Some of Arizona's best minds have, for quite awhile, been dealing with the problem of ensuring that a fast-growing, arid region has the water it needs to thrive. That's also true in Israel, and Dr. Clive Lipchin is one of the leading voices in the issue. Dr. Lipchin recently spoke at a breakfast program presented by Arizona Forward in partnership with the Jewish National Fund (JNF). His presentation outlined an amazing success story that transformed Israel from a nation facing a water shortage to a nation with first-rate infrastructure and policies to meet growing needs
As director of the Center for Transboundary Water Management at the Arava Institute, Dr. Lipchin (pictured below) has worked with water professionals and policy makers across the globe from the Institute’s campus in the Arava of the Negev Desert. He regularly interfaces with students and academics in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan to address regional water issues. Like Arizona, Israel is confronted by: an arid climate; political, philosophical and economic boundaries; and off-grid communities.
Here are a few key points from his presentation:
- Water law and policy in Israel focuses on water as a public good rather than an individual property right. In the 1950s, the Israel Water Law annulled privately held water rights. This creates a regulatory climate far different from the United States.
- Like all environmental issues, water is a shared concern that affects every person, regardless of nationality, religion or any other demographic. That makes it a great starting point for collaboration. "Water is simply too important to fight over," Dr. Lipchin said.
- Israel views drought as its norm and rain as an anomaly. That outlook is the cornerstone of the nation's approach to managing water.
- By carrying water from the Sea of Galilee (the only source of surface water in Israel) to the southern parts of the country, Israel ensured an adequate source of water for its drinking and agricultural needs. This came at a cost, though, as water levels in the Sea of Galilee began to drop.
- Israel's solution to addressing the Sea of Galilee is based on three legs: desalination, use of reclaimed water and pricing. Today, nearly 80 percent of Israel's potable water comes from desalination. It also re-uses nearly 90 percent of its wastewater. And pricing is based not on water quantity, but on water quality; this created an incentive for the agriculture sector to embrace reclaimed water.
- While the use of desalination allows natural water systems to recover, it presents challenges of its own. It's energy intensive, and uses nearly 10 percent of the power generated nationwide. Also, it creates brine that requires disposal.
- In the West Bank and other remote areas, entire communities are not connected to Israel's water grid. Their water storage methods don't ensure a consistent supply. One of the solutions is building on-site treatment for villages – the solutions being employed can work everywhere from remote Arizona communities to refugee camps in Jordan.
- Water also offers a chance to collaborate among groups who are often in conflict on other issues. Dr. Lipchin sees water as a way to create more trust between Israelis and Palestinians: "Through water, you can build collaboration," he said.
The issue of private water rights and multiple authorities at all level of government presents a different set of challenges for the United States. But there's reason to be optimistic considering Israel's success through technology and focusing on the common good in the long term. Which of these key points do you see applying to our challenges in Arizona?
By Rob Anderson – Director, Fennemore Craig; Board of Directors Member and Water Subcommittee Chair, Arizona Forward