The Milken Innovation Center at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) hosted a conference this week which was attended by senior Israeli and Californian officials seeking to solve the crisis, following a memorandum of understanding signed between Israel and California.
California has been dealing with one of the worst water crises in its history. Last Thursday, following the growing cooperation, a delegation of Israeli companies in the field of water systems purification and management began holding a series of meetings in the West Coast of the United States.
"Israel had a problem similar to the one California is dealing with 10 years ago," says Dr. Glenn Yago, a senior fellow and founder of the Milken Institute's Financial Innovation Lab. "The problem is still ongoing, but Israel now produces about 20% more water than the market requires.
"The use of water per capita in Israel is less than one-third of the amount consumed in California. This is a result of the establishment of desalination installations, the secondary use of water for agriculture, and also the citizens' conduct.
"In Israel, water recycling for agricultural use reaches 85%, and in California it's about 5%. The conference participants were very excited about what we showed them, like our success in preserving and restoring the aquifers. They didn’t know it was even possible to drip irrigation pipes in some of the agricultural industries."
There are about NIS 500-600 billion ($130-155 billion) moving around the global water market. Israeli exports currently amount to some NIS 2 billion ($520,000), but the Economy Ministry believes this figure can be tripled.
"Potential is endless," says Oded Distel, director of Israel NewTech at the Economy Ministry. "As the global crisis grows, particularly in California, the attraction to adopt proven Israeli solutions grows as well. We are talking about a potential of doubling and even tripling the Israeli water industry's export volumes in the coming years."
'We are 7 years ahead of California'
The Israeli delegation to the US includes the companies Atlantium, Amiad and TripleT, which have already met with food companies such as Leprino Foods, Costco, Coca-Cola and the water corporations of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The Israeli companies were also slated to meet with officials in California's Department of Water, the Department of Agriculture and the Governor's Office. The activity was organized by the Economy Ministry – the commercial office of the Foreign Trade Administration – in cooperation with the Israel Export Institute and NewTech – the national program for promoting water and renewable energy technologies at the Economy Ministry.
"There, water is seen as a non-perishable resource. In California you see fields with sprinkles, and they have a drought like in Israel. In a meeting with an engineer at the San Francisco water corporation, he said we were seven years ahead of them in terms of innovation and technology. It was an amazing thing to hear. We in Israel compared to Silicon Valley."
Prof. Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist from the University of California, Irvine, presented a study regarding the diminution of underground water in the Middle East. "I think that Israel has been a pioneer in this field for a long time now. The work with the irrigation was simply phenomenal. It's a real game changer. In California we are working with a drip irrigation technology, but we still have a long way to go. The technology and water management in Israel is at a very high level.
"I think this is a wonderful opportunity for us to share the most critical problems and cooperate with the Israelis for possible solutions. There is still a lot of work to be done in greenhouse agriculture, irrigation of crops with salty water, and more. These are important things and we don’t do it that way in the US."
In October, Israel will host the WATEC Israel 2015 exhibition on water technologies, renewable energy and environment in Tel Aviv.
"The water crises experienced by Israel over the years, and its successful handling of those challenges, allow us to offer the most advanced work and legislation processes in the world and provide leading innovative technological solutions," Distel explained.
The conference held in Jerusalem this week was aimed at developing the work interfaces and business models which will allow new Israeli technologies to enter the American market. The first products of the work teams will be presented during the WATEC Israel exhibition."
Scott Houston, secretary of the board at the West Basin Municipal Water District in the Greater Los Angeles area, said: "I was very impressed by the technologies in the measurement, cyber and other fields, and I definitely expect the event to develop collaborations which will benefit both sides."
Michelle Moskowitz from the Office of the Chancellor at UC Berkeley said that "the way to implement Israeli technologies in California goes through the Governor's Office. Following the visit, I will try to bring to the exhibition in October senior officials from the Governor's Office who are responsible for implementing the water program. I think it can open up real possibilities."