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Sustainability Out of Necessity: One Country's Water Solutions

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Israelis will be the first to tell you that they look to create opportunity out of adversity. As a developed country with a relatively high standard of living, situated in an arid part of the world, Israel has focused on harnessing and conserving water for years. With water scarcity becoming an increasingly recurring theme in the United States, we would do well to learn to do the same. Here are a few innovative water management sustainability projects that are worth learning from:

Irrigation

Go anywhere in Tel Aviv and you will see drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is a system of valves and pipes that delivers water directly to the root of the plant, with almost no evaporation or surface runoff. The system uses 30 percent to 50 percent less water than conventional sprinkling. In Israel, drip irrigation makes up 95 percent of watering applications. The concept is not new, as it has been in use in one form or another since the first century BCE, and was further developed in the West in the 1860's. However, drip irrigation as we know it was introduced to the world by an Israeli company, Netafim, in 1965. In a recent trip to Israel courtesy of Kinetis, a non-profit organization, we met with Netafim's CSO at Kibbutz Hatzerim, where drip irrigation is being used to grow jojoba plants. There we learned more about Netafim's future plans.

Netafim has already introduced their version of drip irrigation to many countries, and is looking to bring more of this technology to the developing nations, since about 80 percent of the food produced there is produced by poor small land holders. They plan to do this via what they term the 'Family Drip System'. In locations where water is not piped in to a water source, the water is stored in a tank in an elevated tower about 1.5 meters (5 feet) from the ground, and uses gravity to guide the water downstream to the pipes that then distribute it to the plants. They have started doing this in China, with promising results.

Drinking Water

Drinking water is another challenge, which Israel has addressed by focusing on desalination. The Israeli Water Authority estimates that 80 percent of its water will be desalinated by 2014. Issues with desalination aside, the next challenge is getting Israelis to drink the desalinated water. While I thought the water tasted fine and better than in some states in the US, Israelis seem to prefer their water filtered. Strauss Water, a subsidiary of the Strauss Group focused on purified drinking water, has developed a WQA Gold certified countertop filter that is in two thirds of Israeli homes and represents 90 percent of the water filtration market in the country.

A newer and very exciting product that I came across was Woosh Water, an on-demand water filtration device for public areas. The system is currently available in five public areas in Tel Aviv. The system was designed to decrease the number of plastic water bottles being used and to make filtered water easily accessible on the go. Users sign up online or on the spot, or can use their public bike share program fob. They can program the size of the bottle they will be filling and even clean their bottle before filling it. If they misjudged, the system automatically stops when the bottle is removed. Thus far, 12,000 Tel Avivans have signed up, and the system tracks having saved more than 41,000 plastic water bottles. Hoping this comes to the US soon!

Education

Finally, education, as in anything, is key. The Israelis understand the importance of education in promoting a sustainable way of living. At the David Yellin College's Education for Sustainability Development (ESD) Institute, they consider water "blue gold". One project ESD has undertaken involves storing water from air conditioning condensation in a cistern. This is used in part to water plants, and the rest is sent to a pond downstream.

Kibbutz Lotan reuses water from the bathroom sinks and composting toilets, also known as black water, via constructed wetlands pools that process the water. The pools work like a septic system but instead of the water going from the leach field into the ground, it is cleaned from organic load then used to water the fig, date and olive trees.

While Israel has done a great job of taking these water management steps for itself, there are social justice issues that also need to be considered. The majority of the existing environmental impacts are the result of consumption patterns from the top 10 percent of the population. In addition, there is the issue of Israel's collaboration with its neighbors, specifically Palestine and Jordan next door around water rights. I will be highlighting ways that some organizations in Israel are collaborating and promoting peaceful solutions through resource management in a future piece.

Anca Novacovici is the founder and president of Eco-Coach, Inc., an environmental sustainability consulting firm in Washington, D.C. She works with executives to set their organization's sustainability strategy, and leads the tactical execution and change management required to fulfill on that strategy. You may contact her at anca@eco-coach.com. To learn more about Anca, click here.