A capacity crowd of 170 business executives, investors and policymakers from Israel and California gathered on October 14 at Google’s Israeli headquarters in Tel Aviv for the official kick-off of the Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership, a new initiative to leverage Israeli and American knowhow in combatting California’s drought crisis.

“Just over five years ago, Israel had fears of turning on the tap and no water coming out. In just a few years, Israel has innovated its way to becoming the world leader on water innovation,” says cofounder Ashleigh Talberth, CEO of the Israeli consulting firm @GreenTECH and previously active in clean-tech think tank Next Generation in the San Francisco Bay area and the US Green Building Council’s Northern California Chapter.

“California is in a serious water crisis, with projections for the drought to go from bad to worse,” she continues. “The time has come for Israel and California — the world’s leading hubs for startups and green-tech — to band together and do what they do best: innovate and trail-blaze forward, and lead the world by example.”

Ashleigh Talberth, a cofounder of the Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership. Photo: courtesy
Ashleigh Talberth, a cofounder of the Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership. Photo: courtesy

The launch coincided with the conclusion of Watec, the international Water Technology & Environment Control Exhibition and Conference held biannually in Tel Aviv. Highlights of Google’s water-tech innovations at its Israeli and California campuses were presented at the kick-off.

“Drought in California presents us with a problem that Israel has faced for a long time. It makes me hopeful that bright people there have made innovation a part of their response,” said former US Secretary of State George Shultz in a statement about the new partnership.

“Meeting our water needs will take similarly bright people here and throughout the rest of the United States coming together to understand their experiences and to work out novel answers. I am optimistic that California-Israel collaboration can result in such solutions.”

For the past year, a range of Israeli technologists, entrepreneurs and academics already have been helping California find solutions for its water emergency.

Most recently, Los Angeles and Beverly Hills authorized new task forces and initiatives for joint projects with Israel on many aspects of managing the water crisis.

Why Israel can help

However, Talberth says the Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership is the first industry-driven initiative to arise from California Governor Jerry Brown’s memorandum of understanding last year aimed at promoting water and green-tech collaboration with Israel.

Seth Siegel’s new book Let There Be Water explains why Israel has earned a reputation as the go-to country for water innovation. Seawater desalination, reuse of treated sewage for agriculture, leak-alert software and computerized drip irrigation are among the many reasons.

More than half of the water flowing to Israeli households, farms and industries is now produced at desalination plants. Israel recycles 86 percent of its wastewater, while California recycles about 13% and the United States as a whole recycles just 1%. Israel’s average consumption of water per person per year is 90 cubic meters; Californians currently use almost twice as much (170 cubic meters).

US Environmental Protection Agency Achievement Award winner Talberth says the Israel-California Green-Tech Partnership “will strengthen thought leadership, business, investment, entrepreneurship and trade relations between the business communities of California and Israel. Green-tech areas of focus may also include energy, electric vehicles, green building, and climate issues.”

The partnership will sponsor a new blog, “Israel-icon Valley,” which will cover cutting-edge green-tech innovation at the intersection of Israel and Silicon Valley. The founders plan to sponsor events, summits and delegations of startups and venture capitalists between Israel and California.

“A new Israel-California partnership to address today’s water crisis sweeping the American West is not only logical for this region and this country — it is vital,” said cofounder Mark Donig of the UC Berkeley School of Law. “We can create a model to show how international cooperation can meet the world’s most pressing — and most rapidly expanding — environmental challenges of our time.”

In addition to Donig and Talberth, the partnership’s steering committee includes David Arfin, CEO of First Energy Finance; Jonathan Axelrad, partner in the global law firm DLA Piper; Gil Abrams and Harold Wienerof Terra Venture Partners; Avi Feldman, CEO of renewable energy investment firm Capital Nature; Google eTeam design and construction integrator Andreas Gyr; Jack Levy, Israel Cleantech Ventures partner and founder; Aaron Tartakovsky, cofounder of Epic CleanTec; Roy Wiesner, CEO of Hutchison Kinrot ; Lyuba Wolf of ChargePoint; and Glenn Yago, senior director of the Milken Innovation Center at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.