Israeli technology helps quench California’s thirst for water

California, the most populous state in the U.S., has pulled out from a relentless, multiyear drought — with a little help from Israel’s water-technology experts.

California was facing its second severe drought in a decade when the governor, Jerry Brown, turned to Israel. “There’s a lot we can learn, a lot we can share,” Brown said in announcing a 2014 deal with the Israeli prime minister to cooperate on water conservation.

Round concrete areas bordered by roads, trees and water (© AP Images)
The Carlsbad Desalination Plant takes its design from a subsidiary of Israeli firm IDE Technologies. (© AP Images)

Agricultural ties

A centerpiece of this partnership is the Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego, which makes clean, safe water from the ocean. An Israeli company completed the project in December 2015, and the plant now supplies water to more than 300,000 Californians.

Both California and Israel are agricultural powerhouses. In California, 80 percent of the state’s fresh water helps grow the state’s famous avocados, citrus fruit, almonds, grapes and pistachios. Most of Israel’s farmland uses hyperefficient “microirrigation” that boosts yields of tomatoes and olives even in the Negev desert.

Today, Israel is helping California to engineer water systems that will be able to weather the next shortage and keep crops from harm.

California and Israeli scientists work together to develop environmentally friendly insecticides and to improve the wine-making process.

A history of conservation

Israel knows water scarcity. But in 2014, the country of 8.3 million became water-independent, thanks to a multipart strategy:

  • Desalination: Turning seawater into drinking water has turned Israel’s water deficit into a surplus. Fifty-five percent of Israelis now drink water from desalination plants.
  • Recycling wastewater: Israel pioneered a method of purifying wastewater and using it for farming. Today, Israel recycles about 90 percent of its wastewater.
  • Microirrigation: Scientist Daniel Hillel popularized this farming technique, which keeps crops growing with a steady drip of just enough water.
  • Conservation: Low-flow toilets and showers ensure water conservation in homes.

According to the United Nations, water scarcity affects 40 percent of people around the world. And Israel provides water management and irrigation training to Palestinian and Jordanian neighbors, as well as 100 developing countries.

“If we managed to overcome our water problems in Israel, in the Middle East, it can be done almost anywhere else in the world,” said Eilon Adar, a professor at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in an interview with online news outlet ISRAEL21c.