Let There Be Water: Israel's Solution for a Water-Starved World
By Seth M. Siegel
Review by David Wineberg
When you realize that Israel exports two billion dollars’ worth of water from a tiny desert state overflowing with people, it might be instructive to know what it is they’re doing. Seth Siegel’s book is an in-depth, tightly focused and exhaustive look at the totality of what the country has accomplished in water.
There are three basic levels to the story. PEOPLE must be conscious of their water consumption and actively minimize it. The need has forced TECHNOLOGY to take leaps and bounds that have vaulted Israel to world leadership in water management. And unusually, there is the POLITICAL WILLl to manage natural resources nationwide for the benefit of all, even to the point of co-operating regionally. With these three arms working together, and the only place on earth where all three are firing in sync, Israel is the poster child for survival.
On the people level, everyone shuts off showers while soaping up, closes taps when teethbrushing, and uses dual flush toilets Israel pioneered. Flow restrictors are on all showers, lush gardens are actively discouraged.
On the tech level, Israelis invented and perfected drip irrigation - to where crops need a fraction of the water (and fertilizer) that flood or spray irrigation requires, and produce more. Israel has pioneered improvements in desalination, allowing it to let lakes and rivers recover naturally while desalination provides the country’s water – to the tune of more than 90%.
In management, Israel recycles 85% of sewage (vs 8% in the USA). and sends it to agriculture. Even toilet paper is recovered and recycled, reducing landfill and increasing processing capacity by 30%. Israel is now actually short of sewage, because people have so reduced their water consumption. The country has done deals regionally, pumping Lake Galilee water to Jordan in exchange for a desalination plant on Jordanian territory in the Gulf of Aqaba. Leaks have been reduced to about 16%, because water authorities monitor all systems continuously.
Even before its founding, leaders knew water was the number one priority. The British refused to allow greater immigration because there wasn’t enough water to support the local population. At that time the population was little more than half a million. Today it is 20 times higher, and Israel exports water.
Despite Israel’s pariah status globally, Israeli water technologies and strategies are finding their way into Africa, Asia and America, as water shortages become the norm.
The book is straightforward, if a little fawning. Siegel avoids the Dead Sea disaster, in which 95% of the Jordan River is diverted, and the Dead Sea is losing three feet a year. It’s to the point where shoreline hotels now must run shuttle buses to the shore. He keeps to his topic, and holds interest with results, since there are so many substantial ones to describe. He addresses the elephant in the room - the Palestinian situation - but as ever, there is no meeting of the minds. Still, 96% of West Bank Palestinians have state-provided clean water, where none had it before.
Let There Be Water is a blueprint for survival: necessary, critical, successful, and replicable.
Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of David Wineberg. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.