable water use]. It too, as recently as the 1990s, suffered water shortages; but now, thanks to a combination of conservation, recycling, innovative agricultural techniques, and high-tech desalination, the country is awash in H2O... I find particularly striking that Israel can desalinate about 17 liters of water for one U.S. penny; and that it recycles about five times more water than does second-ranked Spain."

"... the looming drought-driven upheaval of populations - probably the very worst of the region's many profound problems - can be solved, with brainpower and political maturity.

CBS TV has cited Israel's use of desalination technology (including construction of the world's largest desalination plant), "resource revolution" and creation of a water surplus in the desert as a model for addressing the serious water shortages currently plaguing California. The network reports that the amount of water filtered through desalination plants, accounting for 50% of the nation's drinking water, would be an amount capable of supplying the entire city of Los Angeles.

"It's no coincidence [California] is turning to Israel for help. IDE Technologies designed a $1-billion desalination plant now under construction in Carlsbad. When the plant opens next year, it will be the largest in the United States and expected to produce 50 million gallons of water a day for San Diego County."

"Desalination has helped transform Israel into the most hydrated country in the region... Israel is also leading the way when it comes to recycling wastewater."

USA Today noted the potential for partnership and a number of new advancements in water technology that can be utilized on the west coast:

"Israel, subject to intermittent droughts for decades, has pioneered a number of water-saving techniques. It long ago figured out how to grow crops in the desert and for decades has advised the developing world on how to manage scarce water resources."

"Now, Israel is eager to share its latest know-how with drought-ridden states like California. These helpful techniques include water quotas, desalination plants and the reuse of household wastewater....

"The Israel Water Authority set an affordable water quota for every individual and farmer, and taxed excess use at a much higher rate. The amount of water allocated to farmers was cut in half, forcing them to grow less thirsty crops and adopt water-saving technology."

"What California can learn from Israel is how to optimize the water that is available by steering away from crops that use the most water, Cohen said. The state can also try to greatly reduce water use in the urban areas."

Australia is also considered a world leader in water technology and has opportunities to partner with Israel for mutual benefit, particularly in the area of water recycling in which Israel produces some of the greatest technological advancements. CNBC recently noted in relation to the California crisis that "some are pushing for additional desalination plants like those used in water-starved Israel and Australia to convert ocean water into unlimited fresh water."

Beyond desalination, other key innovations developed in Israel have addressed similar chronic water shortages to those which have occurred in Australia, and have huge potential to again be utilized in a Californian context. JTA has identified a number of specific actions taken by Israel over decades to address water shortages:

"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."

"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."

"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. Netafim, a leading Israeli drip-irrigation company, says the practice cuts water use by up to half. A Netafim representative told JTA that 80 percent of Israeli farms use drip irrigation."

"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."

Chris Davis, speaking on the ABC, noted the success of water recycling measures in Western Australia, measures, amongst other water-saving mechanisms, that have not been applied throughout Australia due to, among other reasons, restrictions on costs and fears about potential impacts on public health:

"That's a great example because many towns and many governments have been cautious about using what we call potable recycling, and they are holding back. So the fact that Perth has developed a very rigorous trial and demonstration period is a marvellous example for the rest of the country."

So while Australia is advanced in these areas, Israel has made significant leaps forward in water technology over decades with huge implications for drought-affected nations including Australia. These developments have essentially allowed Israel to almost completely resolve what had once been an acute and serious national problem with fresh water. Co-operation on these fronts, as identified by Sen. Di Natale and others, will not only help foster important bilateral and trilateral relationships, but are crucial in terms of addressing Australia's increasing challenges with water as the population continues to grow and the climate alters.

Glen Falkenstein

 

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