By June Glazer
Located in one of the driest parts of the world, Israel is leaps and bounds ahead of other countries when it comes to water conservation and innovation efforts. According to statistics and figures compiled for worldwide domestic water consumption, from 1996-2014, Israel reduced its demand for water by 17%, some 27% below that of America’s. Today Israel is first in reusing 86% of its water for agriculture. Spain comes in at a distant second at 17%.
Robert Lembke, of Greenwood Village, CO, and president of United Water and Sanitation District, a governmental entity that provides water to other municipalities in Northern Colorado, recently chaired Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) mission to Israel for water experts from the United States, Thailand, and the United Nations. The mission, IsraelH2O: A Tour on the Trail of Israel’s Water Solutions took the group to Israel to learn how JNF and Israel work to bolster water infrastructure through projects that also develop alternative water sources.
“The idea for this mission germinated from discussions I had with JNF CEO Russell F. Robinson four-years-ago,” Lembke said on the last day of the weeklong trip in early December. “Over the last few years, JNF has taken me on several one-on-one explorations of Israel’s water infrastructure, and it became clear that this incredible story would make for a great tour for water professionals.”
In collaboration with Seth M. Siegel, the best-selling author of Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World, JNF mounted a year-long series of Water Summits in major cities across the United States to share JNF’s and Israel’s work with the American public and to raise discussion and find solutions for common local water challenges. “That’s when Russell and I realized there was enough interest to do the Israel water tour we had talked about, and so we began planning it,” Lembke said.
Participants from 12 states and Washington, D.C., signed up—with the largest contingent of six , hailing from Colorado. Additionally, a delegation of three Thai government officials and a UN official also joined the mission. In light of the water crisis facing some parts of the U.S. and the world, the group was keen to understand Israel’s success in becoming water-independent and learned that it was a result of its multifaceted approach, including wastewater treatment, desalination plants, drip irrigation, reverse osmosis, and start-up technologies that conserve and treat water. “If America doesn’t do what Israel’s doing, we’re going to be in trouble,” observed Jim Morrow of Wyoming.
The mission visited the Shamir drillings in the Upper Galilee which provides critical support to farmers in Israel’s north. One project there, in partnership between the Israeli government, the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights Water Associations, and JNF, utilizes old oil-drilling facilities to access ground water more than a mile beneath the surface. “It’s just one example of creating new available water supply where none had existed before by using preexisting infrastructure that was developed for other purposes,” said Lembke, who disclosed that a large water source was recently discovered at another drilling site, this one in the Negev, in Israel’s vast desert region.
The group also visited some of the 250 water reservoirs JNF built throughout the country—and in the Negev Desert in particular— to hold Israel’s recycled water. “The reservoirs collect treated wastewater during non-growing months to use throughout hotter growing months. They also capture run-off water to add to the supply and further aid agricultural production,” Lembke explained.
An important element in Israel’s success is educating the planet of coming global water problems and how to mitigate drought and water scarcity. Here the group learned too that the country excels. “The key to long-term change in any society is educating its children, and JNF has pioneered one of the most effective ways to teach them about the value of water and its importance,” said Lembke. Through JNF’s Rainwater Harvesting Program, a program in place with partner organization Green Horizons, students in schools across Israel help capture rainwater that falls onto school buildings and into barrels, storing it and using later for irrigation of on-site flowers and gardens. “Through this they can see an immediate connection between their behavior and the marshalling of this precious resource. This type of activity will serve as a foundation stone for educating the next generation about the vital role water will play in the Middle East and especially in Israel,” Lembke said.
Lembke added: “The process of achieving Middle East peace is viewed by many as an intractable challenge. However, the water developments pioneered with the assistance of JNF has shown that water can be created out of places where none had existed before. Water will serve as one of the key building blocks in developing a network that can support peace in this part of the world.”