Pointing to a picture of actor George Clooney and another of a yellow bird thirstily clinging upsidedown to a water tap, water expert Booky Oren referred to the images as the epitome of sophistication.
Being sophisticated – “knowing how to leverage opportunities, [and being] familiar with life rules” – however, is simply not sufficient when it comes to running a water utility, according to Oren, chairman and CEO of Booky Oren Global Water Technologies Ltd. and the former head of Mekorot National Water Company. A water management system, and all of the components involved with it – regulators, technology, financial institutions, etc. – must be “wise,” Oren said.
Oren was speaking at the International Water Conference: Water Thirsty World, held in Tel Aviv on Tuesday afternoon at the 16th annual Cleantech Exhibition. Experts from around Israel and the world shared their know-how and opinions on some of the best ways to maintain reliable and high-quality water systems.
“To run a water utility is really challenging,” Oren said.
“The water sector is very sophisticated in order to survive. But is survival sufficient when facing challenges of the water sector?” “You cannot be only sophisticated,” he continued.
“I think that if we change the paradigm and create a network of water utilities.”
Such a network would help water management systems overcome difficulties faced in customer service, in regulator demands, in quality assurance and in business and technological development, he explained. Defining being “wise” as having a talent to “listen, learn and teach,” as well as think in advance, Oren pointed to a picture of President Shimon Peres as he explained this meaning.
In many ways, this attitude already covers the Israeli water sector, with Netanya collaborating with Akron, Ohio, for example, and Mekorot engaging with both Las Vegas, Nevada and Ontario, according to Oren.
Realizing that water is a commodity and acting accordingly is important in maintaining a wise water sector, explained Prof. Eilon Adar – Zukerberg Institute for Water Research at Ben Gurion University. “It is well-known now that water scarcity is not just a problem of the developing world. It is also a problem of the developed world,” Adar-Zukerberg said. “We already consume more than God provides us – more than nature gives us.”
Part of the reason Israel was able to nearly close the gap between water availability in terms of supply and “conquer the desert” was because the country thought of water in this way – conceptualizing and implementing novel water innovations, but at the same time, improving water utilization efficiency, reclaiming treated sewage and desalinizing, he explained.
“Israel is a very good example of innovation and technology and government that pushes the technology,” said Arik Dayan, CEO of Amiad, a water filtration systems firm.
“Israel is a start-up country; the main challenge is the execution.”
Producing one sheet of paper requires 10 liters of water, one slice of bread requires 40 liters of water and one kilogram of wheat requires 1,300 liters of water, Dayan stressed.
Innovations such as those in Israel, therefore, are essential to overcoming these drastic needs for clean, useable water, but it is still very difficult for small, start-up firms to successfully enter the Israeli market, according to Dayan.
“The world needs to think in a crisis mode in relation to water – think differently. It’s not only in the Philippines or Africa – it’s also in the United States,” he said.