Understanding how Israel manages its water structure can be very insightful as California struggles to wrap its arms around this giant issue of water reliability. As we share our stories, learn through experiences and develop collaborative partnerships, it is clear that California has the resources and tools to become water independent.
The foremost difference in Israel is the people own the water — not the municipalities, not the government — the people. This means water is available to people throughout the country, without limitations, consistently priced, and I might add, priced according to its actual commodity cost. In California, on the other hand, we have constant battles over who owns the water and who subsidizes the cost of water, and decisions are often made without all of the necessary information. Accurate information is essential to creating a long-term effective policy to support water resiliency. We need accurate information to invest in technology to achieve water resiliency goals. We need accurate information to invest in infrastructure where infrastructure most needs attention. We need transparent information to understand the true cost of water. We need reliable information to be proactive, not reactive. This is how Israel has successfully become water independent, making it the global water leader.
The Hagihon Company — Jerusalem’s municipal water utility company and Israel’s leading regional municipal water and wastewater utility — was our first stop of the day. Hagihon implements innovative technologies to support their Asset Management Operation, aligned with their Asset Management Plan. Our time with Hagihon was filled with informational meetings on high- and low-tech approaches to the innovation technology market. We saw firsthand their approach to disaster preparedness and how they plan to continue supplying water to people during emergencies. (They say this is for earthquakes, but we all know the real story here.)
Back on our guided bus, we continued on to the Israel Water Authority, which manages annual water demand of 2 billion cubic meters for 8 million residents; 200,000 hectares of irrigated fields among 14,000 farmers; and over 1,000 industrial plants. This adds up to an annual financial volume of $9 billion NIS. One of the most amazing takeaways is that the Israel Water Authority supplies water to both Palestine (57.8 million cubic meters) and Jordan (53.2 million cubic meters) and provides nature with 23.4 million cubic meters. Imagine that: Israel includes water for nature, with average rainfall of 1.18 inches per year.
The Israel Water Authority has a holistic strategy that includes a water resource pillar, water supply chain, development based on a long-term water plan, a governance pillar and the Israeli Water Law, which states that the country’s water resources are public property, controlled by the state and designed to meet the needs of the residents and development of the country. The water law further defines “water resources” for the purpose of this law to include springs, streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, surface water, groundwater, natural or artificial, standing or flowing, including drainage water and sewage.
Today, representatives of the Israel Water Authority shared their successful approach of integrated water resource management with our California delegation. It was a fascinating presentation.
The success of the Israel Water Authority board is the strategic approach of a single table for decision making. One would think that with this approach, the tariff on water and sewage services in Israel would be one of the world’s highest, but surprisingly the water costs have continually decreased to the end consumer over the past several years due to efficiency and reduced water usage as the country continues to develop.
So my question was “How you have achieved this success?” The answer is quite simple: the principles and goals of the Israel water sector reform. For consumers, water supply is a valuable commodity. The water tariffs enable the sustainability of reliable water supply, preserving the natural environment and keeping the environment clean. For suppliers, the authority provides reliable water and wastewater services, infrastructure development, efficiency and high service standards. And for regulators, the goal is a simple and transparent regulatory system that enables development and operation of the water sector.
The Water Lab would not be complete without a trip to Sorek Desalination Facility, one of three desalination plants in the state of Israel, built by IDE Technology (the same technology used at the Carlsbad Desalination Project in southern California). Though some may assume desalination is the primary reason for Israel’s water reliability, that is not entirely correct. Israel uses desalination as its last source towards water resiliency, for good reason: the infrastructure is expensive, the water produced is expensive, distributing it is expensive; there are also energy related costs, environmental impact costs… costs, costs and more costs. As the technology improves and the regulatory framework is not so motivated by the current risk-averse litigious environment, overall costs will decrease, though in my opinion, the costs will never low enough to overshadow conservation, water recycling and application technology resulting Israel’s current efficiency success.
The most important lesson I took from Israel, the global leader in water resiliency, is its multi-disciplinary, solution-based approach, which is driven by the common belief that water is an asset, owned by the people of Israel, with equal, shared rights and priced as a commodity. In the first year of Hagihon’s asset management operation plan, water tariffs increased by 30 percent. Guess how much water conservation increased and water usage decreased by the people? That is our needed first step here in California. Policy needs to support water conservation and water recycling. Incentives need to support the land and the labor, not the water. Technologies need application opportunities to explore local efficiencies. Until California eliminates water subsidies, water resiliency is not an achievable goal, according to the water experts in Israel.
California, are we up for the challenge?