Israel a model for global water management, experts say

Water conference covers broad spectrum of both local and global topics, including preparation for climatic change.

By
March 28, 2011 23:46
Israeli-Palestinian management of water sources

water sources 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Israel provides a key example of how countries should manage their water infrastructure in coming years, as national populations increase at unprecedented speeds and governments grapple with the need to combat water scarcity, according to Dr. Glen Daigger, president of the International Water Association.

Daigger addressed an audience of “water enthusiasts” at Monday’s annual Conference of Israeli Water Organizations, held in Ramat Gan’s Kfar Maccabia hotel.

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“Many of the things I’ll talk about are already happening in Israel,” said Daigger, who is also senior vice president and chief wastewater process engineer at the American company CH2M HILL.

“Israel has a lot to share with the rest of the world, as do other progressive locations in water-short areas.”

The conference – hosted jointly by the Israeli Water Association, the Israel Water Works Association, the Israel Association of Water Resources and the Israel Desalinization Society – covered a broad spectrum of both local and global topics, including preparation for climatic change, management of surface runoff water, agricultural visions, reconstruction of water sources and new technologies.

But kicking off the day’s speeches and breakout sessions was Daigger’s call for increased relations between Israel and the International Water Association, as well as his praise for the country’s strides in water management.

“Israel has been dealing with this situation for a long, long time and is really one of the examples on the planet in terms of how many other places will need to be managing water,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

“Certainly in Israel and the Middle East, there has been a water shortage for most of human history, but if we look around the world, that’s an unusual circumstance,” Daigger continued, noting, however, that with worldwide population growth, this had changed dramatically.

“Water scarcity is no longer the exception; it’s becoming the rule,” he said.

“It’s really causing water professionals to have to think differently.”

To tackle this new “rule,” Daigger advocated international cooperation – and while Israel can certainly share its wealth of research and innovations on water management and technologies, it can also benefit from implementing other countries’ models, he said. Some other productive nations that he cited were Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and the southwestern part of the United States.

“Your knowledge is really necessary for the rest of the world, but the experimentation going on there will continue to benefit you,” he said to the audience of water professionals.

Particular areas in which Israel excels most in water management include reuse for irrigation, desalinization, innovation in pipe materials, sensors, control devices, efficient use of water, security and emergency management, said Helena Alegre – senior vice president of the International Water Association and principal investigator at Portugal’s National Laboratory of Civil Engineering – in her address to the group.

“For successful collaboration, there must be this win-win balance, so Israel has to define the topics where it finds a potential interest, where it’s really interested in gaining from IWA,” she told the Post.

Sectors where Israel could benefit from borrowing the knowledge of other participating countries include restoration of water quality after pollution events, and pricing of water, Alegre said.

Recalling her previous visit to Israel 25 years ago, Alegre said that early on in her career, “the best inspiration to become a water professional came from Israel.”

First and foremost, all of the water experts agreed, Israel and the rest of the world must look far ahead.

“During the first 60 years of this country, we built fast, and sometimes we were reckless,” said Yonatan Richter of the Israel Water Authority, who served as convention chairman.

“We have to look at things as far as 60 years and plan accordingly,” he added.

“The estimates are [that] by the year 2025, about half the human population will live in areas that are experiencing water stress,” Daigger told the Post.

“Because of the magnitude of the infrastructure required to manage water, you have to be planning 30 or 40 or 50 years into the future – when we say this is 15 years away, it’s like it’s tomorrow.”

Daigger also suggested that water professionals should stop looking first to surface and ground water as primary water sources.

“What if rather than that, we say, let’s look at reuse first?” he asked the audience.

“There is no such thing as new water,” he said to the Post. “Water simply cycles within the environment. There are those saying that we drink the same water that the dinosaurs drink, and that’s accurate.”

By cooperating to conserve a mutually critical resource like water, Daigger believes, nations have an even greater chance of achieving a more sustainable regional peace.

“There are those who have been saying for quite some time that the wars of the 21st century will be over water,” Daigger said. “But water can be a factor that helps disparate communities and countries to collaborate. It is essential.

We can live many days without food.

Without water, it’s about three days. As water becomes in desperately short supply, the solution is to collaborate.”

An entire panel at the conference was dedicated to this sentiment, analyzing the different ways that Middle Eastern countries could partner to conserve water, and the possible ramifications of such collaboration.

“We can reach cooperation, but at the beginning, it will only be by acceptance of activities the other side is doing,” Shimon Tal, president of the Israel Water Authority and CEO of Tal-Content, told the Post. “When the shortage will become more severe, I think we will cooperate and build a system – there will be no other possibility.”

Tal sees cooperation between Lebanon and Syria occurring easily, as well as a partnership between Israel and Jordan.

And while he doesn’t think that increased participation in International Water Association projects and talks will expressly achieve these partnerships, he does feel that these means will indirectly contribute to such causes.

“I’m not sure that this will create direct cooperation between us and our neighbors, but I think that people all over the world will know much more what Israel thinks and what Israel is doing,” Tal said.

Meanwhile, Doron Merkel of the Water Authority presented research from the Red Sea-Dead Sea Study Management Unit, which encourages cooperation among Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan in taking water from the Red Sea and using a reverse osmosis procedure to generate fresh water, with residual salt emptying into the already extremely saline Dead Sea.

Daniel Reisner, an attorney for Herzog, Fox and Ne’eman and former director of the IDF’s legal branch, said that while Israel and its neighbors should share the existent technologies and narrow the gap in water management abilities, this should not be related to repairing political differences.

“We have the same water source, but there isn’t an equal ability to use it,” Reisner said of the current situation.

“All of the surrounding countries want Israel to establish the technologies and leave them the natural waters, like rivers, because they’re not able to develop the technologies.”

Daigger hopes that as a “global leader” in agricultural irrigation, desalinization and so many other water preservation technologies, Israel will continue to partner with its neighbors for a more sustainable future.

“No one in the region is really as efficient in the use of water in agriculture,” he said. “That’s an area where Israel really stands out.”


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