Isaac Minkoff

The American West is thirsty, and Israel can help fill its cup

Stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River formed the Grand Canyon. (United States Geological Survey)

The American West has a water crisis. On Monday, Arizona, California, and Nevada announced a new deal to reduce their dependency on the Colorado River. The Colorado River is a water source for 40 million Americans. For over twenty years, droughts in the West have reduced total snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, thereby decreasing water levels in the Colorado River. The deal seeks $1.2 billion in federal funds to compensate water authorities, cities, and tribes for temporary reductions on Colorado River access.

As the population of the West increases and water supply in Colorado River falls, western water stakeholders must diversify their water portfolios to meet demands. Like a financial portfolio, water portfolios rely on diversification to help mitigate risk. Learning from water technology innovations in Israel may be key to the West’s water security.

The American West is not the only region affected by extreme droughts. In the Middle East, Israel and its neighbors are experiencing over 30 years of drought. NASA emphasizes that the Middle East’s current drought is the region’s worst in 900 years. 60% of Israel’s landmass is arid and lacks significant freshwater sources. As a coastal arid climate, Israel’s environment shares similarities with the American West’s largest population center: Southern California.

Between significant regulatory approaches and tremendous investment in diversifying its water supply, by and large, Israel does not currently have a water supply problem. Israel reuses 87% of its wastewater mostly for agriculture. Desalination of sea and brackish water supplies 80% of Israel’s drinking water. Israel has a sophisticated water transportation and metering system that boasts low-to-no leakage.

With a nickname based on California’s Bay Area, Israeli’s coastal tech sector, “Silicon Wadi,” raised over $25.6 billion in 2021, but raised a lesser $14.95 billion in 2022. Israeli companies like IDE Technologies, Netafim, and Global Environmental Solutions have pioneered high-tech innovations in water at home and abroad. As political instability in Israel has shaken its tech sector, Israeli water firms are hungry to build stronger international partnerships.

In 2014, California formally recognized Israel’s technological achievements when then-California Governor Brown and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Golden State and the Jewish State. The MOU promised Israeli-Californian cooperation in four areas. First, through governmental working groups, second, through entrepreneurial collaboration, third, through cooperation in key sectors like water diversification, and fourth, through supporting private and public research exchanges.

Today, IDE Technologies operates California’s largest desalination plant in Carlsbad. However, California’s overall investment in and approval of water diversification projects have been lackluster. California still depends on freshwater sources like the Colorado River to meet its demand. Last year, California Governor Newsom’s office released a report addressing California’s water crisis. The report welcomed opportunities for public-private partnerships to address California’s water situation, especially in water diversification projects like water recycling and desalination.

If the newly announced water deal goes through, federal funds can be redirected to reduce the costs of Californian-Israeli water diversification projects. If California can shift its dependance on freshwater sources to new water diversification infrastructure like desalination, water recycling, and rainwater capture, California can relieve strain on the Colorado River. By relieving strain on the Colorado River, cities, communities, and tribes of the West may achieve improved water security.

Given Israel’s powerful water technology economy and California and the American West’s need for better water diversification projects, Governor Gavin Newsom should re-sign the MOU on the next Israeli Prime Minister’s visit to the United States. By publicly recommitting to the MOU, California can encourage more public-private collaboration to help diversify its water portfolio. The American West is thirsty, and Israel can help fill its cup.

About the Author
Isaac is an impact professional geared toward positive change in Jewish, security, and environmental spaces. He earned his Master of Public Policy and a MA in Jewish Professional Leadership from Brandeis University. Isaac is affiliated with Israel Policy Forum's ATID network. Isaac currently lives in Cambridge Massachusetts.
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