‘Cooperation a must in water-scarce regions’

WATEC conference panel highlights comparisons of management techniques.

wastewater 311 (photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
wastewater 311
(photo credit: Sharon Udasin)
Conservation efforts, while tremendously helpful, are often insufficient in solving water scarcity issues in extremely arid regions, experts concluded during a conference on Wednesday.
Neighboring states should therefore coordinate their efforts to develop technologies to overcome water issues, said panelists at the WATEC Israel exhibition and conference.
“Our leader Moses had a stick – he went into the desert with our people for 40 years and they didn’t have a problem because he had the stick – we need this technology,” said Abraham Tenne, chairman of the Water Authority’s Water Desalination Administration.
Tenne and his colleagues were speaking at a panel about water management under scarcity conditions, during the sixth international WATEC exhibition on water technologies, renewable energy and environmental control, held from Tuesday to Thursday at the Tel Aviv Exhibition Center.
As natural water sources in countries such as Israel continually decrease every year, they must learn to create sustainable and reliable supplies using new techniques, many of which Israel has already undertaken, according to Tenne.
Some such strategies that have already taken force in this country include raising the price of water, using waste-water for agricultural irrigation – Israel currently reuses 80 percent of its waste water, while Spain comes in second at 17% – desalinating brackish and ocean water and educating children about conservation, Tenne explained.
“These are the water police. They are teaching their parents to close the tap when they’re shaving,” he said.
“Israel is a desert, and long forecast plans are that the precipitation will drop by about 15%, meaning the demand will grow and the amount of water from nature will go down,” Tenne added. “We have a huge problem and we need to deal with it.”
Other places around the world, such as the western United States, are dealing with quite similar crises.
Arizona, for example, has an ever-increasing population and a climate that is only getting “hotter and dryer,” said Prof. Sharon B. Megdal, director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
While Israel’s projected water needs for 2013 and 2020, respectively, are 1,765 and 1,970 million cubic meters per year, Arizonans use about 8,634 million cubic meters each year, according to Tenne and Megdal respectively.
Similar to Israel, Arizona reuses sewage water, desalinates brackish water and is pursuing talks with neighboring seaside states about creating shared ocean desalination plants.
“There are a lot of similarities [between Arizona and Israel],” Megdal said, gesturing toward photos on her PowerPoint slide. “The Coca Cola plant and the Ikea [store] could be in Tempe, Arizona – but no, they’re here by the Shafdan facility.”
“An importance difference is we don’t have the sea to help solve the problems,” added Megdal, who will be a visiting professor at Hebrew University next semester.
In Arizona, about 40% of the water used comes from groundwater, 3% from recycled water and the remainder from the Colorado River, whose basin Arizona shares with six other states, as well as Mexico and Native American reservations inside Arizona that have independent water authorities.
“They have sovereignty when it comes to water management, so we share water with a lot of different entities,” Megdal said.
But after years of battling each other over water rights, these divergent entities are beginning to cooperate more on how to best share the minimal amounts of water, said both Megdal and Patricia Mulroy, general manager of the Las Vegas Valley Water District in the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
“I’m going to take you on a journey across the Hoover Dam,” Mulroy said. “I’m going to take you to fabulous Las Vegas.”
Although Nevada and Arizona share a border, the Mojave Desert around Las Vegas is even more arid than Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, according to Mulroy, who is also president of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies in America.
“When it was formed nobody said it should be there,” she said. “We have no agriculture to speak of whatsoever.” Much more of its water – 90% – must therefore come from the dwindling Colorado River.
“The [Southern Nevada Water Authority] has the impossible task of providing this city of nearly 2 million people and 40 million annual visitors with a reliable and secure water supply,” she said. “We are the extreme. We have, as you can see, no ocean to fall back on – we are a community that reuses virtually 100% of its waste-water. Everything that hits the sewer system is reused.”
Like Nevada, Israel also reuses most of its sewage – around 80% – a number that is expected to soon rise to 85-90%, according to Tenne.
“We actually pay our customers to take their grass out,” she explained.
In the southwestern US-Mexican region bordering the Colorado River, it is crucial for cooperation to occur among the neighboring states, Mulroy agreed with Megdal.
“This is a place where innovation and technology, but most importantly diplomacy, is all-important. Our solutions are not ones we can find within our own boundary,” she said. “What do you do the day that there’s nothing left in the Colorado River to exchange? That’s the challenge. How do we face a reservoir that has less than one year’s supply left in it?”
In Mulroy’s opinion, you work with your neighbors – to go so far as to invest in financing desalination plants in Mexico’s vast open space, and then sharing the end result.
“We seven, very different, disparate states have to agree,” she said, adding that “Mexico has to be a full participant.”
Such collaboration is already occurring among Israel and its neighbors, including local partnerships with the PA and Jordan, as well as larger regional efforts – like the EU-sponsored SWAM project, in which Israel is working with Spain and Greece to achieve new solutions, explained Prof. Uri Marchaim, head of the Biotechnology department at the MIGAL Galilee Technology Center and an Israeli representative to SWAM.
“The main activity is to try to develop between industries collaborative [efforts] to find solutions,” he said, noting that 13 projects have already begun.
And in the southwestern US, the same type of cooperation would be ideal for developing the region’s water supply, Mulroy contended.
“We stopped fighting because we know that the changes that are occurring in our climate, in our water supply, that 25% of this country’s GDP depends on, are evaporating before our eyes,” she said.
“The only way is peace between the states, a common water vision.”