California leaders look to Israel for sustainable water solutions

As California struggles to cope with extreme drought, state leaders are looking to other communities for solutions. One place they’ve turned is Israel, which has managed to overcome water shortages in its dry, desert climate.

Two weeks ago Sustainability Matters CEO Kristen Victor joined a delegation of California scholars, business leaders and government officials on a trip to Israel to learn more about the strategies and technologies that have made Israel a global leader in water resiliency. The trip was organized by the U.S.-Israel Center on Innovation & Economic Sustainability at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, and Victor was there representing the San Diego region.

Victor will present her findings this month at an event at UCSD’s Rady School of Management. She also will debrief and share ideas with Congressman Scott Peters, Senator Ben Hueso, Mayor Kevin Faulconer and water officials in San Diego.

“It was extraordinary to experience first-hand Israel’s holistic approach to water resiliency, using multi-tiered strategies built on a basic understanding of water as a valuable commodity,” Victor said. “Collaborative water leadership defines Israel’s success with the decision makers around the same table, working toward continuous achievement of the goals set forth in Israel’s Water Master Plan. I also was impressed by the interest in emerging technologies to build on conservation efforts and reduce water costs for the people of Israel.”

The California delegation participated in roundtable discussions with Israeli scholars and water experts at multiple academic institutes. They visited Netafim, a major international manufacturer of agricultural drip irrigation products. They also met with representatives of the Israel Water Authority and Hagihon, the municipal water utility of Jerusalem. And they toured the Sorek desalination plant on the Mediterranean Sea, which was built using the same technology that San Diego’s Carlsbad Desalination Project will use to purify water from the Pacific Ocean.

A workshop at the Milken Innovation Center at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies covered a wide range of topics, including water recycling, aquifer management, water quality monitoring, data-based solutions such as smart irrigation, and desalination. Another workshop at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research covered groundwater supply strategies. The California delegation learned, for example, that 75 percent of irrigation in Israel is drip irrigation, while drip comprises only 32 percent of irrigation in California.

The trip was organized in support of a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) between California and Israel signed by Governor Jerry Brown and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The MOU sets goals for mutual collaboration on water policy and water technology.

Victor summarized her experience and the lessons she learned in a series of blog posts at the Sustainability Matters website. Other participants in the program also shared their experiences on the UCSD Rady School of Management blog. For an Israeli perspective on the journey, read the coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s largest daily newspapers.

Lori Glasgow, Assistant Chief Deputy, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; Scott Houston, West Basin Municipal Water District; Professor Jay Famiglietti, UC-Irvine, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA; Kathleen Brown, Manatt Phelps and Phillips (also former Head of Goldman Sachs Public Sector and Infrastructure Group and former California State Treasurer); Professor Glenn Yago, Milken Innovation Center, Jerusalem Institute; Michelle Moskowitz, Office of the Chancellor, UC Berkeley; Tim Strobel, Opterra Energy; Professor David Sunding, Water Center, UC Berkeley; Kristen Victor, Sustainability Matters, City of San Diego Environmental and Economic Task Force; Robert Feyer, Orrick; Eli Cohen, Ayala Water and Ecology.

California delegation (L to R) in Israel: Lori Glasgow, Assistant Chief Deputy, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors; Scott Houston, West Basin Municipal Water District; Professor Jay Famiglietti, UC-Irvine, Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA; Kathleen Brown, Manatt Phelps and Phillips (also former Head of Goldman Sachs Public Sector and Infrastructure Group and former California State Treasurer); Professor Glenn Yago, Milken Innovation Center, Jerusalem Institute; Michelle Moskowitz, Office of the Chancellor, UC Berkeley; Tim Strobel, Opterra Energy; Professor David Sunding, Water Center, UC Berkeley; Kristen Victor, Sustainability Matters, City of San Diego Environmental and Economic Task Force; Robert Feyer, Orrick; Eli Cohen, Ayala Water and Ecology.

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